Poets & Writers

A Poet a Day: Carolyn Forché

“A Poem for Maya”

A Poet a Day: Carolyn Forché

During these trying days of social distancing, self-isolating and quarantines, days rife with fear and anxiety, my colleagues and I thought you might like some company. So each day we will be introducing you to poets we have met over the years. The only contagion they will expose you to is a measure of joy, reflection and meditation brought on by “the best words in the best order.”
— Bill Moyers

At the 1995 Dodge Poetry Festival, Bill Moyers interviewed poet Carolyn Forché and he asked her what poetry is.

“I think that poetry is the voice of the soul,” she tells him, “whispering the voice of the soul, celebrating, singing even. Reading poetry and writing poetry enables us to sustain our capacity for contemplation, the extend that capacity. We’re living in a time, I think, where the velocity of human experience has so accelerated that perhaps our capacity to sustain contemplation is being eroded.”

Watch their conversation and hear her read “A Poem for Maya.”

    A Poem for Maya

Dipping our bread in oil tins
we talked of morning peeling
open our rooms to a moment
of almonds, olives and wind
when we did not yet know what we were.
The days in Mallorca were alike:
footprints down goat-paths
from the beds we had left,
at night the stars locked to darkness.
At that time we were learning
to dance, take our clothes
in our fingers and open
ourselves to their hands.
The veranera was with us.
For a month the almond trees bloomed,
their droppings the delicate silks
we removed when each time a touch
took us closer to the window where
we whispered yes, there on the intricate
balconies of breath, overlooking
the rest of our lives.


Carolyn Forché was born in Detroit, Michigan on April 28, 1950. She studied at Michigan State University and earned an MFA from Bowling Green State University.

A poet, memoirist, translator, and editor, Forché’s books of poetry include: In the Lateness of the World (Penguin, 2020); The Angel of History (HarperCollins, 1994), which received the Los Angeles Times Book Award; The Country Between Us (HarperCollins, 1982), which received the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award and was the Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets; and Gathering the Tribes (Yale University Press, 1976), which was selected for the Yale Series of Younger Poets by Stanley Kunitz. Her memoir What You Have Heard is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance (Penguin Press/Penguin Random House, 2019) was a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award in Nonfiction.

She is also the coeditor of Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English, 1500-2001 (W. W. Norton, 2014) and editor of Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness (W. W. Norton, 1993).

Her honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1992, she received the Charity Randall Citation from the International Poetry Forum. In 2013, Forché received the Academy of American Poets Fellowship, given for distinguished poetic achievement. In 2017, she became one of the first two poets to receive the Windham-Campbell Prize. She is a professor at Georgetown University and lives in Maryland. (Bio excerpted from Poets.org)

Read more of Carolyn’s poetry in the transcript of Bill’s 1995 interview with her.
Read more about Carolyn and her ouevre in The New Yorker.

See all poets in the A Poet a Day Collection.


*vernera: blue morning glory flowering plant