Pierce the Skin: Selected Poems, 1982-2007
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A GENEROUS SELECTION FROM ONE OF OUR GREATEST LIVING POETS
Henri Cole has been described as a "fiercely somber, yet exuberant poet" by Harold Bloom, who identifies him as the central poet of his generation. Cole's most recent poems have a daring sensitivity and imagistic beauty unlike anything on the American scene today. Whether they are exploring pleasure or pain, humor or sorrow, triumph or fear, they reach for an almost shocking intensity. Cole's fourth book, Middle Earth, awakened his audience to him as a poet now writing the poems of his career.
Pierce the Skin brings together sixty-six poems from the past twenty-five years, including work from Cole's early, closely observed, virtuosic books, long out of print, as well as his important more recent books, The Visible Man (1998), Middle Earth (2003), and Blackbird and Wolf (2007). The result is a collection reconsecrating Cole's central themes: the desire for connection, the contingencies of selfhood and human love, the dissolution of the body, the sublime renewal found in nature, and the distance of language from experience. "I don't want words to sever me from reality," Cole says, striving in Pierce the Skin to break the barrier even between word and skin. Maureen N. McLane wrote in The New York Times Book Review that Cole is a poet of "self-overcoming, lusting, loathing and beautiful force." This book will have a permanent place with other essential poems of our moment.
when I removed the stovepipe cover of the bedroom chimney to free what was there and a duck crashed into the room (I am here in this fallen state), hitting her face, bending her throat back (my love, my inborn turbid wanting, at large all night), backing away, gnawing at her own wing linings (the poison of my life, the beast, the wolf), leaping out the window, which I held open (now clear, sane, serene), before climbing back naked into bed with you. Poppies Waking from comalike sleep,
I almost fear you, as if today were my funeral. Moment by moment, enzymes digest your life into a kind of coffin liqueur. Two flies, like coroners, investigate your feathers. My clock is your obelisk, though only this morning you lunged into my room, extravagant as Nero, then, not seeing yourself in the sunlit glass, struck it. Night—what beams does it clear away? The rain falls. The sky is pained. All that breathes suffers. Yet the waters of affliction are purifying. The wounded
“Tarantula”: Columbia: A Magazine of Poetry and Prose “The Zoo Wheel of Knowledge”: The Gettysburg Review “The Marble Queen”: The Nation “The Mare”: The Nation “Icarus Breathing”: The New Republic “Mask”: The New Republic “My Tea Ceremony”: The New Republic “The Pink and the Black”: The New Republic “American Kestrel”: The New Yorker “Bowl of Lilacs”: The New Yorker “Chiffon Morning”: The New Yorker “40 Days and 40 Nights”: The New Yorker “Gravity and Center”: The New Yorker “Gulls”:
who drink from the pond, their shaggy manes dappled with air; who see those that flee from them, yet wait and breathe accustomed to the night; and who listen tirelessly for grasses to blow on the plain again. FROM The Look of Things 1995 The Pink and the Black The sea a goblet of black currant liqueur. The pink sky regarding me sadly. The hand that was mine, motionless, between passages in a story. The sucking sound of underwater breathing, spitting. The limy bubbles sequinning the
mother and father creating and destroying, is mutable and one with God, is man and wife speaking, is innocence betrayed by justice, is not sentimental but sentimentalized, is a body contained by something bodiless. VI On the sand there were dead things from the deep. Faint-lipped shells appeared and disappeared, like language assembling out of gray. Then a seal muscled through the surf, like a fetus, and squatted on a sewage pipe. I knelt in the tall grass and grinned at it. Body and