Monday, December 21, 2009

Henri Cole

Henri Cole was born in Fukuoka, Japan, and was raised in Virginia. The recipient of many awards, he is the author of Middle Earth (2003), a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and, most recently, Blackbird and Wolf (2007). His new collection, Pierce the Skin: Selected Poems, 1982-2007, is out in March 2010 from Farrar Straus Giroux. Cole lives in Boston and teaches at Ohio State University in Columbus.

Recently I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
At present, I'm reading an assortment of things: a new book of poems called Ninety-fifth Street, by University of Wisconsin philosophy professor John Koethe. It's his eighth book of poems and full of beauty and feeling. Most of the poems revisit memories -- of a boyhood in California, of becoming a man at Princeton and Harvard, early friendships with the New York School poets, and much more. I think of Koethe as a descendant of Wordsworth, mixing autobiography and memory, in his darkly ruminative, highly readable poems.

Then there's the poet Marilyn Chin's first work of prose, Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen, about two rebellious sisters growing up in the back of their grandmother's Chinese restaurant. The stories are real and surreal in their depictions of immigrant life. The two sisters drive a delivery van around their Southern California "hood" having adventures that call to mind female suffering across the centuries, but also the Chinese tradition of the revenge tale. The stories are part autobiography, part satire, and part feminist fantasy.

Then there's A Village Life, by Louise Glück, my favorite American poet. In these long awaited poems, Glück embraces a new style with longer lines and narration that makes me think of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town," about a village's citizens facing threshold moments of life, with fields, rivers and mountains as a backdrop. I love this book, in part, because of how Glück, speaking calmly in the present tense, gives the reader knowledge from the center of human experience. She is a marvelous poet.

Then there's Joyce Carol Oates Wild Nights!, stories about the last days of Poe, Dickinson, Twain, James, and Hemingway. The book, in part, is about creativity and age, though it doesn't really fit any genre, with its apprehension of four distinctive selves and its reimagining of events in their lives. I'm partial to the strangest and drollest of these tales, in which a bored suburban couple, the Krims, brings home a computerized mannequin meant to simulate Emily Dickinson, then events spiral downward from there. This is an original and quirky work by one of the finest living American writers.

Finally, I am reading the libretto to an upcoming opera, Amelia, in which a first time mother-to-be, whose psyche has been scarred by the loss of her pilot father in Vietnam, must break free from anxiety and embrace healing and renewal. The story interweaves one woman's emotional journey, the American experience in Vietnam, and elements of myth and history. This is an intensely personal libretto by the American poet Gardner McFall. Amelia will receive its premiere at the Seattle Opera this coming spring.
Visit Henri Cole's website.

--Marshal Zeringue