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Cole Swensen


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Treating subjects from landscape to sculpture to a 19th century technical encyclopedia, the poet is fascinated with light, glass, mirrors, flame, ice, mercury--things transparent, evanescent, impossible to grasp. Likewise Swensen's lyrics, which, with elliptical phrasing and play between visual and aural, change the act of seeing--and reading--offering glimpses of the spirit (or ghost) that enters a poem where the rational process breaks down.

From "The Invention of Streetlights"

Certain cells, it's said, can generate light on their own.
There are organisms that could fit on the head of a pin.
and light entire rooms. .
Throughout the Middle Ages, you could hire a man.
on any corner with a torch to light you home.
were lamps made of horn.
and from above a loom of moving flares, we watched.
Notre Dame seem small. .
Now the streets stand still. .
By 1890, it took a pound of powdered magnesium.
to photograph a midnight ball.

"Goest, sonorous with a hovering 'ghost' which shimmers at the root of all things, is a stunning meditation--even initiation--on the act of seeing, proprioception, and the alchemical properties of light as it exists naturally and inside the human realm of history, lore, invention and the 'whites' of painting. Light becomes the true mistress and possibly the underlying language of all invention. Swensen's poetry documents a penetrating 'intellectus'--light of the mind--by turns fragile, incandescent, transcendent."--Anne Waldman

Alice James Books, 9781882295432, 63pp.

Publication Date: April 1, 2004

About the Author

Cole Swensen is the author of ten previous books of poetry including Goest, which was a National Book Award Finalist. She has also won the San Francisco State Poetry Center Book Award, two Pushcart Prizes and a National Poetry Series selection, as well as grants for translating and writing. She is on the faculty of the Iowa Writers' Workshop.