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The Visible Man: Poems Hardcover – October 20, 1998

4.7 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

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.ATim Gavin, Episcopal Acad., Merion, PA
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.


26 Hands
Adam Dying
Apollo: 1
Apollo: 10
Apollo: 11
Apollo: 12
Apollo: 13
Apollo: 14
Apollo: 2
Apollo: 3
Apollo: 4
Apollo: 5
Apollo: 6
Apollo: 7
Apollo: 8
Apollo: 9
Arte Povera
Bearded Irises
The Black Jacket
Black Mane
The Blue Grotto
Chiffon Morning
The Coastguard Station
The Color Of Feeling And The Feeling Of Color
Giallo Antico
The Long View
Painted Eyes
Self-portrait As Four Styles Of Pompeian Wall Painting
The Suicide Hours
To A Prince
The White Marriages
White Spine
-- Table of Poems from Poem Finder®

Relentless, densely layered, and scrupulously fashioned, Henri Cole's The Visible Man is among the best definitions of what it means, psychically, to be a gay man at the end of the 20th century.---Jason Roush -- Bay Windows, November 11, 1999

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 67 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (October 20, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375403965
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375403965
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 6.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,180,687 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
[This book brief appeared March 11, 1999, in Seattle's "The Stranger" and can be found online at [...]
Cole does to the sonnet what postmodern consciousness does to the self--he wrenches it, shatters it, sucks it dry, turns it inside out, and sometimes, for a moment, holds it in a quiet embrace. The central problem of his book is knowledge, which made Apollo a god but divides us from ourselves. Cole seeks to unite body and mind in a self through Arte Povera poems - rough, impromptu works "in motion, / stroking toward what [he] cannot see" ('Apollo'). But the self proves to be neither a temple for the spirit nor a sturdy Greek column, and Cole becomes a tourist and connoisseur of his own disintegration -- he is marble rubble, broken stanzas, stray glimpses of porn flicks, bouts of loveless fellatio under the pier. The poet is a Visible Man in what he calls an "erotic x-ray of my soul" ('Self-Portrait as Four Styles of Pompeian Wall Painting').
Though Cole refuses to flatter us with sweetness, he can be very funny, mingling exquisitely precise imagery with comic observation. Ancient crumbling statues resemble "bodies sinking in quicksand," but "a luckless prick / is frozen in the stucco." Scholars "eat big bowls of pasta / and drain their preposterous bowels" ('The Scholars'). Many passages are marvelous - history has "white teeth / jammed with gristle" ('The Black Jacket'); forgiveness is "so hard to swallow it unshackles us" ('26 Hands'); a house is "illuminated all night, / like the unconscious, though no one enters" ('The Coastguard Station').
Cole is determined "To write what is human, not escapist.
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Format: Hardcover
Henri Cole has long been seen as a fussy apprentice to James Merrill and Elizabeth Bishop, but this has always been an issue easily overlooked because of the vigor with which Cole has often written about his subjects. With this, his fourth book, Cole has not rejected the fastidiousness of Bishop or the sly elegance of Merrill, he has corrupted these things and, by so doing, created a harrowing, desperate, powerful poetry. In many of these poems, the complications may seem less than subtle until one realizes the focus of angst is only one of the many complications in each poem. Christianity, its pagan predecessors, modern Law, Homosexuality and its place in these constructs--all of these issues are present but secondary to the voice of speaker whose anguish to understand is the anguish of self-blame and self-deception. A brilliant and haunting book of poems.
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Format: Hardcover
From a review in Publisher's Weekly (9/28/98): A dazzling combination of ceremonious poise and brash, confessional utterances, the lyrics of Cole's fourth book form an intensely personal quest to reconcile tradition with angst-ridden bodily desire. Cole sets the book's first section in a glitzy contemporary Italy where "men and boys stroll among the ruins,/ anonymously skirting the floodlights." In a sly break away from the ghosts of Merrill and Bishop (haunting this and earlier collections), foreboding is enhanced by masterful mock simplicity: "Curleyhead was bellowing Puccini/ and making the boat rock./ The sun shone like a Majolica clock./ The sea boiled noisily./ I lay down like a child in a box./ It was my birthday." Familiar Catholic rituals prompt disturbing questions. Poems like "White Spine" stage frank inner confrontations between religion and sexuality: "Liar, I thought, kneeling with the others,/ how can He love me and hate what I am?" But Cole's greatest strength is in his consistent attention to the body, both in theologizing poems like "26 Hands," "Giallo Antico" and "Adam Dying" and in classically tinged images reminiscent of his contemporaries Carl Phillips and Karl Kirchwey. The twelfth of the 14 sonnet sequence "Apollo" ends: "as in the seventh circle/ the burning rain prevents the sodomites/ from standing still/ But I am in motion, stroking toward what I cannot see, like an oar/ dipped in the blood that ravishes it,/ until blood-sprays rouse the dissolute mind,/ the ineffable tongue arouses itself." Such lines are exemplary of Cole's graven images and wrenching, impressive effects.
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Format: Hardcover
I bought this book of poems after hearing a few friends talk about it and then reading all the good customer reviews here at Amazon. I have to say it really is an amazing book, and it really is one of the best books of poetry I have read in years. The poems are so sharp and so well-written and so harsh. He is our contemporary Robert Lowell. Anyone who likes poetry should take a look at this book.
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