Monday, April 26, 2010

Henri Cole: Pierce the Skin

The idea of an anthology of Henri Cole’s selected poems will likely inspire conflicted feelings among his most ardent readers. Much like a museum retrospective does for a visual artist or a greatest-hits album does for a pop singer, this kind of collection can serve two important functions in the life of a poet: not only does it implicitly coronate him as a major force within his art form, but it also symbolically sets aside his previous work and enables him to advance into the next chapter of his career.

The problem with this format, though, is that like many of his peers, Cole tends to write books, not just loose arrangements of easily excerpted poems. The scope and texture of his finest verse is best appreciated by reading his three most recent volumes as they were originally published, back to back, in as few sittings as possible. While modern poetry’s bias toward book-length projects can often seem like a beleaguered genre’s attempt at self-aggrandisement, in the case of Cole and other authors of his caliber, it allows for an expansiveness of mood and form, and endless possibilities for juxtaposition and Whitmanian self-contradiction—qualities that inevitably get lost when the poems are reassembled and recontextualised. [The rest of the post can be read at The Oxonian Review.]

1 comment:

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