Professor Henri Cole was installed as Josephine Olp Weeks Professor of Literature in a February 26 ceremony at the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum.
Cole has published nine collections of poetry, including Middle Earth, which was a 2004 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. A memoir, Orphic Paris, was published by New York Review Books last spring.
Cole’s numerous awards include the Jackson Prize, the Kingsley Tufts Award, the Rome Prize, the Berlin Prize, the Lenore Marshall Award, and the Medal in Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in May 2017.
After receiving a medallion from Dean of Faculty Peter Uvin, Cole began his presentation, “Love, Death, Infidelity, Friendship, Aging, Greed, and the Workings of Fate,” by noting the honor was especially meaningful as it came from his colleagues in the literature department and because the professorship is named for a woman.
“My most important teachers were women and my favorite writers are women—two are right in this room, Joyce Carol Oates and Mary Gaitskill,” Cole said. “There should be more endowed chairs named for women.”
The poet’s role, Cole said, is to “capture what is to be human,” and seems more necessary than ever in society. “To say something true in an atmosphere of beauty made out of language—since there is so much in our daily lives that seems intent on obliterating these solitary moments of being and seeing—poetry that records and preserves them, seems to me, like air and food and love, essential and good.”
Following his remarks, Cole read a series of new poems, and responded to questions from the audience.