Poems That Map the Urges of Private and Political Space

New collections by Henri Cole and Eduardo C. Corral take on everyday melancholy and national emergency, exposing the constraints that govern our desires.

Dan Chiasso
September 21, 2020
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Poems That Map the Urges of Private and Political Space

During the winter of 2016, after the Times sent out disposable virtual-reality headsets to its subscribers, the rooms of our house filled up with animated beasts and haunted dolls. “Look at that!” you would exclaim, pointing at a pile of laundry. In the chintzy transformations of augmented reality, our children became insects, foxes, muffins. I could make domestic life temporarily thrilling or scary, then reverse the current and make it humdrum again. Soon, the estrangement itself came to seem banal. The crumpled cardboard glasses are in a drawer someplace.

In “Blizzard” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), the tenth book of poems by Henri Cole, ordinary life shares a plane with the eerie, the uncanny, and the berserk. A menagerie of cats, snails, flies, bees, and other creatures fills these poems, acting simultaneously as heralds bearing news and scavengers feasting on our bodies. A bat trapped in Cole’s kitchen chirps out a motto: “accept and forgive, / accept and forgive—.” Visiting the grave of a friend, and in a sombre mood, Cole greets a stray “mommy cat.” She humps his leg while “meowing” a grim report: “Bliss, / loss, trembling, compulsion, desire, / & disease are but coffin liquor now.