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This review is taken from PN Review 217, Volume 40 Number 5, May - June 2014.

Shifts and Flows peter cole, The Invention of Influence (New Directions) US$16.95

Some poets write from a sense of mission, or calling; Peter Cole’s writing is deeply informed by the practice of translation, with its characteristic blend of utopianism and pragmatism. Himself the translator of numerous works of Hebrew and Arabic poetry, shuttling between New Haven, Connecticut, and a neighbourhood of Jerusalem once Palestinian-Arabic, now, as he has reported for Poetry magazine (Chicago), the site of increasingly bitter North-African Jewish and Ultra-Orthodox contestation, he knows well the more than aesthetic stakes of illumination, on the page and elsewhere. A secular Jewish mystic inspired by Kabbalah, the esoteric tradition that understands Biblical language – and potentially all language – as permeated by divine power, Cole transmutes his obsessions with morpheme and grapheme into a worldly, meditative, yet witty poetics, that might also be called self-reflexive or autoerotic, were those prefixes not precisely what it calls into question.

The Invention of Influence, like its predecessor, 2009’s Things on Which I’ve Stumbled (whose title it partly recapitulates in the etymological sense of ‘invention’ as ‘coming upon’), plays continually on the tension between what one poem calls an aesthetic of ‘finish and fullness’ and what another suggests is a deeper affinity between ‘knowing’ and ‘flowing’. One type of ‘flowing’ is the ‘influence’ of the book’s title – which also slyly acknowledges the work of Harold Bloom, one of Cole’s critical inspirations and champions, who introduces this volume. The acknowledgement is sly because, in its very overtness, it inevitably suggests some dissent from Bloom’s theory, which equates poetic originality with ...


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