About this poet

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

His volumes of poetry include: Nothing to Declare: Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015); Pierce the Skin: Selected Poems, 1982-2007 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010); 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

 

The Boat-Header

Henri Cole, 1956

I saw you 
unexpectedly 
on the street today.
Though it was midday 
your eyes were dilated,

and you seemed 
almost electrically 
charged with thought,
with an increased 
speed of speaking:  

"I garden, I grill meat, 
I prowl the bars."  
But I was having
difficulty listening.
Your teeth were growing.  

A muscle 
spasmed against 
my diaphragm;  
I needed 
a bag of ice.  

Still, I could see 
those rooms 
with perfect clarity:  
the coat rack 
and bureau, 

the dinner plates 
with congealed meat,
the flea market Piranesi, 
and the long mirrors
like camera lenses 

freezing us
as the boat-header 
gave you his final 
thrusts, preparatory 
to the cutting-in.

Copyright © 2012 by Henri Cole. Used with permission of the author.

Copyright © 2012 by Henri Cole. Used with permission of the author.

Henri Cole

Henri Cole

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

by this poet

poem
My father lived in a dirty dish mausoleum,
watching a portable black-and-white television,
reading the Encyclopedia Britannica,
which he preferred to Modern Fiction.
One by one, his schnauzers died of liver disease,
except the one that guarded his corpse
found holding a tumbler of Bushmills.
"Dead is dead," he
poem

The pony and the deer are trapped by tanks,

and the lady with the guitar is sad beyond words.

Hurtling across the sky, a missile has mistaken

a vehicle for a helicopter, exploding in a ball

of white flame. Upside-down birds—red specks

of knotted wool—glow above

poem
Tired, hungry, hot, I climbed the steep slope
to town, a sultry, watery place, crawling with insects
and birds.
      In the semidarkness of the mountain,
small things loomed large: a donkey urinating on a palm;
a salt-and-saliva-stained boy riding on his mother's back;
a shy roaming black Adam. I was walking on