A comforting night of poetry from Professor Henri Cole at the Ath

Poet Henri Cole offered a soothing balm for tumultuous times during his virtual Ath appearance.

Cole, who is CMC’s Josephine Olp Weeks Professor of Literature, read 14 of his original poems and took questions from fellow poets, students, and friends.

A finalist for the Pulitzer in 2004, Cole has received many awards for his work, including the Jackson Prize, the Kingsley Tufts Award, the Berlin Prize, the Rome Prize, the Lenore Marshall Award, and the Medal in Poetry from American Academy of Arts and Letters.

His recent appearance at the Athenaeum celebrated the publication of Cole’s 10th book of poems, “Blizzard.” The title does not refer to a “weather event,” Cole said, but rather “to a deluge of feeling.”

A self-described “lyric poet,” most of the poems Cole shared are free-verse sonnets. According to a review of “Blizzard” recently published in the New Yorker, Cole “has made the form his own.”

The poetry that Cole poured forth included memories from his childhood (“On Peeling Potatoes”), snapshots of the self (“Gross National Unhappiness”), and reflections on the AIDS epidemic (“Keep Me”). In addition to reading poems from “Blizzard,” Cole read two new poems that he’s written while in confinement during the pandemic.

His recent appearance at the Athenaeum celebrated the publication of Cole’s 10th book of poems, “Blizzard.” The title does not refer to a “weather event,” Cole said, but rather “to a deluge of feeling.”

A self-described “lyric poet,” most of the poems Cole shared are free-verse sonnets. According to a review of “Blizzard” recently published in the New Yorker, Cole “has made the form his own.”

The poetry that Cole poured forth included memories from his childhood (“On Peeling Potatoes”), snapshots of the self (“Gross National Unhappiness”), and reflections on the AIDS epidemic (“Keep Me”). In addition to reading poems from “Blizzard,” Cole read two new poems that he’s written while in confinement during the pandemic.

Between poems, Cole offered gratitude to the audience. “I’m so glad to be able to do this and connect with my friends, students and colleagues in California,” Cole said.  “I’ve only seen three people in confinement since March. They’ve kept me going since I live alone. Thank you for signing in for this.”

Ath fellows Nandeeni Patel ’21 and Chris Agard ’21 moderated the question and answer portion of the presentation. 

A CMC student wanted to know Cole’s process to selecting new words to use in his poems. “As a poet with 10 books, I’m always looking for some way to refresh what I’m doing in some way, to bring something new. I think of my poems as a river, I want as many streams as possible to be feeding the river. As I age, I welcome new streams of freshness into the river of writing. I seek them out, in fact,” he said.

When asked to provide advice to aspiring poets, Cole said: “I value listening more than speaking. The more you listen, the deeper you will become. As a poet, you can’t over-rate the value of the music of language. The voice of a poem is the voice of one person connecting to a reader, it is a very unique connection to have. I think to have that connection, you have to listen, and I know that can be hard.”

—Anne Bergman