Chapman University is thrilled to welcome award-winning “poet of witness” Carolyn Forché as the keynote speaker and honored guest at Student Research Day this fall.

Forché has authored four lauded books of poetry, in addition to her published anthologies, Against Forgetting: Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness and The Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English, 1500-2001. Considered a revolutionary in her field, Forché’s work merges art with political activism, demonstrating the critical impact of creative academic inquiry as a window to unjust reality. Through the written word, Forché transports her audience through space and time, allowing readers to become witnesses themselves.

But what is “poetry of witness”? According to Forché it is “written by poets who endured conditions of extremity, who passed through the suffering of warfare, of imprisonment, forced exile, censorship, banning, orders; they pass through these experiences–their language also passed through it” (PBS News Hour). Through the written word, the suffering of these poets becomes “legible in the palms.” Poetry of witness answers the question, what happened in the aftermath of war and upheaval, according to the people who suffered through it?

Her active research on behalf of human rights and her masterfully creative dissemination of cross-cultural realities make Forché most a most distinctive fit as Chapman University’s Presidential Fellow in Creative Writing. Forché describes her time in war-torn countries and admits she was “deeply affected” by her time there; inevitably, “some of the experience emerged” in her own work as a poet of witness. Though politic in context, Forché urges a new lens for understanding the aftermath of social and political disaster. Her intention is not to “politicize” poetry, rather to understand poetry as an “outcry of the soul” in light of significant suffering. 

The public are welcome to join the Chapman University community on December 6, at 2-4 PM in the Sandhu Conference Center for Student Research Day, an exhibition of the distinguished undergraduate research and creative activity thriving here on campus. Following the exhibition, we encourage all to gather and witness Carolyn Forché’s public address, “Leaving War on a Bridge of Words,” in the Center for American War Letters in Leatherby Libraries at 7 PM.

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