The Visible Man: Poems

Overview

Henri Cole has grown steadily in poetic stature and importance. "To write what is human, not escapist," is his endeavor. Now he pursues his aim by folding autobiography and memory into the thirty severe and fiercely truthful lyrics - poems presenting a constant tension between classical repose and the friction of life - that make up this exuberant book.
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Overview

Henri Cole has grown steadily in poetic stature and importance. "To write what is human, not escapist," is his endeavor. Now he pursues his aim by folding autobiography and memory into the thirty severe and fiercely truthful lyrics - poems presenting a constant tension between classical repose and the friction of life - that make up this exuberant book.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Cole (The Look of Things, LJ 2/1/95) has contributed much to contemporary poetry, not just as a poet but as a Harvard lecturer and as the former executive director of the Academy of American Poets. This fourth collection tarnishes that reputation. The problems begin with the title, which brings implications of revelation and epiphany. Unfortunately, the "visible man," or the visible speaker, is obfuscated by underdeveloped allusions, dense diction, and weak images. The style and form of the poems echo those of J.D. McClatchy's latest book, The Ten Commandments, compared with which Cole's efforts pale. Still influenced by the title, the reader expects the speaker to emerge vividly with some proclamation. Hints of such a declaration are strewn throughout: "I want! I want I kept hearing in my head,/ without understanding how I was governed/ by the thing Id hated. Im just like you,/ he moaned." However, these half-committed proclamations fall short each time the speaker shifts to a religious allusion. Perhaps this shift is the construct of the speaker's internal conflict; it is unclear. The 12-part poem "Apollo" alone demonstrates the brilliance of Cole's earlier books. Sadly, the volume cannot stand solely on this one poem. Not recommended.--Tim Gavin, Episcopal Acad., Merion, PA
Kirkus Reviews
With his fourth book of poems, this Harvard lecturer has come a long way from the archness and puerility of his debut effort, The Marble Queen (1986), and he knows it"time and again throughout this volume of expert autobiographical narratives and lyrics, Cole repudiates his previous work as overly formal, descriptive, and dishonest in matters of the self. Disdaining the past as a "fetish," Cole now prefers "to write what is human, not escapist," and that seems to mean to write a lot about his homosexuality. In "Etna," he bids farewell to "false art," "God"s looming hand," and sexual "self-loathing." Half of the poems here take their inspiration from Cole"s year in Italy, where Catholic opulence further alienates him from a church that, in his view, hates what he is ("White Spine"). Whether in St.Peter"s, the Pope"s gardens, or Santa Maria Maggiore, he can imagine only punitive clergy, a destroyed eco-system, and God as a "Master of Pain." With friends at a hunt club ("The Black Jacket") or among scholars ("The Scholars"), the poet feels alone in his honesty, as he does in "To a Prince," which warns a gay friend about the "public lies" implicit in his impending marriage. In the later group of poems, Cole mostly rehearses his tortured sexual and religious development, especially in the superb sonnet sequence "Apollo." Born again as a poet, Cole explores "human anguish" with a rawness that sometimes plays out as self-pity.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375703669
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/25/2000
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 80
  • Product dimensions: 5.74 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.38 (d)

Read an Excerpt

"Self-Portrait as Four Styles of Pompeian Wall Painting"

First Style

To become oneself is so exhausting
that I am as others have made me,
imitating monumental Greek statuary
despite my own feminized way of being.
Like the empire, I was born of pain--
or like a boy, one might say, for I have
become my father, whom I cannot fathom;
the past is a fetish I disdain.
Since they found the bloodless little girl,
with voluptuous lips, buried in me,
I am unsentimental. I do not see
the gold sky at sunset but blackbirds hurled
like lava stones. I am like a severed
finger lost in the wreckage forever.


Second Style

Unable to care for people, I care
mostly for things. At my bitterest,
I see love as self-censorship.
My face is a little Roman theater
in perfect perspective--with colonnades
and landscapes--making illusionistic
reference to feelings I cannot admit.
Painted in Dionysiac yellows and reds,
my unconscious is a rocky grotto
where flies buzz like formalists.
Despite myself, I am not a composite
of signs to be deciphered. In the ghetto--
where Jews, prostitutes and sailors once lived--
I am happiest because I am undisguised.


Third Syle

Tearing away at an old self to make
a new one, I am my most Augustan.
I grieve little. I try to accustom
myself to what is un--Hellenized and chaste.
I let my flat black dado assert
itself without ornament. Can it be, at last,
that I am I--accepting lice clasped
to me like a dirty Colosseum cat?
On a faded panel of Pompeian red,
there's an erotic x-ray of my soul:
a pale boy-girlfigure is unconsoled,
pinned from behind at the farthest edge
of human love, where the conscience is not whole,
yet finely engraved like a snail's shell.


Fourth Style

If great rooms declare themselves by the life
lived in them, each night I am reborn
as men and boys stroll among the ruins,
anonymously skirting the floodlights,
sinking into me tenderly, as they do
each other during their brief hungry acts.
"As brief as love," they used to say, Plato
and his kind, exiling man from happiness,
but I am more than a cave whose campfire,
swelling and contracting, is all that is real.
Tomorrow, when I am drunk on sunlight,
I will still feel the furtive glances,
the unchaste kisses and the wet skin
imprinting me until I am born again.
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Table of Contents

Arte Povera 3
Self-Portrait as four Styles of Pompeian Wall Painting 4
White Spine 6
Folly 7
Charity 9
The Black Jacket 10
The Scholars 12
ETNA 15
To a Prince 17
Giallo Antico 18
The Color of Feeling and the Feeling of Color 20
The Blue Grotto 22
Painted Eyes 24
Adam Dying 26
26 Hands 27
Childlessness 33
Chiffon Morning 34
The Coastguard Station 37
Anagram 39
Horses 41
Colloquy 42
The White Marriages 44
The Long View 45
Mesmerism 46
The Suicide Hours 47
Jealousy 48
Black Mane 49
Peonies 51
Bearded Irises 52
Apollo 54
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