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Skin Canoes

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Swallows carve lake wind,
trailers lined up, fish tins.
The fires of a thousand small camps   
spilled on a hillside.

I pull leeks, morels from the soil,
fry chubs from the lake in moonlight.   
I hear someone, hear the splash, groan   
of a waterpump, wipe my mouth.   
Fish grease spits at darkness.

Once I nudged a canoe through that water,   
letting its paddle lift, drip.
I was sucked down smaller than the sound   
of the dropping, looked out
from where I had vanished.

Carolyn Forché, “Skin Canoes” from Gathering the Tribes. Copyright © 1976 by Carolyn Forché. Reprinted with the permission of Yale University
Press, http://www.yale.edu/yup/.
Source: Gathering the Tribes (Yale University Press, 1976)
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Skin Canoes

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  • Born in Detroit, Michigan in 1950, poet, teacher and activist Carolyn Forché has witnessed, thought about, and put into poetry some of the most devastating events of twentieth-century world history. According to Joyce Carol Oates in the New York Times Book Review, Forché’s ability to wed the “political” with the “personal” places her in the company of such poets as Pablo Neruda, Philip Levine, and Denise Levertov.

    An articulate defender of her own aims as well as the larger goals of poetry, Forché is perhaps best-known for coining the term “poetry of witness.” In her ground-breaking anthology, Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness (1993), Forché described the difficulties of politically-engaged poetry: “We are accustomed to rather easy categories: we distinguish between ‘personal’ and ‘political’ poems…The distinction…gives the political realm too much and too little scope; at the same time, it renders the personal too important and not important enough. If...

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