Grant Recipients Grants to Artists Poetry 2006

Norma Cole

A portrait of Norma Cole in front of a filled bookshelf. She has shoulder length brown hair and wears orange glasses, a purple scarf, and a black jacket.

...the greatest element, the importance, the gist of it all is that I am still feeling the impact of being acknowledged by my peers. I still feel the sharp shock of surprise at getting the call. This 'being acknowledged' doesn't go away. I feel more explicitly, more happily 'myself' having had the recognition. It's a milestone, a watershed moment in my life.

- Norma Cole, March 7, 2007

Artist Statement

"... as if art derived from an inability to find solutions."

- Samuel Beckett

Working, I am always in a present moment that consists of and insists upon looking forwards and backwards at the same time. I'm interested in what we can know, or what we can ask, and how poetry is a form of this asking and knowing, this trying to remember or foresee, grasping the ungraspable and playing with it in a territory of risk and of permission. One of my concerns is song, the lyric and its contradictions. Another is time, the sense of time in a form. Another concern is memory, its history in the word, and what happens when words are placed by or near each other.

We attend to each other. Informed by the world, poetry goes back out into the world, and the world returns with the text. Experience and imagination are in a dynamic relationship of gesture—the body in motion—between idea and thing. So the body of the poem, its voices and images, fill the space between, for a time.

- December 2005


Norma Cole is a poet, painter, translator, and teacher. Before receiving her 2006 Grants to Artists award, Cole authored the books of poetry Desire & Its Double (1998), The Vuglar Tongue (2000), and Spinoza in Her Youth (2002), and an experimental text and image work titled SCOUT (2005). From 2004 to 2006 she was the lead artist for Collective Memory, an installation, performance, and publication for "Poetry and its Arts: Bay Area Interactions 1994 – 2004," commissioned by the California Historical Society in San Francisco.

Cole's 2006 FCA grant funded her book of poetry Natural Light (2009), which features a cover image by Alex Katz. Cole's subsequent collections of poetry include If I'm Asleep (2008), Where Shadows Will: Selected Poems 1988—2008 (2009), and Win These Posters and Other Unrelated Prizes Inside (2012). Cole and painter Marina Adams collaborated on Actualities (2015), a book of poetry with full-color artwork by Adams. Cole has been a contributor to SFMOMA's blog, "Open Space," and to the Poetry Foundation's blog, "Harriet." Her translations from the French include Journals (1989) by Danielle Collobert, Crosscut Universe: Writing on Writing from France (2000), and A Woman with Several Lives (2011) by Jean Davie.

Prior to her 2006 Grants to Artists award, Cole had received the Robert D. Richardson Non-Fiction Award for her experimental essay "The Poetics of Vertigo;" as well as awards from the Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation (1992), the Fund for Poetry (1994, 1999, 2003), and the Creative Work Fund (2004).

Cole studied at the University of Toronto to earn her B.A. in Modern Languages in 1966 and her M.A. in French Language and Literature in 1968. She was a Regents' Lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley and served on the faculty of the M.F.A. program at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. Cole is on the faculty of the University of San Francisco.

“Water Is Best," from FCA-supported Natural Light, 2009.
“Salto Mortale," from FCA-supported Natural Light, 2009.
"And Many Types of Stars," from FCA-supported Natural Light, 2009.
A light blue background with silver font which reads
Cover image, FCA-supported Natural Light, 2009.