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April 17, 2007Housing Works Bookstore CaféFrom the Academy Audio Archive

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

Oil & Steel

Henri Cole, 1956
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 would say, an anti-preacher.
I took a plaid shirt from the bedroom closet
and some motor oil—my inheritance.
Once, I saw him weep in a courtroom—
neglected, needing nursing—this man who never showed
me much affection but gave me a knack
for solitude, which has been mostly useful.

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

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

 

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poem
First I saw the round bill, like a bud;
then the sooty crested head, with avernal eyes
flickering, distressed, then the peculiar
long neck wrapping and unwrapping itself,
like pity or love, when I removed the stovepipe
cover of the bedroom chimney to free
what was there and a duck crashed into the room
(I am