MIDDLE EARTH

Henri Cole, Author
Henri Cole, Author . Farrar, Straus & Giroux $20 (80p) ISBN 978-0-374-20881-3
Reviewed on: 03/31/2003
Release date: 04/01/2003
Paperback - 80 pages - 978-0-374-52928-4
Open Ebook - 80 pages - 978-1-4668-7776-4
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Making good on his biography's pointed reference to his Japanese birthplace, Cole spent 2001–2 living in Kyoto on a fellowship from the US-Japan Friendship Commission, an experience that tinges this careful book of formal verse with neo-Orientalism. The patterns and tensions of desire and love are figured here as a series of intimate encounters with animals—a koi "defining itself, like a large white/ flower, by separation from me"—and with a feminine other embodied in Japanese cultural reference: "I tied a paper mask onto my face/ my lips almost inside its small red mouth." Cole, whose last book was 1998's acclaimed The Visible Man, follows circuitous mythic paths into barely remembered childhood years spent in Japan, in search of an Ur-moment that will explain or mitigate the death of the poet's father. In poems like "Olympia," "Medusa" and "Self-Portrait as the Red Princess," restrained lines build tightly to unforeseen lyric bursts, in which desire, guilt, and longing bind child and adult, or "open[] the soft meat of our throats." But too often here that feverish, ecstatic moment is deadened by a discursive comment on how to read a poem or why to write one, as in the prefatory remark where self-portrait as body—"almost naked in the heat/ trying to support a little universe/ of blackening pinks"—slides into a glib mission statement: "as a man alone fills a void with words,/ not to be consoling or point to what is good,/ but to say something true that has body,/ because it is proof of his existence." Yet this fifth collection, taking Cole from Knopf to FSG, should reach both established fans and new readers. (Apr.)

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