Henri Cole's Paris Diary

I’ve been reading Henri Cole’s “Street of the Iron Po(e)t” installments on the New Yorker Website. To date there have been five and I imagine they will form the basis of his Paris Diary, whenever he completes it.

When I began reading them, I had no idea who Henri Cole was. I’ve subsequently learned he is a poet, one time executive director of the American Society of Poets who has held many teaching positions, published several collections of poetry, and received a good many awards and honors.

In his first installment he explains that his little apartment is Paris is located on the Street of the Iron Pot (rue Pot de Fer) which he renamed the Street of the Iron Poet—the title of his daily experiences in the city.

The matters he treats range from ordinary chores of going out and about, the parks he visits and the literary luminaries he spends time with.

“I had to clean [his apartment] for many days before I felt comfortable, but now it is home.” “Today I received a flu shot.” “Today I visited the cenotaph to Baudelaire.”

He visits the bookstores of his Latin Quarter neighborhood, the bars and the cinemas that he says have the feel of a village. His words read like prose poems and he intersperses them with photographs he took along the way. He writes about his parents, his mother a first generation French woman whose parents emigrated from Armenia. She met his father in Marseille, who was an American soldier. He includes a photo of the family of three.

He recalls a poem, “Quai d’Orleans” by Elizabeth Bishop, that is set on the Seine, quotes the poem, and includes a photograph, (or is it a painting?) of the bridge. Another day he encounters fifteen horses marching down the avenue.

“I heard the horses’ hooves striking the pavement long before they were visible, and when they stopped at an intersection, those of us on the sidewalk, and in cars and on motorcycles, couldn’t help but pause and admire them, smiling as the wind played with their brushed tails.”

One night he has dinner with a friend who is the biographer of Picasso and Giacometti. The next day he meets with his translator. He visits the Jardin des Plantes and I recall an afternoon I spent there not long ago.

“Walking along the Seine today, I found a monument to Thomas Jefferson, who first sailed to Paris in 1784, to negotiate with European powers. Later, taking a carriage drawn by horses, he traveled south, to Aix-en-Provence, as a private citizen without servants, because he believed that when one travelled alone one reflected more.”

What a pleasure it is to read Cole’s account of his activities from one day to the next. He writes beautifully and gives me a chance to recall those times I too have lived in the same neighborhood of Paris, walked down those same streets, and strolled about the same parks.

I wait for the next installment. Perhaps you’d also like to read those he has published so far? Visit this page for first five.