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Pierce the Skin

Selected Poems, 1982-2007

Henri Cole

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Pierce the Skin Download image

ISBN10: 0374532664
ISBN13: 9780374532666

Trade Paperback

160 Pages



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Cole's most recent poems have a daring sensitivity and imagistic beauty unlike anything on the American scene today. Whether they are exploring pleasure or pain, humor or sorrow, triumph or fear, they reach for an almost shocking intensity. Cole's fourth book, Middle Earth, awakened his audience to him as a poet now writing the poems of his career.

Pierce the Skin brings together sixty-six poems from the past twenty-five years, including work from Cole's early, closely observed, virtuosic books, long out of print, as well as his important more recent books, The Visible Man (1998), Middle Earth (2003), and Blackbird and Wolf (2007). The result is a collection reconsecrating Cole's central themes: the desire for connection, the contingencies of selfhood and human love, the dissolution of the body, the sublime renewal found in nature, and the distance of language from experience. "I don't want words to sever me from reality," Cole says, striving in Pierce the Skin to break the barrier even between word and skin. Maureen N. McLane wrote in The New York Times Book Review that Cole is a poet of "self-overcoming, lusting, loathing and beautiful force." This book will have a permanent place with other essential poems of our moment.


Praise for Pierce the Skin

"Henri Cole's tranquil vistas are dappled with a chiaroscuro of pain . . . In his dogged attempts to embrace nature's apparent grotesqueries, Cole approaches the sublime that Wordsworth defined as a mixture of awe and terror."—Phoebe Pettinggell, The New Leader

"Cole's private but accessible poems reconnect with the life of the senses . . . Direct and elegant."—Chicago Tribune

"This is not poetry for the faint of heart, or for anyone wishing for a merely inspiring read; it is heartbreaking and purifying as only great poetry can be."—Craig Morgan Teicher, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

"Cole has been called a 'major poet' by no less an authority than Harold Bloom, and his work has been consistently lauded throughout his closely watched career. This […] selection from Cole's six previous books offers the first bird's-eye view of Cole's body of work, and it will most likely leave readers wanting more. Cole is nothing if not constantly intense on the page—his verse is always melancholy, but also carries a kind of religious weight, as if sadness itself were a ticket out of Hell. Cole is unafraid to embarrass himself ('After the death of my father,' begins one poem, 'I locked// myself in my room, bored and animallike') if it will lead him to his particular brand of skinned clarity, as when, at the end of the same poem, he seeks his father in 'a little room in which glowing cigarettes// came and went, like souls losing magnitude,// but none with the battered hand I knew.' In Cole's poems, the stakes are always impossibly high, and every insight is deeply costly. But perhaps that's the price for being able to say, 'I can feel my heart beating inside my heart.'"—Publishers Weekly (starred review)


From The Marble Queen (1986)
V-Winged and Hoary
Heart of the Monarch
The Mare
The Marble Queen
Father's Jewelry Box

From The Zoo Wheel of Knowledge (1989)
The Annulment
A Half-Life
White Shets
Ascension on Fire Island
The Zoo Wheel of Knowledge

From The Look of Things (1995)
The Pink and The Black
Paper Dolls
40 Days and 40 Nights
The Roman Baths at Nîmes
You Come When I Call You
The Minimum Circus
Harvard Classics
Une Lettre À New York
Buddha and The Seven Tiger Cubs

From The Visible Man (1998)
White Spine
Adam Dying
From Chiffon Morning
The Coast Guard Station
Black Mane
From Apollo

From Middle Earth (2003)
Self-Portrait in a Gold Kimono
Icarus Breathing
The Hare
Radiant Ivory
Ape House, Berlin Zoo
Black Camellia
Landscape with Deer and Figure
Green Shade
Myself with Cats
Pillowcase with Praying Mantis
Original Face
My Tea Ceremony
Self-Portrait as the Red Princess
Snow Moon Flower

From Blackbird and Wolf (2007)
Mimosa Sensitiva
Oil & Steel
To Sleep
The Tree Cutters
Self-Portrait with Hornets
Gravity and Center
American Kestrel
Bowl of Lilacs
My Weed
Self-Portrait with Red Eyes
Beach Walk
Dead Wren
To The Forty-Third President


Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

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 Blackbird and Wolf (FSG, 2007) and Middle Earth (FSG, 2003), which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

Susan Unterberg

Henri Cole

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