Middle Earth Poems

Henri Cole

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

80 Pages



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Winner of the 2004 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award
Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize
A New York Times Notable Book
A Los Angeles Times Best Book

In his fifth collection of verse, Henri Cole offers elegant, melodious lines composed in an open style that is both erotic and visionary. Few contemporary poets so thrillingly illuminate the physical world, and few so movingly evoke the human quest of "a man alone," trying "to say something true that has body, / because it is proof of his existence."

Cole, born in Japan, here draws on austere and resonant images from the art and landscape of that country as he investigates creaturely existence, its cycles of desire and self-reproach, and its conflict of need and delight. Equally at ease with candor and passion and repose, formally hovering within the aura of the sonnet, these poems suggest uncertainty and doubt in language nothing short of revelatory. Middle Earth is the finest book yet from a poet who works are "marvels—unbuttoned, riveting, dramatic—burned into being" (Tina Barr, Boston Review).


Praise for Middle Earth

"This is the most intimate book in American poetry since Plath's Ariel . . . Cole's new poems, proud and knowing and wounded, archly suspicious, can be revealing because they guard their privacies so well. Middle Earth escapes all the praise I can heap upon it."—William Logan, The New Criterion

"Middle Earth is Henri Cole's epiphany, his Whitmanesque sunrise. The modulation of these poems is extraordinary: they have a continuous undersong. 'It must give pleasure,' Wallace Stevens said. So oxymoronic is pleasure-pain, in Henri Cole, that we need to modify Stevens. But for now, poems like 'Icarus Breathing,' 'Original Face,' and 'Olympia' are the poems of our climate. Henri Cole has become a master poet, with few peers . . . A central poet of his generation."—Harold Bloom

"These are the poems of a conjurer, ceremonial and hypnotic . . . This collection marks the birth of Cole, a writer in his late 40s, as a poet for a wider audience. He displays his sense of humor and takes an unguilty pleasure in his visions . . . [Cole] is also a remarkable fabulist, now writing the poems of his career."—Dana Goodyear, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Cole is fated to be a deeply stylish poet, whatever technical tools he picks up or sets down . . . Middle Earth [is] a lyric reconsecration . . . The new voice transfixes us by its incantatory clarity . . . A haunting exploration of the vulnerabilities of the speaking self."—Maureen N. McLane, The New York Times Book Review

"In his fifth collection, Cole, who has won an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, examines the dichotomies between life and death, animal and human, and the lover and the beloved. Many of the poems, including 'My Tea Ceremony' and 'Self-Portrait at the Red Princess,' show a marked Japanese influence; others record a grown son's grief over the death of his father. In 'Radiant Ivory,' the poet attempts to catalog that loss: 'I Iocked / myself in my room, bored and animal-like. / The travel clock, the Johnnie Walker bottle, / the parrot
qltulips—everything possessed his face.' Cole also reminisces about his childhood with his father. In 'Powdered Milk,' he captures a garden memory where 'big ordinary goldfish / chewed through the pond; / and the speech of bees encircled us, / filling a void' . . . Cole writes with clarity and an emotive resonance. These poems succeed as the best poems do: they transport the reader to other worlds, no less beautiful or complicated than our own. Highly recommended."—Library Journal

"This is a book about loneliness and consolation. Cole now sees a 'young gray head in the mirror,' and the poems of his fifth collection report the familiar circumstances of midlife. The decrepitude and death of parents predominate in the book's first section, solitary exchanges with himself and the nonhuman world occur in the second, and personal rituals of self-renewal preoccupy the third . . . This poet [writes with] delicately but with unflinching honesty."—Booklist

"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' . . . this fifth collection, taking Cole from Knopf to FSG, should reach both established fans and new readers."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Henri Cole

  • Henri Cole was born in Fukuoka, Japan, and was raised in Virginia. The recipient of many awards, including the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award for Middle Earth, he is the author of six other books of poetry.

  • Henri Cole Susan Unterberg