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For Henri Cole, Pleasure-Pain Balance Is Oxymoronic

By Harriet Staff

A great review by Julia Guez of Henri Cole’s newest book, Touch, has just been posted at BOMBLOG. Guez uses Freud as a framework to discuss the text, specifically his “Beyond the Pleasure Principle.” More on this:

There may be no better way to frame my analysis of Henri Cole’s newest collection, Touch. Cole is fearless in treating the loss of a mother. He is fearless in treating other losses, as well—the hens, for example, victims of capital punishment. At points, the only constraints seem to be formal.

The collection is comprised of several framing-devices (beginning with the white-framed photograph on the cover, courtesy of the author). There are three sections. Each is headed or framed with an epigraph—one from Mother, one from Bishop, one from Auden, “In Memory of Sigmund Freud.”

Parentheses serve as another way of framing, another way of enclosing something that may or may not be spoken outright but cannot be left unspoken entirely. Or they represent a self in conversation with itself, a mind making note of a stray detail, memory, text, etymology or admonition, as in “(Spanish mulatto, small mule)” or “(they look like / mountains).”

In some cases, the parentheses represent unconscious, peripheral or, at this particular moment, inconvenient or unsettling questions that insist themselves in the plane of poetry, as in “(couldn’t you go a little easy?), (Let go of the spirit departed),” or “(Continue your life)?”

Wallace Stevens said, “It must give pleasure.” According to Harold Bloom, “So oxymoronic is pleasure-pain, in Henri Cole, that we need to modify Stevens.” The pleasure-pain balance, carefully calibrated and maintained throughout the collection, reaches a kind of apogee in “Immortal.” The balance is somewhat off-set, however, in “Taxidermied Fawn.”

Recapitulating the loss of mother and fawn, the last two lines are so matter of fact, plainspoken, syntactically so simple and straightforward, they are simultaneously masterful and off-putting, channeling a pathos that is almost overmuch, refusing to cut or compromise the raw and the bleak and the real with some kind of salve, some kind of gentleness, insight, humor, or, at the very least, a line whose musicality, a line whose meter and sound approximate the meter and sound of the sibilant and satisfying last line of “Seaweed” (“the salt of tears, and the salt of the sea.”)

The final two lines of “Taxidermied Fawn” are “I’m not scared. I think, Well, what a pretty body, / and then I remember you are dead.”

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Posted in Uncategorized on Thursday, March 1st, 2012 by Harriet Staff.