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The Country Between Us

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  2,344 ratings  ·  89 reviews
“Here is poetry of courage and passion, which manages to be tender and achingly sensual and what is often called ‘political’ at the same time. This is a major new voice.” — Margaret Atwood

The Country Between Us opens with a series of poems about El Salvador, where Carolyn Forché worked as a journalist and was closely involved with the political struggle in that tortured co
Paperback, 59 pages
Published March 31st 1982 by Harper Perennial
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4.20  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,344 ratings  ·  89 reviews

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Steven Godin
Jan 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, america
"in the mass graves a woman's hand,
cagged in the ribs of her child.
A single stone in Spain beneath the olives,
in Germany the silent windy fields,
in the Soviet Union where the snow
is scarred with wire,
in Salvador where the blood will
never soak into the ground.
Everywhere and always
go after that which is lost.
There is a cyclone fence between
ourselves and the slaughter
and behind it we have our inner calm
protected world like netted fish.
Exactly like netted fish.
It is either the beginning
or the e
Aug 14, 2018 added it
Shelves: poetry, 20th-century


In Memoriam, José Rudolfo Viera, 1939-1981: El Salvador

When Viera was buried we knew it had come to an end,
his coffin rocking into the ground like a boat or a cradle.

I could take my heart, he said, and give it to a campesino
and he would cut it up and give it back:

you can't eat heart in those four dark
chambers where a man can be kept for years.

A boy-soldier in the bone-hot sun works his knife
to peel the face from a dead man

and hang it from the branch of a tree
B. P. Rinehart
Sep 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to B. P. by: Ta-Nehisi Coates
"Now this feel of knife for fish
of bullet for something racing through
the darkness, your voice
slung on the wires that lapse
scalloping the cold length
of the country between us.
" - from "Joseph"

When you read enough poetry, you become use to the tropes and stereotypes. You assume from who a poet is--what they look like, what you're gonna get. I don't mind this, because I believe there is something valuable in everybody's experience. So I'm able to get the most out of something, whether it is by La
May 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: um, everyone
If you haven't read this book, you really need to. Seriously. El Salvador, the disappeared, the problem of making a difference in the world, the problem of being an American. It's amazing. I first read The Country Between Us years and years ago, and I reread it probably twice a year. And pick it up more often than that to read an individual poem.
Feb 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
I shouldn't really be rating this because I don't know a damn thing about poetry, but I enjoyed it (what does that mean, anyway, to say that we enjoyed or didn't enjoy something that we don't really understand, or against which we have a prejudice? I don't read poetry because 1. I don't know anything about it, and 2. I don't like it, but which came first? I pose it as a conundrum but it's not difficult: I don't like things I don't understand, which is obvious, and I do find that when I attempt t ...more
Mar 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
The central metaphor in Ms. Forché’s second volume of poetry, captured in its title, “the country between us” (44), represents distance in its physical manifestations and also in its emotional variations. The poems, whether of witness to the bloody revolts in Salvador or of witness to the emotional violence of coming back to America after war, experiment with distances: the geographical distance of old friends (“Joseph”), the distance of life experiences (“As Children Together”), or finally, an ...more
Jun 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Occasionally, a poet is in the right place at the right time, and has the talent to express what needs to be said. In World War I, Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon expressed in verse the outrage of a generation sent to the slaughterhouse by old men who never deigned to go close enough to the front lines to understand the hell their Olympian policies and plans of attack had created. For Central America in the late 1970’s and early ‘80’s, Carolyn Forche’ was a voice for those who suffered the te ...more
Jul 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
As a poet myself, Carolyn Forché was formative, both because of her restrained power ("The Colonel") and her passion for Central America under siege. As a contemporary of Forché, and like so many others of my generation, I could not forget the anguish I felt during those years of bloodshed and tragedy. I do believe that the fact I am currently spending hours a day researching information for a work of historical fiction about the Revolution in Nicaragua, is due to the emotional and ethical impac ...more
Jun 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Review to come.
Jun 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Forche's poetry is extremely intense. She writes of her experiences in El Salvador, with rebels and with dictators...a bag of human ears dumped out on a dining table...a Vietnam vet lost for all time in anguish...

These aren't pretty, pastoral poems. They hit you below the belt, making you see how we must bear witness to these things in order to live in the world we created. Forche isn't at all guilty of Springsteen's accusation that "the poets 'round here don't write nothin at all, they just sit
Aug 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
The Country Between Us is one of those kind of books that comes along at a particular time in your life, making the world spin a little faster on its axis. I read this while on tour with a rock band, making our way through the brutal heat of a Nevada desert, and the words came alive right before my eyes. Some of the images, such as a Colonel who collects body part souvenirs and spills a jar of ears on the ground (the ones that fell facing the floor couldn't hear what the Colonial was saying), ar ...more
Dec 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Damn. It's rare that I devour a book of poetry, cover to cover, as I would fiction. Readable, beautiful, harrowing, moving.
Apr 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry-favorites
Is there a modern poet who can combine the personal and political better than Forche?

My favorite pieces: Joseph, Return, and Ourselves Or Nothing.

Fantastic work. A stunning (in all possible meanings), beautiful voice.
Kiki Petrosino
Aug 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
All I have to say is, "The Colonel."
Hadn't read much by this poet till this book was recommended to me at Bread Loaf. Now I can't get enough.
Leigh Clemons
Nov 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
"The General," "Photograph of My Room," and other wonderful descriptive works full of dramatic and haunting imagery....
Feb 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Fantastic. How is it that it's taken me this long to read this? Stunning, absolutely.
Feb 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I tried not to write about Carolyn Forche this week, but on account of not being able to finish another book, I find myself here, having to write about Forche.

