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April 16, 2008 The Arsenal, Central Park From the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

Cole Swenson was born in Kentfield, California, in 1955. She received her BA degree and MA from San Francisco State University, and a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

She is the author of more than ten collections of poetry, including Landscapes on a Train (Nightboat Books, 2015); Gravesend (University of California Press, 2012), finalist for the LA Times Book Prize in Poetry; The Glass Age (Alice James Books, 2007); The Book of a Hundred Hands (University of Iowa Press, 2005); Goest (Alice James Books, 2004), finalist for the National Book Award; Such Rich Hour (University of Iowa Press, 2001); Oh (Apogee Press, 2000); Try(University of Iowa Press, 1999), winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize and winner of the San Francisco State Poetry Center Book Award; Noon (Sun & Moon Press, 1997), winner of the New American Writing Award; Numen(Burning Deck Press, 1995), a finalist for the PEN West Award in Poetry; and New Math (William Morrow & Co., 1988), winner of the National Poetry Series.

Her translations of contemporary French poetry include Physis (2007, by Nicolas Pesquès); Future, Former, Fugitive (2004, by Olivier Cadiot); Oxo (2004, by Pierre Alferi ); Island of the Dead (2002, Jean Frémon) which was awarded the 2004 PEN USA Award for Literary Translation; Bayart (2001, by Pascalle Monnier); Art Poetic (1999, by Olivier Cadiot).

With David St. John, she edited the anthology American Hybrid: A Norton Anthology of New Poetry (W. W. Norton, 2009).

About her work, poet Michael Palmer writes, “Cole Swensen attends fixedly to those minute nuances and wanderings of language whereby the poem builds its particular perceptual logic. The result might well be called a ‘new math,’ or perhaps a calculus of light, shedding new light on things immediately before the eye.”

Swensen received a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation in 2006 and taught at the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa until 2012 when she joined the faculty of Brown University's Literary Arts Program.

Orangeries (audio only)


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Cole Swensen

Cole Swensen

Born in 1955, Cole Swensen is the author of more than ten poetry collections, including Landscapes on a Train (Nightboat Books, 2015). She is coeditor with David St. John of the anthology American Hybrid: A Norton Anthology of New Poetry (W. W. Norton, 2009).

by this poet


as if a road could be otherwise but geometry
defies the man who is lost on the road that
the trees want to reach and reach down
to his walking on
along a verticality that defies
the requirements of normative perspective
and so he will reach, and the trees against chalk—

      noctes illustratas
      (the night has houses)
                         and the shadow of the fabulous
                     broken into handfuls--these
can be placed at regular intervals,
walking down streets at times eclipsed by trees.

Certain cells, it's


In the essay “A Winter Walk,” which predated the more famous essay “Walking”
by a few years, Thoreau paid particular attention to the astonishing array of whites

from fog to snow to frost to the crystals growing outward on threads of light. The
fact that white is separately known. That