Henri Cole’s Peirce the Skin (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011) is culled from his six books of poetry and work spanning 1982-2007. Cole’s signature style is most apparent in the last two chapters, which comprise twice as many poems each than the preceding chapters. It is revealing to read the volume from front to back and see his style, otherwise marked by subtleness, become more and more refined and moving. Cole also seems to present this fact by including the largest selection of poems in the collection from his last two books before the collection was published.
One of my favorite sequences in the book is “FROM Apollo.” Cole takes a translation of Ovid’s Metamorphosis and complicates it to produce some of the most beautiful and simple lines I’ve ever read. In “XIII Cyparissus” he writes, “All I wanted was to ride my deer,/ who made me feel some knowledge of myself, letting me string his big antlers with violets.” The imagery is gorgeous, and the teetering on the vagueness of youth, jumping into the specifics of self as a mode for adorning with beauty, is touching. The book is full of rich imagery and deep insights. Poems like “Self-portrait in Gold Kimono,” “Sycamores” and “Dead Wren” all whisper in a way that is worth embodying. The other poems in the book, which are fantastic examples of the best fruits from the orchard, bring complex feelings into understandable and manageable areas with compassion and self-acceptance.