“archaic cooings: byzantine blue”… echoes of hart crane & wallace stevens in henri cole’s poetry

Cover Image

“The Suicide Hours”


Ignorant and unabashed, I sit in a tub of gas,

cherishing nothing and nobody.

My head, that well-fed lamb,

cannot even find you, O God, whom I loved.

My flesh is the flesh of a single man:

mutable, corrupt.

I do not believe in "like mother like son."

I do not believe life is art, undone.

I do not believe in the orange poppies,

odorless as wax. Cheated and sucked dry,

I believe in nothing, except the wooden match,

thrown like my blue daddy’s neck-cross,

into the bath where faith, hope, & charity

toss against spent-semen, saliva, & tears.


“Blue Grotto”

Curlyhead was bellowing Puccini
and making the boat rock.
The sun shone like a Majolica clock.
The sea boiled noisily.
I lay down like a child in a box.
It was my birthday.

     Above, on a cliff,
a mule pissed on us.
Then the dragging chain
as we lurched into the chasm.
Archaic cooings: Byzantine blue.
J removed her tortoiseshell glasses,
crossing her pretty legs.
C thoughtfully stroked his goatee.
I sat up, as in a coffin
after three hundred lovers.
Starboard, an oar-blade splashed
emeralds against valedictory black.
Once again, description,
unemotional shorthand
for sublimated wisdom,
fails to conjure what we felt;
the poem years for something more.
Like me: childless.
My love & I: gutted words.
My prick: like an instrument for an altar
or surgeon’s table,
shiny & maleficent.
like jaws, bedeviled us.
Sunlight struck the sandy bottom:
Giotto blue, the Tennessean said;
Florida blue, the tobacco queen said;
Cognitive blue, I, the unanalyzed, said.
Nothing from Curlyhead, who rowed vigorously.
Then a serpentine thing,
with five pairs of legs grasping at us,
appeared beside our little boat,
unidentifiably damaged,

     as the young man was,
who boarded our bus going home.
His arms flailed spasmodically.
His face was pinched like a retarded boy’s.
I dedicate this poem to him,
whose unneediness shamed me,
demanding I acknowledge the best in myself,
whose arms & legs
racked the blue lapidary air,
as if burdened by ropes, lantern, & pick,
while he bantered brilliantly to himself,
the mind struggling
to overcome the stick that is the body.

—from Henri Cole, The Visible Man

Praise for The Visible Man

"Henri Cole emerged as an authentic poet in his last book, The Look of Things, a volume worthy of its Stevensian title. His new book, The Visible Man, after many readings, persuades me that Cole will be a central poet of his generation. The tradition of Wallace Stevens and of Hart Crane is beautifully extended in The Visible Man, particularly in the magnificent sequence ‘Apollo.’ Keats and Hart Crane are presences here, and Henri Cole invokes them with true austhetic dignity, which is the mark of nearly every poem in The Visible Man."

—Harold Bloom

"First Loves"
Henri Cole

From the start, I was drawn to poems that resisted my intelligence. In the poems of Hart Crane I found this resistance especially exciting because they were by a homosexual often writing about love. I read them at a time in my life when love and poetry were the only things that mattered to me. Not surprisingly, one was the source of pain and the other was a kind of painkiller. In truth, nothing much has changed since then. Crane’s poems still send a bolt through me. Pain glitters on the edges of them; I expect it is often the pain of unsanctioned love. I like to think this love, despite its humiliations, was enabling to him as a poet, that an absence in life helped him to find a presence in art.

Perhaps, I sometimes rationalize, the ecstasy of sexual love is not so different from the near religious fervor of creating, or rather assembling language into poetry. "Permit me voyage, love, into your hands…." he writes in his lyric sequence "Voyages," a poem that seems to use the flux of tides as a trope for the coming and going of Crane’s own merchant marine-lover. I believe that as a young man I was "a terrible puppet of my dreams" when it came to love. I suppose we all are. Crane felt no different writing "And so it was I entered the broken world / To trace the visionary company of love… / But not for long to hold each desperate choice." It was the cryptic surfaces, the language of non self-exposure, much of it encoded with suffering, that interested me most in Crane. At a time when I could not bear what was minimal and plain in poetry, he gave the young homosexual I was a model, an inflected language, an ecstatic voice, to begin to write about the social and domestic life I wanted to reveal secretly in art. This evening, as I write, through my desk window, across the park, I see one man embrace another on a rooftop terrace. What I witness unexpectedly is the invisible, the true, which is what poems are, what mine strive to be. Some might say I have confused my own dreams and ambitions with Crane’s, projecting myself upon him. Nevertheless, it was this projection that illuminated, in my twenties, many solitary Manhattan nights, which, like the bottom of the sea (where Crane is) were cruel and desolate.

 —from “First Loves,” in Crossroads, Journal of the Poetry Society of America, at http://www.poetrysociety.org/journal/articles/firstloves.html



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