When Henri Cole writes in “Gravity and Center:”
I don’t want words to sever me from reality.
I don’t want to need them. I want nothing
to reveal feeling but feeling—as in freedom,
or the knowledge of peace in a realm beyond,
or the sound of water poured into a bowl.
it could be his personal ars poetica. Take some time to give the poem repeated readings, to allow yourself to experience how the poem moves and unfolds.
Every poet struggles with the paradox that poetry attempts to use language to do what we know it can’t: to be as clear as “the sound of water poured into a bowl.” Just as intellect, custom, habits and personal history inhibit us from experiencing this clarity in our daily lives, it renders it nearly impossible for poets to achieve it in their art. Cole knows this. His poems seem to emerge from the calm acceptance that he is going to keep trying in spite of it.
Cole looks inward with the same intensity as our most emotionally explosive “confessional” poets. Many of the poets lumped together under that moniker seem to proceed with a kind of violence, as if the effort needed to tear away the mask, to assert, reclaim or save oneself requires a certain amount of anger or rage.
The speaker in Henri Cole’s poems is much calmer. Indeed, the calmness with which he peels aside layers of conventional reticence regarding self-disclosure would be disconcerting if his tone did not reassure us we are listening to a kind and gentle voice. Cole’s meticulous attention to the sound of speech—each line is a little self-contained musical composition—welcomes and soothes the reader even as he delves into levels of self-reflection we might otherwise find frightening.
Cole’s voice is tempered by empathy and compassion. The project of the poems seems to be to proceed with empathy, wherever that leads. This is no small undertaking considering how easy it is for all of us, even in art, to resort to positions of judgment or superiority to protect ourselves from the openness that genuine empathy requires of us.
Henri Cole has continued this pursuit in collection after collection; his art and his readers have benefited from his persistence.
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[…] poetry retreat—the Common Gathering—on May 3rd in Princeton. Our featured poet for the day is Henri Cole—whose readings and discussions will delight us […]