Forché's first poetry collection, Gathering the Tribes (1976), won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition, leading to publication by Yale University Press. In 1977, she traveled to Spain to translate the work of Salvadoran-exiled poet Claribel Alegría. Upon her return, she received a Guggenheim Fellowship, which enabled her to travel to El Salvador, where she worked as a human rights advocate. Her second book, The Country Between Us (1981), was published with the help of Margaret Atwood. It received the Poetry Society of America's Alice Fay di Castagnola Award, and was also the Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets. She won the 2006 Robert Creeley Award.
Her articles and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Nation, Esquire, Mother Jones, Boston Review, and others. Forché has held three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and in 1992 received a Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowship.
Her anthology, Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness, was published in 1993, and her third book of poetry, The Angel of History (1994), was chosen for The Los Angeles Times Book Award. Her works include the famed poem The Colonel. She is also a trustee for the Griffin Poetry Prize.
Although Forché is sometimes described as a political poet, she considers herself a poet who is politically engaged. After first acquiring both fame and notoriety for her second volume of poems, The Country Between Us, she pointed out that this reputation rested on a limited number of poems describing what she personally had experienced in El Salvador during the Salvadoran Civil War. Her aesthetic is more one of rendered experience and at times of mysticism rather than one of ideology or agitprop. Forché is particularly interested in the effect of political trauma on the poet's use of language. The anthology Against Forgetting was intended to collect the work of poets who had endured the impress of extremity during the 20th century, whether through their engagements or force of circumstance. These experiences included warfare, military occupation, imprisonment, torture, forced exile, censorship, and house arrest. The anthology, composed of the work of one hundred and forty-five poets writing in English and translated from over thirty languages, begins with the Armenian Genocide and ends with the uprising of the pro-Democracy movement at Tiananmen Square. Although she was not guided in her selections by the political or ideological persuasions of the poets, Forché believes the sharing of painful experience to be radicalizing, returning the poet to an emphasis on community rather than the individual ego. In this she was strongly influenced by Terrence des Pres.
Forché is also influenced by her Slovak family background, particularly the life story of her grandmother, an immigrant whose family included a woman resistance fighter imprisoned during the Nazi occupation of former Czechoslovakia. Forché was raised Roman Catholic and religious themes are frequent in her work.
Among her translations are Mahmoud Darwish's Unfortunately, It Was Paradise: Selected Poems (2003), Claribel Alegría's Sorrow (1999), and Robert Desnos's Selected Poetry (with William Kulik, for the Modern English Poetry Series, 1991).
Her fourth book of poems, Blue Hour, was released in 2003. Other books include a memoir, The Horse on Our Balcony (2010, HarperCollins); a book of essays (2011, HarperCollins); and a fifth collection of poems, In the Lateness of the World (Bloodaxe Books, due out in 2015).
Forché received an honorary doctorate from the University of Scranton in 2010.