Cole Swensen is a poet whose fifteen books of poetry often respond to or incorporate elements or works of visual art; recent books address 17th century French baroque gardens and the window paintings of Pierre Bonnard, while an upcoming book is based on landscapes seen from train windows accompanied by photographs of the same. Her books have won the SF State Poetry Center Book Award, the Iowa Poetry Prize, and the National Poetry Series and have been finalists twice for the LA Times Book Award and once for the National Book Award. She teaches at Brown University and divides her time between Providence RI and Paris, France.
Virginia Woolf: Street Haunting
If shadows come in groves Virginia Woolf preferred London in the dark
of an afternoon whose pale islands move from lamp to lamp, anonymous beneath
and then a grove of sun slanting to the last as if in walking on a tribe of them
was made. Virginia Woolf liked the silence of the hurrying forms hurrying home
dressed in cold. As a city, all is surface or a succession of surfaces that change
texture and color, all its greys upon a grey filtered in shadow amber to a window
climbing as does the gaze that glanced above the trees a window's other lights
and these as if we, turning over or around a slower hour held the hour back
by which we are released. As by the dark, we sign away
a certain hold that held us toward or lease untied. We
catalogue the many kinds of light: one surrounds, a warm
hand turns to a face as a face glides through its pool
and other streetlights white like those that cut across
Green Park deepening the dusk. In Woolf's day they
would have been lit by a lamp-lighter who rode up on a
bicycle with a ladder over his arm. He leaned it against
the lamppost, climbed up, turned a valve, and moved on
to the next, and so on, until he suddenly turns off the path
and cuts across the grass, bicycling through the dark.
also walk within a different break of light the warmth of it again pouring out across
the street. An amber almost rose sifting through the leaves that screen a private,
maybe even empty world in which we watch a single finger rise and etch
with a fingernail in which a diamond is set a name on the other side of the glass.
We tear ourselves away at once apart we turn from a great weight back
into the crowd in the greater height of anonymity and cold.