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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Nicole and Peter Cooley read at Octavia Books

Posted By on Tue, Jun 15, 2010 at 7:53 PM

By Jennifer J. Kilbourne

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Poetry isn’t usually a family business, but it has been for Peter and Nicole Cooley (pictured). In honor of Father’s Day, they will give a joint reading at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, June 16, at Octavia Books (513 Octavia Street).

The father-daughter pair has read together in the past, but their influence on each other’s work goes back much further. They share memories from Nicole’s childhood growing in New Orleans when they went on “mall writing” excursions, which involved writing in bustling public places. When Nicole attended the creative writing program at NOCCA, Peter, who leads guest workshops there, was extra hard on her. “I think I called one of her poems ‘unsalvageable,’” he says. “I didn't want the other kids to think I was favoring her. She came home and slammed the door to her room.” She remembers the day vividly as well, laughing, “I was totally devastated!”

Nicole recovered and went on to win a Walt Whitman award for her first collection of poems, Resurrection, which she followed up with two more books of poetry and a novel. She currently lives in New York, where she directs the MFA writing program at Queens College.

On Wednesday she will read from her latest book, Breach, which came out in April. The poems in Breach revolve around the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. Along with detailing experiences from visits she made later, Nicole recounts the difficulty of waiting to hear from her parents in the days immediately following the storm.

“She presents me as the insane father in the book,” says Peter, referring to poems like “Evacuation,” which deals with his refusal to leave the city as the storm approached.

Peter directs the creative writing program at Tulane, where he has taught since 1975. He is the former poetry editor of the North American Review, and his work has been featured in The New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly. On Wednesday, he will read from his seventh book of poetry, Divine Margins, in which he reflects on the death of his parents.

Juxtaposing the pair’s most recent work provides an interesting window into their relationship. While Breach explores the wreckage of the author’s hometown, the speaker in Divine Margins focuses the eternal aspects of a relationship. Nicole writes, “back as always to the other city, where a girl / stands at the levee’s edge alone.” And Peter reminds his children “I’ll be right here.”

They’ll both read from their most recent works. “We're still working out the details,” says Nicole, “but we're planning on mixing it up a little. It won't be a typical poetry reading.”

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