After Against Forgetting, ed. by Caroline Forché I draw tik marks on the page — wanting to see what hundreds of thousands looks like, Bertolt Brecht addressed die Nachgeborenen, future generations, “Remember, When you speak of our failings The dark time too Which you have escaped.” And I ask you, what about the current generation, As you write me extubated four today, a record, Dare we share what you have seen, like Radnόti’s postcard, reveal the blood? How you watch bodies wither away, in a row toward the river that became their lungs, emollient puddles. How you became a one trick pony: pushing pockets of air Purple face, face down—the quietist death: alone, and the delirious insane, put into a dream never to wake, no meds yet you said month after month, and today. You stepped into a horrible dream on repeat, a routine that never changes—never ends, saying this is one way people go insane.
Cole W. Williams
What is the significance of this work to you?
"We all know that atrocities have taken place on an unprecedented scale in the last one hundred years. Such monstrous acts have come to seem almost normal. It becomes easier to forget than to remember, and this forgetfulness becomes our defense against remembering—a rejection of unnecessary sentimentality, a hardheaded acceptance of "reality,"" from Against Forgetting. I heard at one point over the course of 2020 that not much had been recorded and preserved about the 1918 pandemic. It seems no one wanted to remember the hardship or perhaps other looming hardships were overlapping and quick to arise. However, I see the current pandemic as a vessel for the inter-relatability of all hardships we face; social justice, climate challenges, food deserts, struggles for healthcare access and housing (and more) are all pushed into our waking, daily consciousness and we are confronted with the choice of where to settle our gaze.
What is the significance of the form you chose for this work?
Through the study of the poetic tradition, poetry of witness, as found in the anthology Against Forgetting and Poetry of Witness, edited by Carolyn Forché, I began to combine the letter poem or epistolary, to my current experience(s); asking myself What am I witnessing now? In this intimate setting, we reveal how our personal relationships relate to macro events transpiring beyond our control. From the anthology, Forché writes, "The epistolary mode, while intimate and private, is also deeply public. It has always been the poetry of the middle style, of a conscientious communality, an attempt to speak for more than one and to engage all others. So it is when Bertolt Brecht addresses die Nachgeborenen, the generations that come after him. His poem is a self-laceration but also a demand for humility from the future."
What was your process for creating this work
I wrote in a conversational style to the introduction of the anthology Against Forgetting. With this inspiration, I overlaid our current experience(s), in this case, witnessing how my partner is affected by serving as a frontline worker in healthcare during the covid-19 pandemic. Choosing the letter format not only depicts the isolation that often comes with times of social challenge, but also invites the reader into a space of relatability and intimacy, a fragile space revealing the search for our deepest truths. It is ultimately, a letter of fortitude and hope.
Cole W. Williams is currently enrolled in the Creative Writing MFA program at Augsburg University, Minnesota. She has taught at The Loft Literary Center and judges the annual MIPA Awards. Accepted to the Rockvale Writers’ Colony for spring 2021. Forthcoming poems with Waxing & Waning, Harpy Hybrid Review and this year’s Moon Tide Press anthology. Williams has been featured on Authors on the Air, CBS Women’s Watch and GSMC for her children’s science book.