Cole Swensen

Cole Swensen. Photo courtesy éditions Corti.

Cole Swensen. Photo courtesy éditions Corti.


Suzanne Doppelt Lazy Suzie
Translated from French to American English by Cole Swensen
Litmus Press (Brooklyn, NY)
2014 ISBN: 978-1-933959-25-2


Cole Swensen
Le nôtre
Traduit de l’américain par Maïtreyi & Nicolas Pesquès
Editions Corti, 2013
ISBN : 978-2-7143-1105-4

Cole Swensen (1955, Kentfield, CA, USA) is the author of eleven previous books of poetry. She is also a translator and has won the PEN USA Award in Literary Translation. Her poetry has won the Iowa Poetry Prize and the San Francisco State Poetry Center Book Award.Swensen was awarded a 2006 Guggenheim Fellowship. She taught at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa until 2012 when she joined the faculty of Brown University’s Literary Arts Program.

About her work, poet Michael Palmer writes, “Cole Swensen attends fixedly to those minute nuances and wanderings of language whereby the poem builds its particular perceptual logic. The result might well be called a ‘new math,’ or perhaps a calculus of light, shedding new light on things immediately before the eye.”

Third book of poetry translated into French to be published by Corti, Ours ends what could be named her French trilogy, after So Rich Hour, exploring French 15th century through the the lens of the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry iconography, and after The Glass Age, 2010, in which she looks at the history of glass and windows through the work of Bonnard and a few others.
Ours is about gardens, particularly the seventeenth-century French baroque gardens designed by the father of the form, André Le Nôtre. While the poems focus on such examples as Versailles, which Le Nôtre created for Louis XIV, they also explore the garden as metaphore. Using the imagery of the garden, Cole Swensen considers everything from human society to the formal structure of poetry. She looks in particular at the concept of public versus private property, asking who actually owns a garden? A gentle irony accompanies the question because in French, the phrase “le nôtre” means “ours.” Whereas all of Le Nôtre’s gardens were designed and built for the aristocracy, today most are public parks. Swensen probes the two senses of “le nôtre” to discover where they intersect, overlap, or blur.


If a Garden of Numbers


If a garden is the world counted
                                                           and found analogue in nature
One does not become two by ever ending
                                                                           so the stairs must be uneven in number
and not exceed
thirteen without a pause
of two paces’ width, which
                                                 for instance, the golden section
                            mitigates between abandon
and an orchestra just behind those trees,
gradations of green that take a stethoscope: we risk:
Length over width
                                  to make the horizon run straight
            to make the pond an oval:
                                                            over length minus the width
                              in which descending circles curl
into animals exact as a remainder.
                              Which means excess. The meaning of the real
always exceeds that of the ideal, said someone.
                                                                                      He was speaking of Vaux-le-Vicomte,
but it’s equally true of parking, or hunting, or wishing you could take it back. He
                              who is Allen Weiss, actually said, “The meaning
of a plastic or pictorial construct always surpasses the ideal meaning of that work.”
Which is something else entirely. Said
the axonometric
divided by
the anamorphic.
                               There is nothing that controls our thoughts
more than what we think we see,
which we label “we.”


Cole Swensen, “In a Garden of Numbers”
Ours, University of California Press, 2008