Henri Cole's Paris Diary

In the Summer Issue (#209) of the Paris Review, Henri Cole remarks that poetry is primarily “finding the right words and getting them in the right order.” Later when asked why he writes, he replied:

For the completely selfish pleasure of composition, which for me surpasses the trumped-up pleasures of eating, drinking, and sex. Since I do not write to teach anybody anything, it’s a completely selfish act, but it gives me a sense of equilibrium and a reason for existence. Nothing gives me as much pleasure, when I’m doing it well, as writing.

I have had the same experience, as I write almost entirely for myself, viewing it as an exercise to put my thoughts to words as clearly as I can. If I didn’t write, those thoughts would never be put to the test, to see if they had any merit. Writing clarifies. Writing corrects.

Writing also takes me away from myself. This happens when I have something to say. I write and the time flashes by. Sometimes I look at the clock and cannot believe what time it is. When this happens writing becomes a kind of mindlessness.

But I have also come to recognize that in part, I write to converse, to make contact with someone, even though the person isn’t present or offers a reply.

Henri Cole is a prize-winning poet. While I’ve not read many of his poems I have come to know him through the poetic-like prose-picture essays he has been writing on the New Yorker’s web site. The most recent installment of his Paris Diary, “Street of the Iron Po(e)t” describes the early arrival of Spring in Paris.

A mild winter has prompted the vegetation in Paris to wake up early. Since February, plum, cherry, and almond trees have been blossoming in France, and the buds on the hazelnut trees are releasing grains of pollen into the wind. Has grim winter really ended?

It is followed by an extensive photo-essay on bees, their arrival, the role of each bee in the hive, and reference to the poetry of bees.

Here in France, bees, symbolizing immortality, were once an emblem of the sovereigns. Napoleon Bonaparte wore them embroidered into his regal garments and they ornamented many of his possessions. Surely the idea of a kingdom originates in nature with the bees. Perhaps the kingdom of poetry is not so different from that of a bee hive.

**Note: The latest chapter in Cole's Paris Diary can be found here.