Henri Coulette Biography


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Born in Los Angeles, Henri Anthony Coulette attended local schools, including the institution with which he continued to be associated for most of his life, California State University at Los Angeles. He taught high school English for a while. At the University of Iowa, he attended the Writers’ Workshop and obtained an M.F.A. and a Ph.D. His first collection of poetry, The War of the Secret Agents, and Other Poems was published in 1966. It was named the Lamont Poetry Selection by the Academy of American Poets and was well received by critics. He continued to teach at California State University at Los Angeles and produced his next collection, The Family Goldschmitt, in 1971. A number of his subsequent poems appeared in journals such as Iowa Review and The New Yorker.

Coulette died in 1988, but a manuscript he left was turned into a collection, And Come to Closure, which was published in 1990 as part of The Collected Poems of Henri Coulette.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Henri Coulette (kew-LEHT), whose witty, inventive poetry found early success, suffered from a publishing accident that destroyed most copies of his second book and from the drift of critical fashion away from poems of irony and elegance. Although he completed his third collection, And Come to Closure, just before his death, it was not published on its own but as part of the posthumous Collected Poems of Henri Coulette. During this long period of relative neglect Coulette came to resemble the secret agents of his first book, enduring “an unofficial joy,/ A private substitute for the world’s pleasure.”

A native of Southern California, Coulette attended the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in the 1950’s, studying with Robert Lowell and John Berryman along with classmates such as Donald Justice, Robert Mezey (who edited his posthumous volume of collected poems), William Stafford, Philip Levine, and Jane Cooper. He taught for many years at California State University, Los Angeles.

His first book, The War of the Secret Agents, and Other Poems, won the Lamont Award as the best first book of poems published in 1966. The fourth part of this collection consists of the title sequence about espionage, written in syllabic stanzas and including a cast of characters, many with code names such as Achambault, Cinema, Phone, and Prosper. The sequence, focused through the research of a scholar named Jane Alabaster, deals with spies and Gestapo agents in Paris during the Nazi occupation. Section one, a proem, says of these secret agents that “they advertised/ and Death reads all the papers.”

Coulette’s second collection, The Family Goldschmitt, begins with the title poem, in which a landlady insists that the speaker is not named Coulette but Goldschmitt and that this speaker is Jewish. At the end, the speaker accepts this misidentification joyously, sitting down to write a letter “to my family, yes!/ The...

(The entire section is 810 words.)