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  Cole Swensen
Cole Swensen, photo by Anthony Hayward
Photo by Anthony Hayward
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

Cole Swensen
If shadows come in grovesVirginia Woolf preferredLondon in the dark
of an afternoon whose pale islands move from lamp to lamp, anonymous beneath

and then a grove of sunslanting to the lastas if in walking ona tribe of them
was made.Virginia Woolf liked the silence of the hurrying formshurrying home

dressed in cold.As a city, all is surfaceor a succession of surfaces that change
texture and color, all its greys upon a greyfiltered in shadowamber to a window

climbing as does the gazethat glanced above the treesa window's other lights
and theseas if we, turning over or arounda slower hourheld the hour back


by which we are released.As by the dark, we sign away
a certain hold that held us towardor lease untied.We

catalogue the many kinds of light:one surrounds, a warm
hand turns to a faceas a faceglides through its pool

and other streetlights whitelike 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 withina different break of lightthe warmth of it againpouring out across
the street. An amber almost rosesifting through the leavesthat screen a private,

maybe even emptyworld in which we watcha single finger rise and etch
with a fingernailin which a diamond is seta name on the other side of the glass.

We tear ourselvesaway at onceapartwe turnfrom a great weightback
into the crowd in the greater height of anonymity and cold.

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