Peter Cole

Acclaimed Poet & Translator
MacArthur "Genius" Award Recipient
National Jewish Book Award Winner


“Peter Cole is a true maker. His extraordinary learning is deep and personal, and his poems, like his translations, are powered by a large spiritual quest to link and light the world with words. He stands with amazement before great mysteries.” —Edward Hirsch


The recipient of a 2007 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, Peter Cole has published four books of poetry, Rift (Station Hill, 1999); Hymns & Qualms (Sheep Meadow Press, 1998); Things on Which I've Stumbled (New Directions, 2008); and The Invention of Influence (2014). A fifth volume, What Is Doubled: Poems 1981-1989, was published by Shearsman Books in the UK. “Prosodic mastery fuses with a keen moral intelligence [in Cole’s work]," wrote the American Poet. Other reviewers have noted the “politically charged and often dazzling” nature of the verse, as well as the “quiet, streaming power in [his] work that leads the reader back to it over and over again.” Cole’s vision of connectedness, his wit, and his grounded wisdom, along with his expansive sense of literature’s place in a meaningful life, render his poems at once fresh and abiding. 

Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza, a nonfiction book co-authored with his wife Adina Hoffman, was published in 2011 by Schoken and tells the story of the recovery from a Cairo geniza (repository for worn-out texts) of the most vital cache of Hebrew manuscripts ever discovered.

Cole has worked intensively on translations of Hebrew literature, with special emphasis on medieval Hebrew poetry. The Poetry of Kabbalah: Mystical Verse from the Jewish Tradition (Yale, 2012) was called "a dazzling treasury of verse...accompanied by fascinating, illuminating commentary rich in history, biography, and literary expertise" by Booklist. His prize-winning translations of the Hebrew Golden Age poets have helped to recreate for contemporary American readers the multifaceted world of medieval Spain, in which Jewish artistic and intellectual communities flourished under Islamic rule. His anthology The Dream of the Poem (Princeton, 2007)—recipient of the National Jewish Book Award and winner of the American Publishers Association’s Award for Book of the Yeartraces the arc of the entire period and reveals this remarkable poetic world in all of its richness, humor, grace, gravity, and wisdom. By far the most potent and comprehensive gathering of medieval Hebrew poems ever assembled in English, Cole’s anthology builds on what poet and translator Richard Howard has described as “the finest labor of poetic translation that I have seen in many years” and “an entire revelation: a body of lyric and didactic verse so intense, so intelligent, and so vivid that it appears to identify a whole dimension of historical consciousness previously unavailable to us.” 

BookSlut Interview about The Invention of Influence

Among Cole’s translations from contemporary Hebrew and Arabic poetry and fiction are also War & Love, Love & War by Aharon Shabtai (New Directions); Love & Selected Poems of Aharon Shabtai (Sheep Meadow); J’Accuse, by Aharon Shabtai (New Directions); So What: New & Selected Poems, 1971-2005 by Taha Muhammad Ali (Copper Canyon); The Collected Poems of Avraham Ben Yitzhak (Ibis); and Curriculum Vitae, by Yoel Hoffmann (New Directions). 

Interview with poet and novelist Ben Lerner

Cole has received numerous awards for his work, including fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the 1998 Modern Language Association Translation Award. The Dream of the Poem was awarded the 2010 TLS Porjes-Domb Prize for the best translation from Hebrew published in the last three years. J’Accuse received the 2004 PEN-America Award for Poetry in Translation. Cole has most recently won an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has taught and been a visiting artist at Yale, Wesleyan, and Middlebury. One of the founders and editors of Ibis Editions, a small press devoted to the publication of the literature of the Levant, Cole was born in Paterson, New Jersey, in 1957. He began studying Hebrew in Jerusalem in 1981 and has since divided his time between Israel and the United States.

