What You Have Heard Is True

| Reading

Today, in my poetry workshop, we took a look at Carolyn Forche’s iconic prose poem, “The Colonel,” which famously begins, “What you have heard is true.” I love to show young poets this text because it uses simple, clear, unadorned language to, well, punch the reader in the face. We trace the poem’s movements, as it becomes increasingly ominous and eventually horrifying. Although the poem is set at a dinner (one that includes “rack of lamb, good wine”), almost from the first sentence, we know something isĀ very wrong. I like to ask students: When, in this poem, did your spidey senses start to tingle? Where, in the poem, did you begin to understand that this is no ordinary scene? And, then, there are the ears. There is nothing like them in any other poem:

The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this. He took one of them in his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a water glass. It came alive there.

You can read the whole poem by visiting the Poetry Foundation website, here.