cover image Things on Which I've Stumbled

Things on Which I've Stumbled

Peter Cole, . . New Directions, $14.95 (101pp) ISBN 978-0-8112-1803-0

Cole (The Dream of the Poem ) must be one of very few writers to achieve enduring fame as a translator. He lives in Jerusalem and writes his own poems in English, and this first book of his verse in 10 years looks at the long, international history of Jewish literature, the modern enterprise of translation, the troubled contexts of his Middle East, as well as marital love and “the making of miracles such as forgiveness,/ friendship souring inside aloneness,// delight which leaves one exalted.” His self-scrutiny is identified with Jewish tradition: “Where are you, calls the Lord, from beyond/ language.” He is outraged at what the state of Israel has become, a state whose army says to Palestinians, in the words of one poem, “You'll now need a permit just to stay home.” Cole's grave intellection gives this book its best moments and—when his abstractions fail to catch fire—its weakest. Though it utilizes a number of poetic forms, the collection truly shines when Cole chooses the short-lined, sometimes fragmentlike free verse that links him to another poet of terse moral seriousness, George Oppen; admirers of Oppen—and anyone with any interest in Cole's topics—will cherish much of this admirable book. (Sept.)