New and selected sonnets from Henri Cole, a poet with “a quality of daring that is rare in our poetry” (Louise Glück).
I take joy in considering my generation. I rewrite
to be read, though I feel shame acknowledging it.
Scattered among imposing trees, the ancient
and the modern intersect, spreading germs of pain
and happiness. I curl up in my fleece and drink.
Gravity and Center collects almost thirty years of deeply original work by one of America’s greatest living poets. As his writing has grown and changed, Henri Cole has conceived and articulated an approach of his own to one of poetry’s most enduring and challenging forms: the sonnet. Cole writes in his afterword, “I believe a poem is a sonnet if it behaves like one, and this doesn’t mean rhyming iambic pentameter lines. More important is the psychological dimension, the little fractures and leaps and resolutions the poem enacts . . . For some reason the lean, muscular body of the sonnet frees me to be simultaneously dignified and bold, to appear somewhat socialized though what I have to say may be eccentric or unethical, and, most important of all, to have aesthetic power while writing about the tragic situation of the individual in the world.”
Cole is both confessional and abstract, intimate and cosmopolitan, astringent and slain by beauty. Whether he is writing about the contingencies of selfhood, the lives of animals and plants, or the violent events of the world, there is always the incandescence of his language and the power and surprise of unique formal mastery.
“What a hive of feeling, thinking activity this book is . . . This is one of the least boring books of poems I’ve read in a long time . . . Cole’s sonnet is a form both economical and maximal, which, through both artifice and resistance to artifice, feels and makes you feel, thinks and makes you think.” —Daisy Fried, The New York Times Book Review
"This volume of sonnets by one of the form's most distinctive practitioners calibrates tensions between mind and body, nature and culture, self and society, freedom and restraint . . . the poems feel at once delphic and deeply personal, mapping the thin and porous membrane between the author's inner and outer worlds." —The New Yorker
"For all the tightness and rigidity the sonnet form sometimes suggests, [Cole] is remarkable for how he lets in the light . . . These sonnets don’t let formal restriction inhibit the flow of emotion and heart . . . Beautiful, searing work." —Andrew McMillan, Poetry
"These sonnets embody all the best qualities of this poet's enviable economy of language, evocative imagery, wicked turns of phrase, and sheer lyrical genius . . . That Cole manages to range the wide spectrum of human experience within the 14 lines of the sonnet is testament both to the poet's craft and the form itself." —Diego Báez, Booklist (Starred Review)
"Henri Cole brings memory and emotion to life on the page in Gravity and Center. Landscapes of earth, sky, and water are the backdrop for emotions and desire, punctuated with unique fragrances and tastes that bring life to their sonnet form . . . Each one of the sonnets in this collection, taken from the last thirty years of his work, has his signature: raw, powerful, gritty emotion encased in elegant prose, each one unique, apart from their structure." —Janet Rodriguez, The Rumpus
“There’s no easy resolution in this showcase of Cole’s subtle and evocative rendering of the human experience.” —Publishers Weekly