SHARKPACK Poetry Review

An imprint of FATHOMBOOKS.

Henri Cole’s “City Horse”

A poem that draws anxiety to the widths of a wire, Henri Cole’s “City Horse” is achievement in both run-on form and Romantic voice.

Note the tenuous balance of the first six lines: abstractions (‘concept’) and quasi-abstractions (‘trying to raise herself still’) labor hard to lever de trop adjectival phrases and proximal parallelism (‘sucked out to sea and washed up again,’ ‘facedown in dirt, and tied to a telephone pole’)—the sentence wills itself, by torque alone, to pause at ‘grotesque unbelievable landscape.’ In this mix of flashback and de facto flash-forward—we know a victim lay someplace—the tenderness of colors washed to ‘powdery gray’ and the vocative ‘O, wondrous horse; O, delicate horse—dead, dead—’ absolutely blindside with their brilliant Keatsian aplomb. (Just see if Mr. K.’s [O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell] doesn’t speak hauntingly, compellingly to “City Horse.”) The poem simply refuses to fail, though its one-sentence gambit closes on exhaustion. And following:

                   “She was more smarter than me,
she just wait”

acts like a vernacular, hard-won transcription of the Romanticism that came before: it has true purchase, and is difficult to fully unpack. ‘Wait’ for what? is it childish wonder that imagines the horse’s waiting ‘smart’? is it childish wonder that imagines ‘smart’ involves loving?

In “City Horse,” then, Mr. Cole’s goal appears to be the manic contrapuntal: how alive the young boy’s ‘stroke’ is, alive on the ‘majestic rowing legs’ that themselves have stiffened; ‘the heavy, black, frothing water’ might as well have petrified the horse as actively drowned it. This poem, in the tradition of Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts” and Jarrell’s “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner,” reminds us that disasters which fail to scribe themselves on the guts of us—as urgently my loss, my disaster—expire quietly in textbooks, whatever wreckage stays the world.

4 responses to “Henri Cole’s “City Horse””

  1. Great poem, and your review gets to the bottom of things in “10 secs” without reducing the work at all. You are *the* boss. ROADS IN HARDCOVER.

  2. It must be the latter, that “smart involves loving.” Curious about your reference to Romanticism–not sure what you mean here. But the line “has true purchase,” indeed. The entire poem/scene (so imagistic, I can’t help but receive it cinematically–and I’m highly suspect of film, as a rule) pulsates the irresolvable bond of love to grief. It’s a poem that amazes. Extraordinary. On another note. . . the review: “proximal parallelism” and “by torque alone” and “whatever wreckage stays the world”–the density and precision here, being one and the same; the intellectual authenticity of a felt response–well, quite remarkable in the world of criticism–bravo.

  3. K. & Ms. Graham: Much love, I’m glad it resonated. Not easy to find this kind of excellent work to sit with and pore over . . . THREEPENNY REVIEW is the very best these days. MG: by ‘Romantic,’ I mean emotive past ‘reasonable’ emotion, and also paying some service to Romantic tropes (like the vocative address, like the heart-bearing ‘dead, dead’); K.: ROADS’ favorite hardcover is reclaimed birch bark . . . a forest walk in mid-autumn will find you an easy supply 🙂

  4. […] protecting poetry from, but at the moment, critical posts seem heavy on Laura (Riding) Jackson and Henri Cole. I’ll admit I could use some help with both these poets but I find the reviews to rely pretty […]

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