The Poetry of War and Resistance

April 3, 2023

Carolyn Forché

Georgetown University

Yusef Komunyakaa

New York University

Dunya Mikhail

Oakland University

Ocean Vuong

New York University

Ru Freeman

– Moderator –
Narrative 4 

The Recording

Out of the wreckage of war and imperialism, artists often present us with arresting and life-affirming insights. This event features four distinguished, award-winning poets whose work has been deeply influenced by U.S. wars in Vietnam, Central America, and Iraq. Carolyn Forché, Yusef Komunyakaa, Dunya Mikhail, and Ocean Vuong each read a selection of their poems and respond to questions posed by moderator Ru Freeman.

The Poems

Click here for a list of the poems read during the event, including links when available. Also included are links to the presenters’ books.

The Presenters

Carolyn Forché is an American poet, memoirist, editor, and translator. Her books of poetry are Blue Hour, The Angel of History, The Country Between Us, and Gathering the Tribes. Her newest poetry collection, In the Lateness of the World, was published by Penguin Press in 2021. 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 University Professor at Georgetown University. Forché lives in Maryland with her husband, the photographer Harry Mattison.

Yusef Komunyakaa’s numerous collections of poetry include Dien Cai Dau (1988), which won The Dark Room Poetry Prize; Thieves of Paradise (1998), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems (1993), for which he received both the Pulitzer Prize and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award; Warhorses; The Chameleon Couch a finalist for the National Book Award; The Emperor of Water Clocks; and most recently Everyday Mojo Songs of Earth: New and Selected Poems 2001-2021. He served as New York’s 11th State Poet Laureate. Komunyakaa is the recipient of the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from the Poetry Foundation and the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets. His most recent honors include the 2021 Griffin Poetry Lifetime Recognition Award, Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award, and the Lannan Literary Award for Lifetime Achievement. For over a decade, he was Global Professor and Distinguished Senior Poet at New York University until his retirement in 2021.

Dunya Mikhail is an Iraqi American poet and writer. She is a laureate of the UNESCO Sharja Prize for Arab Culture and has received fellowships from the United States Artists, the Guggenheim, and Kresge. Her honors also include the Arab American Book Award and the UN Human Rights Award for Freedom of Writing. Her book The War Works Hard was shortlisted for the International Griffin Poetry Prize. New Directions published three of her other poetry books and her non-fiction The Beekeeper which was a finalist for the National Book Award and for PEN/John Ken-neth Galbraith Award. Her debut novel The Bird Tattoo, shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, is coming out on December 6, 2022 from Pegasus. She currently works as a special lecturer of Arabic at Oakland University in Michigan. 

Ocean Vuong is the author of The New York Times bestselling poetry collection, Time is a Mother (Penguin Press 2022), and The New York Times bestselling novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (Penguin Press 2019).  A recipient of a 2019 MacArthur “Genius” Grant, he is also the author of the critically acclaimed poetry collection, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, a New York Times Top 10 Book of 2016, winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Whiting Award, the Thom Gunn Award, and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. Born in Saigon, Vietnam and raised in Hartford, Connecticut in a working class family of nail salon and factory laborers, he currently lives in Northampton, Massachusetts and serves as a tenured professor in the creative writing MFA program at NYU.

Ru Freeman (moderator) is a Sri Lankan and American writer, poet, and activist whose work appears internationally in English and in translation. She is the author of the short-story collection Sleeping Alone (2022), the forthcoming essay collection Bon Courage (2023), and the novels A Disobedient Girl (2009) and On Sal Mal Lane (2013), a New York Times editor’s choice book. She is the editor of the anthology, Extraordinary Rendition: American Writers on Palestine (2015) and co-editor of Indivisible: Global Leaders on Shared Security (2018). She writes for the UK Guardian, the New York Times, and the Boston Globe. She is a winner of the Mariella Gable Award for fiction, and the JH Kafka Prize for fiction by an American woman. She teaches creative writing in the U.S. and abroad, and is the director of the Artists Network at Narrative 4.

The cover image is a black and white digital reproduction of an artwork in the “Against the Wall” series by Marlene Dumas, used with permission.

Recommended Readings

The Feinberg Series

The 2022-2023 Feinberg Series is exploring histories of U.S. imperialism and anti-imperialist resistance. It is presented by the UMass Amherst Department of History in collaboration with the Ellsberg Initiative for Peace and Democracy and in partnership with more than two dozen co-sponsors. The Feinberg Family Distinguished Lecture Series is made possible thanks to the generosity of UMass Amherst history department alumnus Kenneth R. Feinberg ’67 and associates.