cover image What you Have Heard Is True

What you Have Heard Is True

Carolyn Forché. Penguin Press, $28 (392p) ISBN 978-0-525-56037-1

Poet Forché (Blue Hour) writes intensely about her visits to El Salvador as the country edged toward civil war in the late 1970s. A poetry professor in Southern California, Forché knew little of El Salvador and its “silence of misery endured,” until Leonel Gómez Vides—a friend’s cousin, coffee farmer, and rumored CIA operative “too mysterious for most people”—appeared on her doorstep in 1977 and, inspired by her writing, invited her to visit and learn about his homeland . Arriving in El Salvador four months later, she and Leonel met with political and military figures—saying she was a poet, journalist, and professor on a fellowship to the country—to create an illusion of influence, which he explained “might save your life” as the nation slid into chaos. Working alongside an overtaxed rural doctor with few medical supplies, farmers barely subsisting off the land, and a wealthy socialite involved in the resistance, she documented the growing brutality, hoping to translate it into poetry, spurred by Leonel’s insistence that “This place is a symphony of illusion... and an orchestra needs a conductor.” These notes became the basis of The Country Between Us, her 1981 poetry collection that addressed the atrocities in El Salvador. Forché’s astute, lyrical memoir offer glimpses into life in a war-torn country and contextualizes her early works of poetry. Agent: Bill Clegg, The Clegg Agency. (Mar.)