Cross-Cultural Sonnets in Henri Cole’s Middle Earth
In this paper I will discuss Henri Cole’s poetry collection Middle Earth (2003) and how he revitalizes the sonnet tradition through cross-cultural influences. Middle Earth was written when Cole was staying in Kyoto for a year on a fellowship. While living in Japan, the country of his birth, Cole started writing sonnets as he absorbed the poetic tradition of Japanese literature through reading writers such as Yasunari Kawabata. Reading Cole’s work as an example of what Jahan Ramazani calls “transnational poetics,” I will analyze how Cole fuses two poetic traditions. He adopts from the English sonnet a sense of linear progression and the language of logical argumentation. Against this pull of reason, Cole opposes the imagistic language of Japanese poetry and its resistance to conclusions. Cole also grafts the aesthetics of simplicity onto the sonnet form, where poets have traditionally displayed their wit and rhetorical skills. Not only does such stylistic tension dramatize psychological conflicts in his poems, but it also allows him to explore self in a way that departs from his previous works—a self not as insistently present in the Western sense, but as it emerges in relation to the otherness of the world.
Yuki Tanaka holds an MFA in poetry from the Michener Center for Writers, and a Ph.D. from Washington University in St. Louis. He teaches at Hosei University, Japan.