Cover image for The visible man
The visible man
Cole, Henri.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 1998.
Physical Description:
viii, 67 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3553.O4725 V57 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Praised by Harold Bloom and many other critics and poets for his earlier collections, Henri Cole has grown steadily in poetic stature and importance. "To write what is human, not escapist," is his endeavor. Now he pursues his aim by folding autobiography and memory into the thirty severe and fiercely truthful lyrics--poems presenting a constant tension between classical repose and the friction of life--that make up this exuberant book. On being awarded the Rome Fellowship in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Henri Cole received the following citation: "In a poetry nervously alive to the maladies of the contemporary, yet suffused by a rare apprehension of the delights of the senses, Henri Cole has relished the world while being unafraid to satirize it. In poems that are both decorative and plain-spoken he permits his readers to share a keen and unsentimental view of the oddities, horrors, and solaces surrounding them at the end of the twentieth century."

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

The man of Cole's title is the poet himself, a sexually submissive homosexual who appreciates art and Catholic Christianity. These are not egoistic poems, though, vaunting the trivia of the poet's life and exquisite sensibilities. Oh, they are, in subject matter, mostly about things seen and experienced in Italy in the book's first part; mostly about the poet's memories of and present attitudes toward his life in the second. But they are, all together, most concerned with what is invisible about him--the difference he strives to expiate as well as express in sex. And when not engaged by sex, how does he, the covert alien, accept a world that is at best ambivalent about him? He does it with gusto, with great insight, with high poetic craft, and with ambivalence: "sometimes, when I turn to the crucifix, / all I see is a naked man, wounded, / utterly desirable . . ." but he prays "anyhow, as if made in the image / and likeness of Him." A provocative and involving fourth collection from this acclaimed younger poet. --Ray Olson

Library Journal Review

Cole (The Look of Things, LJ 2/1/95) has contributed much to contemporary poetry, not just as a poet but as a Harvard lecturer and as the former executive director of the Academy of American Poets. This fourth collection tarnishes that reputation. The problems begin with the title, which brings implications of revelation and epiphany. Unfortunately, the "visible man," or the visible speaker, is obfuscated by underdeveloped allusions, dense diction, and weak images. The style and form of the poems echo those of J.D. McClatchy's latest book, The Ten Commandments, compared with which Cole's efforts pale. Still influenced by the title, the reader expects the speaker to emerge vividly with some proclamation. Hints of such a declaration are strewn throughout: "I want! I want I kept hearing in my head,/ without understanding how I was governed/ by the thing Id hated. Im just like you,/ he moaned." However, these half-committed proclamations fall short each time the speaker shifts to a religious allusion. Perhaps this shift is the construct of the speaker's internal conflict; it is unclear. The 12-part poem "Apollo" alone demonstrates the brilliance of Cole's earlier books. Sadly, the volume cannot stand solely on this one poem. Not recommended.√ĄTim Gavin, Episcopal Acad., Merion, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Self-Portrait as Four Styles of Pompeian Wall Painting First Style To become oneself is so exhausting that I am as others have made me, imitating monumental Greek statuary despite my own feminized way of being. Like the empire, I was born of pain-- or like a boy, one might say, for I have become my father, whom I cannot fathom; the past is a fetish I disdain. Since they found the bloodless little girl, with voluptuous lips, buried in me, I am unsentimental. I do not see the gold sky at sunset but blackbirds hurled like lava stones. I am like a severed finger lost in the wreckage forever. Second Style Unable to care for people, I care mostly for things. At my bitterest, I see love as self-censorship. My face is a little Roman theater in perfect perspective--with colonnades and landscapes--making illusionistic reference to feelings I cannot admit. Painted in Dionysiac yellows and reds, my unconscious is a rocky grotto where flies buzz like formalists. Despite myself, I am not a composite of signs to be deciphered. In the ghetto-- where Jews, prostitutes and sailors once lived-- I am happiest because I am undisguised. Third Syle Tearing away at an old self to make a new one, I am my most Augustan. I grieve little. I try to accustom myself to what is un--Hellenized and chaste. I let my flat black dado assert itself without ornament. Can it be, at last, that I am I--accepting lice clasped to me like a dirty Colosseum cat? On a faded panel of Pompeian red, there's an erotic x-ray of my soul: a pale boy-girl figure is unconsoled, pinned from behind at the farthest edge of human love, where the conscience is not whole, yet finely engraved like a snail's shell. Fourth Style If great rooms declare themselves by the life lived in them, each night I am reborn as men and boys stroll among the ruins, anonymously skirting the floodlights, sinking into me tenderly, as they do each other during their brief hungry acts. "As brief as love," they used to say, Plato and his kind, exiling man from happiness, but I am more than a cave whose campfire, swelling and contracting, is all that is real. Tomorrow, when I am drunk on sunlight, I will still feel the furtive glances, the unchaste kisses and the wet skin imprinting me until I am born again. Excerpted from The Visible Man: Poems by Henri Cole All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.