Prof. Henri Cole honored with Award of Merit Medal by the American Academy of Arts and Letters

CMC literature Prof. Henri Cole has been honored with the Award of Merit Medal by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, putting him in the company of the finest American writers and artists of the past century.

The Award of Merit has been given each year since 1942 to an outstanding person in America representing painting, the short story, sculpture, the novel, poetry, or drama in rotation. Previous medalists include Ernest Hemingway, Aldous Huxley, Thomas Mann, Vladimir Nabokov, Hilda Doolittle, and Andrew Wyeth.

Cole has published nine collections of poetry, including Middle Earth, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 2004. He has received many honors for his work, including the Jackson Prize, the Kingsley Tufts Award, the Rome Prize, the Berlin Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Lenore Marshall Award, and, most recently, a fellowship from the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard. His ninth book, Nothing to Declare, was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux last year.

Literary critic Harold Bloom has called Cole the central poet of his generation. He has been compared to Walt Whitman and Elizabeth Bishop.

"He is a master of cadence, and a connoisseur of the suggestive mysteries surrounding cadence, how rhythms and meanings rub against each other," Irish writer Colm Tóibín said in an introduction for Cole during a poetry festival. "’To write only a poem of language,’ he has said, ‘or only a poem of emotion is not enough. The two must wrestle vigorously with one another, like squirrels for a nut.’

"In his poems, even the plainest statement comes shrouded in a halo of strangeness – it seems reasonable, to us, if not to him, that he was raised in a household where three languages were spoken. The self in his work is explored as a diver might explore the ocean bed, it is ready to be surprised, frightened, puzzled, while the world above the water is noted with something close to calm and half-remembered acceptance. Cole’s poems at times display an amazing eloquence and command of form, but they are usually also impelled by sorrow, by dark knowledge, by pleasure, by the body and its discontents, and by history and what it has left us. It is not surprising that he has invoked the language of prayer as being an early influence."

The medal, which comes with a $25,000 award, will be presented in New York at the Academy’s annual Ceremonial in May.