The Angel of History

Carolyn Froche, Author, Carolyn Forche, Author
Carolyn Froche, Author, Carolyn Forche, Author HarperCollins Publishers $20 (84p) ISBN 978-0-06-017078-3
Reviewed on: 02/28/1994
Release date: 03/01/1994
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Though Forche's ( The Country Between Us ) previous books have been groundbreaking works of political and moral depth, this new volume may be the most remarkable. Ambitious and authentic, The Angel of History is an overarching book-length poem, composed in numbered sections, that invokes the horror of contemporary times in a mode reminiscent of Eliot's ``The Waste Land.'' Much as Eliot's poem refracted WW I, the vacuity of culture and the fragmentation of modern life, Forche considers the Holocaust, Hiroshima and genocide in Latin America--the dismal past that predicates the chaotic present. Her vehicle is the Angel of History, who confronts human cruelty and misery but can do no more than record them, as explained by Walter Benjamin in an epigraph: ``The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But . . . the storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward.'' Though the poetry is powerful, it is not always easily understandable; one must follow the Angel through serpentine lines, a disjointed and oblique nightmare whispered by an indeterminate narrator, and a splintered pastiche that borrows apocalyptic phrases from Elie Wiesel, Kafka, Canetti, Trakl, Char and Valery. But the journey ventured is well worth the occasional wrong turn: Forche has not only created poetry of consummate beauty, but has borne witness to the wounds of our collective history, fulfilling the conviction that ``surely all art is the result of one's having been in danger, of having gone through an experience all the way to the end.'' (Mar.)
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