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Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English, 1500-2001

Overview

A groundbreaking anthology containing the work of poets who have witnessed war, imprisonment, torture, and slavery.A companion volume to Against Forgetting, Poetry of Witness is the first anthology to reveal a tradition that runs through English-language poetry. The 300 poems collected here were composed at an extreme of human endurance—while their authors awaited execution, endured imprisonment, fought on the battlefield, or labored on the brink of breakdown or death. All bear witness to historical events and ...

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Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English, 1500-2001

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Overview

A groundbreaking anthology containing the work of poets who have witnessed war, imprisonment, torture, and slavery.A companion volume to Against Forgetting, Poetry of Witness is the first anthology to reveal a tradition that runs through English-language poetry. The 300 poems collected here were composed at an extreme of human endurance—while their authors awaited execution, endured imprisonment, fought on the battlefield, or labored on the brink of breakdown or death. All bear witness to historical events and the irresistibility of their impact. Alongside Shakespeare, Milton, and Wordsworth, this volume includes such writers as Anne Askew, tortured and executed for her religious beliefs during the reign of Henry VIII; Phillis Wheatley, abducted by slave traders; Samuel Bamford, present at the Peterloo Massacre in 1819; William Blake, who witnessed the Gordon Riots of 1780; and Samuel Menashe, survivor of the Battle of the Bulge.Poetry of Witness argues that such poets are a perennial feature of human history, and it presents the best of that tradition, proving that their work ranks alongside the greatest in the language.

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Editorial Reviews

Donna Seaman - Booklist
“The selections are blazing and haunting, poems of fierce precision, communal consciousness, courage, and reverberating beauty, and Forché and Wu succinctly establish the historical context for each poet’s work in glinting biographical essays.”
Valerie Ryan - Shelf Awareness
“[A] testament to the travails of men and women over the last 500 years, collected and curated with infinite care.”
Robyn Creswell - The New Yorker
“Argues for the importance of a public-spirited poetry, willing to speak the truth to power.”
Library Journal
11/15/2013
Intended as a companion to editor Forché's Against Forgetting: Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness, this detailed anthology of poems of witness offers compositions that are, according to coeditor Wu, "acts of resistance." For each entry, Forché and Wu (editor, Romanticism: An Anthology) provide a one-page biography of the poet that includes a statement of why his or her poetry fits the collection's themes: war, tyranny, torture, slavery, and other forms of violence. These minibiographies make enticing reading and are full of little-known author facts. Six sections explore heinous executions by Henry the VIII, mass casualties in both the English and American civil wars, 20th-century poets writing about A-bomb testing, elegies to the war dead, and more. Only a small number of poems are from the 20th century, and the volume is also limited to English-language poems, thus excluding such great poets of witness as Anna Akhmatova, Paul Celan, Marina Tsvetaeva, Primo Levi, and others. VERDICT To complement Forché's earlier book, ending the collection in 1901 would have made more sense. However, because the last 20 years have seen such an outflowing of poems about war, torture, and violence, it seems remiss to ignore much of the 20th and early 21st century. [See Prepub Alert, 7/29/13.]—Doris Lynch, Monroe Cty. P.L., Bloomington, IN
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393340426
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/27/2014
  • Pages: 672
  • Sales rank: 392,901
  • Product dimensions: 11.20 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 1.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Carolyn Forché, poet, translator, and activist, is professor of English at Georgetown University. She has published two award-winning volumes of poetry, Gathering the Tribes and The Country Between Us. In 1990 Ms. Fourché received a Lannan Literary Award, granted to poets and writers of literary excellence "whose work promotes a truer understanding of contemporary life." Her most recent volume of poetry is Blue Hour.

Duncan Wu is professor of English at Georgetown University. He is the editor of Romanticism: An Anthology.

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