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About this poet

Henri Cole was born in Fukuoka, Japan, in 1956 and raised in Virginia. He received his B.A. from the College of William and Mary in 1978, his M.A. from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee in 1980, and his M.F.A. from Columbia University in 1982.

His volumes of poetry include: Blackbird and Wolf (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007), the 2008 recipient of the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; Middle Earth (2003), which received the 2004 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award; The Visible Man (1998); The Look of Things (1995); The Zoo Wheel of Knowledge (1989); and The Marble Queen (1986).

About his own work, Cole writes: "In my own poems, I have grown accustomed to astringency; there is no longer any compulsion to hide or temper the truth, as there was when I was setting out twenty years ago. I do not want to relive what I have felt or seen or hoped along the way, but I do want to extract some illustrative figures, as I do from the parables in the Bible, to help me persevere each day at my writing table, where I must confront myself, overcome any fear of what I might find there, and begin assembling language into poetry."

 

Cole's awards and honors include the Berlin Prize of the American Academy in Berlin, the Rome Prize in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

From 1982 until 1988 Cole was executive director of The Academy of American Poets. Since then he has held many teaching positions and been the artist-in-residence at various institutions, including Smith College, Reed College, Brandeis, Columbia, Harvard, and Yale Universities. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

Multimedia

From the Image Archive

Beach Walk

Henri Cole, 1956
I found a baby shark on the beach.
Seagulls had eaten his eyes. His throat was bleeding.
Lying on shell and sand, he looked smaller than he was.
The ocean had scraped his insides clean.
When I poked his stomach, darkness rose up in him,
like black water. Later, I saw a boy,
aroused and elated, beckoning from a dune.
Like me, he was alone. Something tumbled between us—
not quite emotion. I could see the pink
interior flesh of his eyes. "I got lost. Where am I?"
he asked, like a debt owed to death.
I was pressing my face to its spear-hafts.
We fall, we fell, we are falling. Nothing mitigates it.
The dark embryo bares its teeth and we move on.

Reprinted from Blackbird and Wolf © 2007 by Henri Cole, by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Learn more about FSG poets at fsgpoetry.com.

Reprinted from Blackbird and Wolf © 2007 by Henri Cole, by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Learn more about FSG poets at fsgpoetry.com.

Henri Cole

Henri Cole

Henri Cole was born in Fukuoka, Japan, in 1956 and raised in

by this poet

poem

 

This well-used little bag is just the right size

to carry a copy of the Psalms. Its plain-woven

flowers and helicopter share the sky with bombs

falling like turnips—he who makes light of other

men will be killed by a turnip. A bachelor,

I wear it across my shoulder—it’s easier

poem
Waking from comalike sleep, I saw the poppies,
with their limp necks and unregimented beauty.
Pause, I thought, say something true: It was night,
I wanted to kiss your lips, which remained supple,
but all the water in them had been replaced
with embalming compound. So I was angry.
I loved the poppies, with their
poem
I’m sorry I cannot say I love you when you say
you love me. The words, like moist fingers,
appear before me full of promise but then run away
to a narrow black room that is always dark,
where they are silent, elegant, like antique gold,
devouring the thing I feel. I want the force
of attraction to crush the