Notes on The Angel of History

Updated: Jul 15


It is exciting to be in the presence as true voice discovers itself. That was my experience rereading Carolyn Forché’s stunning The Angel of History, now, a quarter-century after its original appearance. That sense of originality and authenticity duplicated my original experience, but with this difference: Now that familiarity has dimmed the sheen of newness, other virtues show more clearly, including the clarity, control, and the unstrained musics of its poems. I felt again this poet’s ambition and voice come together in ways I would not have predicted from her prior work. She acknowledges the emergence of this unwilled happenstance in the book’s notes:

The Angel of History is not about experiences. It is for me the opening of a wound, the muffling and silence of a decade, and it is also a gathering of utterances that have lifted away from the earth and wrapped it in a weather of risen words. These utterances issue from my own encounter with the events of this century but do not represent “it.” The first-person, free-verse, lyric-narrative poem of my earlier years has given way to a work which has desi