“….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.”Henri Cole
by Henri Cole
First I saw the round bill, like a bud;
then the sooty crested head, with avernal eyes
flickering, distressed, then the peculiar
long neck wrapping and unwrapping itself,
like pity or love, when I removed the stovepipe
cover of the bedroom chimney to free
what was there and a duck crashed into the room
(I am here in this fallen state), hitting her face,
bending her throat back (my love, my inborn
turbid wanting, at large all night), backing away,
gnawing at her own wing linings (the poison of my life,
the beast, the wolf), leaping out the window,
which I held open (now clear, sane, serene),
before climbing back naked into bed with you.
Henri Cole was born in post war Japan. His family moved to Virginia, where he was raised in an culturally diverse family. Cole grew up speaking English, French and Armenian. Cole has received numerous awards for his more than 10 volumes of poetry. Cole has had a long and successful academic career, teaching at Ohio State University, Harvard University, and Yale University and served as artist in residence at many others. He currently lives in Boston and teaches at Claremont McKenna College.
I was attracted to Cole’s poems as a continuation of pride week. An openly gay poet and scholar, Cole brings a quality of discordance into his poems, a tension in the balance between being completely open, while maintaining a level of restraint that provides both privacy and room for the reader to find their own threads in the narrative.
I picked these two poems, because they both speak about the need for human companionship and caring, even with the creatures we share our daily space in our community. I would be curious to know if the sonnet has influenced Cole and his writing? Each of these poems are 14 lines. Although Cole does not use rhyme, there is a clever meter in each poem that keeps each of these poems flowing, with more often than not the lines having 10 syllables.
One thing I find interesting is a poet’s decisions on line spacing. I am genuinely curious why in one he choose normal spacing and the other double spacing, each line in clear separation from the other, providing it more white space to hang out on its own, like the independent cat Yang that Cole is having a poetic conversation. I have never been a big fan of poets that start and stop lines all over the page, as for me it usually becomes a distraction, I have a harder time embedding myself in the poem. But I admit once in a while that technique works for me and I see greater clarity from the chaos. I do find that spacing and indentation can make reading some poems easier, particularly long form classical poetry, where often every other line or some sequence of lines is indented slightly.
As a reader, look at both these poems visually. Which do you prefer just as you gaze on them and not read them? Do you find that you are naturally more or less attracted to some poems based solely on how the poet and editor presented the poem on the page? If yes, why do you think that is and how did that propensity for affinity arise? And if you are a poet, how do you decide in the creative process word placement on the page as well as word selection? How important is presentation to you in the final work and how much time do you spend on editing on that aspect of your poetry?