Poetry Pages I: Blue Hour, By Carolyn Forché

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It has become something of a tradition that, whenever I start writing about poetry or talking about it on a new platform, the first piece of content I produce will have to do with Carolyn Forché. This is for good reason - she’s probably my favourite poet ever, and wrote what is certainly my favourite poem, For the Stranger, the praises of which I sing almost weekly across my social media platforms. That poem doesn’t appear in this collection, published in 2003, but throughout it run similar themes of identity, nation, travel and the in-between that are enchanting and thought-provoking. Born of Forché’s career as a translator and human rights advocate, this collection clearly demonstrates how poetry can be modern, relevant, and beautiful, and makes such a fitting starting point for this series, in which I plan to talk about my favourite poetry collections until I exhaust my funds to keep buying them (and probably beyond).

Structure: Blue Hour consists of eleven poems in just one section, with notes at the back which make for interesting reading as well as useful translations of non-English phrases used. What this doesn’t tell you, though, is that one of the poems is 46 pages long - titled On Earth, this poem is modelled on ancient abecedaries with lines arranged in perfect alphabetical order to form ‘a transcription of mind passing from life to death’. Ambitious and fragmented, it is the focal point of the collection, and exposes the themes and aesthetics on which the rest of the collection hinges. 

Aesthetics: ‘between darkness and day’ / the moment after the armistice is signed but before the guns fall silent / futility / melancholy / ‘an hour associated with pure hovering’ / waiting in the shadows / fog / winter landscapes stripped bare / abandoned villages / greyscale / passports burning on a pyre / barbed wire and concrete blockades / ice / ‘not only the flow of thoughts, but their arrest’ / military encampments with civilian occupants / Sunday best / bittersweet celebrations / rising steam.

Favourite poem: it has to be On Earth for its vast scope and evocative imagery - the collection would be nothing without it, good as the other poems are, and I have yet to read anything remotely like it elsewhere.

Favourite quotes:

● ‘Perhaps those born after the war are those whose lives the war took’ -Blue Hour

● ‘Yes, I said, and the stars nailed shut his heaven’ -Curfew

● ‘caged canaries before each shop as if the street were a mineshaft / canticle, casement, casque, cerement, cinder’ - On Earth

You’ll like it if you like this song: in our bedroom after the war, by stars.

Lucy AllisonComment