Peter Cole is the author of four books of poetry: RiftHymns & QualmsThings on Which I've Stumbled; and The Invention of Influence. Among Cole's numerous translations of contemporary Hebrew and Arabic poetry and fiction are The Dream of the Poem, recipient of the National Jewish Book Award and winner of the American Publishers Association’s Award for Book of the Year; War & Love, Love & War by Aharon Shabtai; Love & Selected Poems of Aharon ShabtaiJ’Accuse, by Aharon Shabtai; and So What: New & Selected Poems, 1971-2005 by Taha Muhammad Ali. The recipient of a MacArthur Genius grant, Cole was born in Paterson, New Jersey, in 1957, and began studying Hebrew in Jerusalem in 1981.


“Masterful…. Deeply allusive, profound, committed verse.” —Booklist

Peter Cole has been called "an inspired writer" (The Nation) and “one of the handful of authentic poets of his own American generation” (Harold Bloom). In this, his fourth book of poems, he presents a ramifying vision of human linkage. At the heart of the collection stands the stunning title poem, which brings us into the world of Victor Tausk, a maverick and tragic early disciple of Freud who wrote about one of his patients’ mental inventions — an "influence machine" that controlled his thoughts. In Cole’s symphonic poem, this machine becomes a haunting image for the ways in which tradition and the language of others shape so much of what we think and say. The shorter poems in this rich and surprising volume treat the dynamics of coupling, the curiously varied nature of perfection,the delights of the senses, the perils of poetic vocation, and more.


“Studded with insight, and written with great verve, this book will become a classic.” —Lawrence Fine

This luminous collection gathers together for the first time in English a substantial body of poetry that emerges directly from the sublime and often startling world of Jewish mysticism. Taking up Gershom Scholem’s call to plumb the “tremendous poetic potential” concealed in the Kabbalistic tradition, Peter Cole provides dazzling renderings of work composed on three continents over a period of some 1500 years. Of the book, Rosanna Warren wrote, “Peter Cole offers a monumental view of the poetry of Kabbalah and honors the Kabbalistic reverence for song-as-knowledge by translating Hebrew into English song: his versions are graceful, clear, and most important, tuneful. They live in the ear and the heart, in English, with their own transformative power.”



“Peter Cole is best known as a matchless translator of Hebrew poetry. With Things on Which I’ve Stumbled he matures into one of the handful of authentic poets in his own generation.” —Harold Bloom


In Peter Cole’s remarkable book, the forces and sources that have long driven his work come together in singular fashion. Things on Which I’ve Stumbled rides a variable music that takes it from an archeology of mysterious poetic fragments unearthed in an ancient Egyptian synagogue to poignant political commentary on the blighted hills surrounding modern Jerusalem. “[A] major book,” ForeWord Magazine called it. “The title-poem is a tour de-force…. Readers searching for wholly modern poetry dealing with spiritual issues, grounded in history, and presented with great craft will find it in Cole’s book.”


About THE DREAM OF THE POEM (Translation, 2007)

“A brilliant and original body of Hebrew verse.” —The New York Times Book Review


Hebrew culture experienced a renewal in medieval Spain that produced what is arguably the most powerful body of Jewish poetry written since the Bible. Fusing elements of East and West, Arabic and Hebrew, and the particular and the universal, this verse embodies an extraordinary sensuality and intense faith that transcend the limits of language, place, and time. Peter Cole reveals this remarkable poetic world to English readers with translations of “unsurpassed scope, quality and importance,” as one reviewer noted. The Dream of the Poem traces the arc of the entire period, presenting some four hundred poems by fifty-four poets, and including a panoramic historical introduction, short biographies of each poet, and extensive notes. The book is, said Gabriel Josipovici in The TLS, “a treasure trove, a labour of love and exceptional erudition, which will open up to the reader a world of poetry and culture as rich as anything in human civilization…. The range is astonishing…and [Cole] has produced a book which is by turns moving, charming, and funny.”

Peter Cole website