One of the reasons a critic might reasonably avoid writing about Forche is that her poems take time to develop – not just on the page, but in the mind. Their center of gravity is always beyond the instant, and as a result, the reader is left with the impression that any talk of the poems themselves must reach beyond the words from which th
Every time I read this book, it feels so different: different poems stand out. The poems I remember fit together in new ways. The poems I've forgotten change the scope of the book.

I think this was one of the books that sparked the most discussion in grad school. Does Forche' attempt to give voice to people whose voice she cannot represent? Is her perspective complete? Do her questions guide us toward a just way of thinking? What can we learn about writing about ourselves and others from Forche's
Mar 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This slim volume sends one gliding from the civil unrest of 1970s El Salvador to the steely Eastern Europe of the Cold War and into the forever-troubled pulse of all modernity. Author Carolyn Forche blends the personal and political into something deeper and more fecund with its ability to sear into one's mind a lyrical mixture of the beautiful and horrible. Gathering this world together without seam, The Country Between Us reflects back to us that which is most difficult to view - the mire and ...more
Carlos Cumpian
Jan 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
How can a young American poet sell over 10,000 copies of her second book in a year's time? Besides being a talented writer (there are many); launch it's distribution during an American invasion against poor and radical Central Americans, do activist readings at every venue possible and look and sound fantastic. Carolyn Forche had been compared to the GIANT of the southern continent Pablo Neruda in her back cover blurb. Since then the Neruda comparisons have been shifted to Puerto Rican poet Mart ...more
Aug 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
An arresting book of poems heavily influenced by the author’s political experiences living among creators and suppressors of revolution everywhere. Though the voice is righteously opinionated and the narrator clearly engaged in the plight of those around her, the story-telling is balanced, and therefore more powerful, because of the poet’s aesthetic distance and her revelations concerning the fraught nature of political and humanitarian causes. Forche descriptions are breathtaking, visceral, and ...more
May 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
A ferociously good collection of a young Carolyn Forche. The opening poems turning on the war inEl Salvador are told very concretely, so that the politics assume a particular shape, rather than settling for the ideological posturing of many political poets. Other poems turn on her own encounters in Europe. The overwhelming even is that of a young woman very much alive.

And as a poet, she repeatedly turns a nice phrase

I am the woman whose photograph
You will not recognize, whose eyes
we're brief, l
Aug 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-14, poetry
My neighbors set up a free library box on the curb - kind of a give-a-book, take-a-book system. Naturally, I check it a few times a week. The other day when I opened the door, this little collection literally fell out into my hands. I don't know much about poetry, but I thought, "What the hell, I'll give it a try."

It's beautiful.

Another reviewer mentions that the author seems "almost arrogant" in a couple of the poems. I'd say she comes across as worse than that - but with language like this, he
Allison Corbett
Jan 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
"Your problem is not your life as it is
in America, not that your hands, as you
tell me, are tied to something. It is
that you were born to an island of greed
and grace where you have this sense
of yourself as apart from others. It is
not your right to feel powerless. Better
people than you were powerless.
You have not returned to your country,
but to a life you never left."

From the poem "The Return"
Jul 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing
"Poem as evidence. Poem as trace," Forche writes in her introduction to "Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness." The evidence and trace that Forche presents in "The Country Between Us" is so provocative, disturbing, and important because of her insistence on a "social space" between the personal and political. Forche is not a journalist, but a poet and a person, remembering these brutal times as a foreigner in El Salvador; she is more than a journalist.
Jul 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
"Link hands, link arms with me
in the next of lives everafter,
where we will not know each
or ourselves, where we will be a various
darkness among ideas that amounted
to nothing, among men who amounted
to nothing, with a belief that became
but small light
in the breadth of time where we began
among each other, where we lived
in the hour farthest from God."

-Carolyn Forché, "Message" 1980
Caleb Benadum
Sep 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Carolyn Forche, author of the famous prose poem "The Colonel," shines in her short work of only 22 poems. The magic of her poetry is its poignancy, its free-verse readability, and the way in which she is able to treat events in different countries, different times, with an air that makes those events real even to the reader who has never left their home. This collection highlights her expatriate past, but reveals a poet-storyteller of the finest quality.
Feb 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
My favorite poetry collection, wonderful stuff. Stumbled on a copy for $1 years ago at a "warehouse book sale" and went back the next day and bought all seven or eight remaining copies to give away. Met Carolyn Forche three or four years (?) later at the Spoleto Festival. Surprisingly, at the reading she showed a great sense of humor, and then as afterwards, she radiated great warmth and humanity. Please read it and then her other works!
Feb 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Amazing, forceful poetry, this book defines a poetry of witness. There are pure, hard-wrought words of experience that describe late twentieth century political violence in El Salvador. This is a cry from the soul--this is witness, beautifully constructed, devastatingly felt. A must-read.
Apr 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I read The Country Between Us about 13 years ago, but I guess I was not that good, or mature of a reader. I didn't realize what an amazing collection this. A beautiful book.
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Poesía en castellano: Carolyn Forché 1 1 Sep 24, 2018 03:07PM  

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Carolyn Forché was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1950. She studied at Michigan State University and earned an MFA from Bowling Green State University. Forché is the author of four books of poetry: Blue Hour (HarperCollins, 2004); The Angel of History (1994), which received the Los Angeles Times Book Award; The Country Between Us (1982), which received the Poetry Society of America's Alice Fay di C ...more
“The heart is the toughest part of the body.
Tenderness is in the hands.”
“...the Roanoke valley
where mountains hold the breath
of the dead between them and lift
from each morning a fresh bandage of mist.”
More quotes…