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Winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Poetry
Winner of the Ambassador Book Award
Winner of the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize
I don't want words to sever me from reality.
I don't want to need them. I want nothing
to reveal feeling but feeling—as in freedom,
or the knowledge of peace in a realm beyond,
or the sound of water poured in a bowl.
—from “Gravity and Center”
In his sixth collection of verse, Henri Cole deepens his excavations and examinations of autobiography and memory. These poems—often hovering within the realm of the sonnet—combine a delight in the senses with the rueful, the elegiac, the harrowing. Central here is the human need for love, the highest function of our species. Whether writing about solitude or unsanctioned desire, animals or flowers, the dissolution of his mother’s body or war, Cole maintains a style that is neither confessional nor abstract, and he is always opposing disappointment and difficult truths with innocence and wonder.
“‘I, upright on hind legs, alternately sexed / (even that seemed banal), didn’t want to go home.’ So ends ‘Maple Leaves Forever,’ one of the free sonnets that make up the bulk of Henri Cole’s new book. The banality with which the speaker greets his transformation is an appropriate stance for a speaker in this book to take, since the book’s pleasure appear in tones so casual as to make them seem obvious . . . An absolute delight to read.”—Charlie Clark, Boston Review
“In his sixth, poet Henri Cole embraces his relationship to the natural world, the mystery of human emotion, and the interior world of memory, what he calls ‘the motor of everything.’ In the prayerful, lyrical poems of Blackbird and Wolf, his follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize finalist Middle Earth, Cole continues his journey as a poet away from poems encrusted with gorgeous, decorative language and toward a more elemental verse where voice submits willingly to feeling and idea . . . Cole is a poet who sees every figure (metaphor, simile, analogy, etc.) as an opportunity to make an idea lives, come alive. For example, the book’s first poem begins moments after a birth; the speaker sits on his mother’s belly ‘like a snail on a cup’ and feels inside him something ‘like limbs of burning sycamores.’ This spare, quiet voice runs throughout Blackbird and Wolf, but Cole creates beautiful language as effortlessly as always, unwinding it like ‘a tough, lustrous thread the pale yellow of onions.’ (‘The Tree Cutters’) . . . Though Cole begins with reflection and observation, with ‘emotions recollected in tranquility,’ his poems end with the intensity of a search for ‘something true to say.’ With the poems’ peaceful surface broken, both speaker and reader, then, are left with brutal, wonderful questions.”—Christopher Hennessy, The Bloomsbury Review
"Henri Cole's spare new book is a meditation serving as memoir—scenes come and go; parents fade away; the poet takes sidelong glances at his aging, graying face in the mirror. Blackbird and Wolf shows the confidence of a poet no longer struggling toward expression . . . The psychological nuance of these images shows the botanical eye of Plath."—William Logan, The New Criterion
"Sunny landscapes long dominated pastorals, marred by the occasional thunderstorm that served to clear the air and engender a rainbow—think of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony. By the late 19th century, ‘nature red in tooth and claw’ had infringed upon those green fields and shady groves. Henri Cole tranquil vistas are dappled with a chiaroscuro of pain. His sixth collection, Blackbird and Wolf, strives to reconcile our tempestuous interior feelings and urges with the spontaneity of beasts and flowers . . . Eschewing the traditions of Virgil or of Wordsworth, Cole's idiom is more reliant on Ovidian metamorphoses that pair horror with renewal. He combines scientific processes (those digesting enzymes or the evolution of species) with mythic concepts. In 'Eating the Peach,' the pit 'resembles / a small mammal's skull,' taking him along a recapitulation of biological development that also echoes the fall of man . . . In his dogged attempts to embrace nature’s apparent grotesqueries, Cole approaches the sublime that Wordsworth defined as a mixture of awe and terror. 'Even when the world seems just a heap of broken things,' he strives to make sense of the natural and emotional intricacies that cause pleasure and pain. Blackbird and Wolf is Cole's most moving book to date."—Phoebe Pettingell, The New Leader
"In his sixth book, Cole wants to write 'something highly controlled / that is the opposite,' and he succeeds. Once a poet of great formal control and dense, sometimes inscrutable lines, Cole now writes simply and sparely, mixing autobiography, eros and the natural world in a voice that buzzes with emotion. Single-lined stanzas accentuate the poems' spareness, placing great pressure on each line. Cole can devastate ('I'm sorry I cannot say I love you when you say / you love me,'), declaim in deadpan ('I have a fever which I'm treating with gin') or plainly declare ('I'm tired of just being a man'). Many poems look grief in the face, addressing a dying mother, an ex-lover, flowers and animals, an absent god, the disappointing self, even the 43rd president, with whom Cole admits to a degree of fellowship—a rare sentiment these days, especially in poems—a common fear of 'some unbroken animal / circling in the dark wood.' There are a very few moments when the feeling drains, but mostly this intimate, honest voice surprises. Poetry 'is stronger / than I am and makes me do what it wants,' Cole writes of the bullying that has produced his best book to date."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)