Virtual Memories Show 394:
Henri Cole

“My poems are a kind of transcript of life as it is lived.”

Poet Henri Cole joins the show to celebrate his brand-new collection, Blizzard: Poems (FSG). We get into his evolution as a poet over the 10 volumes he’s published to date, the transformative year he spent in Japan, how the closet compelled queer poets to develop original emblems and symbols to convey their private experience (and his transcendent experience of reading James Merrill’s Christmas Tree), and how a fan letter from Harold Bloom gave him a foundation during some tough times. We also get into his wonderful 2018 memoir, Orphic Paris (NYRB), whether he misses France or California more during the pandemic, his affinity for literary pilgrimage (and a recent one he took to Elizabeth Bishop’s grave), his use of the sonnet form and his enjoyment of the constraints and parameters of the physical page, how he knows (or thinks he knows) when a poem is done, our mutual love of Roger Federer, and more! Give it a listen! And go read Blizzard: Poems & Orphic Paris!

“The journey of my life as a writer has been toward more pellucidness, or transparency. But maybe that’s the journey of everybody’s life.”

“I think when I was a young man, I used nature as a mask for private matters. As the closet disintegrated, I became more directly autobiographical.”

“As I age, the thing that’s saddest to me is having fewer and fewer poets to look up to, because so many have died in recent years.”

“Being linear is the thing that bores me quicker than anything.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

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About our Guest

Henri Cole was born in Fukuoka, Japan, in 1956. He has published nine previous collections of poetry, including Touch and Pierce the Skin; as well as a memoir, Orphic Paris; and he has received many awards for his work, including the Jackson Poetry Prize, the Kingsley Tufts Award, the Rome Prize, the Berlin Prize, the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, and the Award of Merit Medal in Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He teaches at Claremont McKenna College. His new collection is Blizzard: Poems.

Follow Henri on Twitter.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photos of Henri by someone else. It’s on my instagram.

merrillcoverVirtual Memories Show #123:
Langdon Hammer –
The Hidden Wish of Words

“What I really cared about most, what drew me, was the relationship between lives and work, between how we live and what we do, and what we do with it. And that’s one of James Merrill’s major subjects.”

Langdon Hammer, Chair of the Yale English department, joins the show to talk about his new biography, James Merrill: Life and Art (Knopf) (and one of the best books I’ve read this year). We discuss Merrill’s allure as a poet and the alchemy that allowed him to turn base wealth into artistic gold. He also talks about learning the art of literary biography on the fly, the challenge of recreating Merrill’s life in Greece, Merrill’s silence over AIDS, how we can understand the Ouija board-derived poems of Merrill’s masterwork, and more! Give it a listen!

“Alchemy is a theme in Merrill’s writing. How is he going to make his own gold, how is he going to transform the lead of his father’s money into a higher value?”

We also learn about Langdon’s decades at Yale and how students have changed during his time there, what the globalization of English poetry means for the form, why he considers The Book of Ephraim to be James Merrill’s greatest poem, and the farthest he traveled to research the book.

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

langdonpicLangdon Hammer is chair of the English Department at Yale and the poetry editor of The American Scholar. His books include Hart Crane and Allen Tate: Janus-Faced Modernism and, as editor for the Library of America, Hart Crane: Complete Poems and Selected Letters and May Swenson: Collected Poems. His lectures on modern poetry are available free online at Yale Open Courses. There’s a more extensive bio at JamesMerrillWeb, if you’d like to check that out. (Photo by Michael Marsland)

Credits: This episode’s music is Lust for Life by Iggy Pop. The conversation was recorded at Prof. Hammer’s office at Yale on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro.