Touch Poems

Henri Cole

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

80 Pages



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Henri Cole has shown a continuously mounting talent. In his new book, Touch, written with an almost invisible but ever-present art, he continues to render his human topics—a mother's death, a lover's addiction, war—with a startling clarity. Cole's new poems are impelled by a dark knowledge of the body—both its pleasures and its discontents—and they are written with an aesthetic asceticism in the service of truth. Alternating between innocence and violent self-condemnation, between the erotic and the elegiac, and between thought and emotion, these poems represent a kind of mid-life selving that chooses life. With his simultaneous impulses to privacy and to connection, Cole neutralizes pain with understatement, masterful cadences, precise descriptions of the external world, and a formal dexterity rarely found in contemporary American poetry.


Praise for Touch

"Like the messianic Walt Whitman . . . Henri Cole has spent his career tallying ecstatic and multifarious encounters with physical reality. Such encounters permeate this sumptuous new collection of poems, in which Cole is to be found addressing a pig, a strand of seaweed, and even a mosquito. A characteristic tone of awed ingenuousness . . . is one Cole has learned from Blake and Bishop, though he also keeps an ear to the ground of contemporary speech, describing a torrential downpour as 'rain on steroids.' Cole is known for his hair-raising erotic intimacy . . . but these poems are emphatically universal. 'How can I / defend myself against what I want?' Cole asks with voluptuous candor, and leaves it to us to infer the answer. He can't, and neither can we."—The New Yorker

"Henri Cole stretches the limits of his minimalist style, delves deeper into family memory, and widens the scope of the tensions he explores . . . As a minimalist, Cole comes by ingenuousness naturally . . . After a career of deftly conjuring evocative imagery, Cole has earned the right to utter plain speech . . . No mere ephemeral beauties, Cole's spare, masterfully controlled poems are a sustaining activity, a psychological and emotional accounts are settled and admonishments are meted out, but always with generosity and affection . . . James Baldwin warned that there is something cruel about sentimentality because it is a lie. So in order to really honor the people we love or grieve for, the whole messiness of desire or loss must be permitted to illuminate a poem. Henri Cole's Touch exposes us to both the necessary function to help keep the poet, and the reader, safely positioned in the world."—James Cihlar, Coldfront

"Henri Cole's Touch is a book of reckonings . . . Cole engages the full spirit of reckoning; harshness and comfort of such light."—Paul Otremba, The Houston Chronicle

"Touch, a new collection of poems by Henri Cole published this week by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, offered ample aesthetic rewards. Cole . . . writes in a spare, plain-spoken style, touching on such themes as his mother's death and his lover's drug addiction. Our favorite poems here are specific, precise and grounded in nature, human or otherwise. They're tender and compassionate but clear-eyed, and there's something, if we may presume to say, masculine in their stance."—Bay Area Reporter

"In a cynical age, the Wordsworthian poetry of 'powerful feelings' may be the hardest to write successfully, but Cole has mastered the genre convincingly enough in more than two decades to garner widespread critical praise . . . this new collection of plain-spoken lyrics, many of them sonnets, continues the poet's quest to connect his own physicality and emotion to the larger world by 'seeing into love, seeing into suffering.' The external prompts for this connection may be as innocuous as hens, seaweed, and bats or as devastating as the death of the poet's mother and a relationship with a drug-addicted lover . . . Moving through 'fraught territories/ of self and family' in so heightened a state of awareness risks solipsism and sentimentality, but Cole's meticulous craft prevents his fragile-boned structures from tipping either way, revealing an aesthetic and tonal awareness of equally impressive magnitude."—Fred Muratori, Library Journal
"Cole's . . . book of poems may be his most sensitive (in the manner of a compass needle), pointing as precisely as possible to the various sources of a lifetime's fragility and emotional power. Written mostly in the pseudo-sonnets he's developed in his recent books, these poems take long, at times excruciating looks at memories that Cole's speakers must force themselves to learn from . . . It's as if Cole's extreme attention manages, somehow, to simultaneously magnify and sooth aloneness, a mystery like the one into which a pair of free canaries fly in the book's title poem: 'Though they didn't know where they were going,/ they made their prettiest song of all.'"—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Henri Cole

  • Henri Cole was born in Fukuoka, Japan, and was raised in Virginia. The recipient of many awards, he is the author, most recently, of Pierce the Skin; Blackbird and Wolf; Middle Earth, a Pulitzer Prize finalist; and The Visible Man.

  • Henri Cole Susan Unterberg