“In the Lateness of the World”

Carolyn Forché’s “In the Lateness of the World” is a collection of poetry about which it’s very easy to be ambivalent. Not because the work is insipid or dull – far from it! – but because for me it veers toward both extremes on the good-bad poetry continuum.

If I start with the more negative it’s not because these examples are dominant (they aren’t), but because I feel an urge to get them out of the way!

A number of the pieces are political with a capital ‘P’, and in places I think the politics gets in the way of the poetry, the poems becoming a vehicle for stridency and opinion. The other objection I have is the over-reliance on ‘lists’. There are simply too many; and whilst they may read well (especially aloud, I suspect), lists run the risk of being seen as ‘lazy’ poetry. They need to be handled with care. More than once I found myself skipping lines because I’d been disengaged.

Having said that – and here’s the good stuff! – there are some truly wonderful turns of phrase scattered throughout the book. Yes, even in the lists! And the prevalent theme of loss (as opposed to the more antiseptic notion of death) is, in places, superbly handled. I particularly liked “Travel Papers”.

There is much geographical name-dropping which means the collection feels a little like a ‘been there’ travelogue at times; but there are rewards here too in poems like “Theologos”.

Thinking about it, it’s the kind of volume I would love to edit. Of course what you would end up with wouldn’t be Forché’s poems at all, merely a bastardised and probably sub-standard version of them…