Courtesy of Tulane University Communication, Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano

The Poetry of Peter Cooley

In July 2015, then-Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal named Peter Cooley the state’s poet laureate for a term ending in July 2017. Through a process overseen by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, Cooley replaced Ava Leavell Haymon, who has served in that position since 2013.

Cooley is a professor of English and director of the creative writing program at Tulane University. He is the author of 10 full-length poetry collections (eight through Carnegie Mellon University Press), and three chapbooks.  His poems have appeared in more than 700 magazines, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Poetry, and more than 100 anthologies.  In 2013, The New Yorker website featured print and recorded versions of Cooley’s poetry.  His writing has been supported and honored through numerous grants, prizes and fellowships, including a grant from the American Theological Library Association in 2011-12.  A longtime and active member of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in New Orleans, he serves the community through faith-based as well as secular service.

The LEH provide grants to non-profit organizations in Louisiana, such as libraries, adult literacy groups, and groups interested in language studies, that wish to host the poet laureate for poetry readings, discussion or presentations.  For additional information, contact Brian Boyles at (504) 620-2632 or

In celebration of National Poetry Month, sat down with Dr. Cooley to record these poems.


The Rapture

Beyond the window he stares out, oblivious
I’ve com back, my father is entering the afterworld.
I am still here, working Dad’s “senior residence,”
occasional nurse, valet, waiter and errand boy,
a pint of cherry ice cream leaking a slow drip in my hand.

Out there, they are together in a first snow,
my father and mother, she nine months dead,
two tiny figures walking backward to Paradise.
This is before my sister and her madness, the war,
before I appear, then relatives demanding bed and board for
Snow dots his top hat; it mists her wedding veil.
Snow is all they know, and darkness for the blizzards
to fall across these decades they walk away from now.

Soon in the backward amble they will enter
the gates, swung open for them, and begin to shed their clothes,
flinging everything skyward as their new bodies come together.


To Emily Dickinson in New Orleans

Of course, you knew you were the first.
Remember? We were in Detroit, the city of my birth,
I was thirteen, just over erecting model cars
and lovesick on myself when I found you after school
in the cool of the library alone. What we touched in each other
I heard in a blizzard of words afterwards all year,
scrawling notebooks full of it until my friends
caught me, taught me: you were an old maid, stuff for girls.
And when the girls assumed your place and I found lines
so light weight to attract them I couldn’t write one down,
you sighed. You said I hadn’t been the first for you.

This afternoon you scrawled your note in amethyst
discs of rain dotting my window, your address
in Jackson Square, where it’s pouring now, midnight.
The cafés, the horse-drawn carriages, the pastel flower stalls
all stand at attention. The rain lifts, falls. Everything is preparation.
How lonely I would look to anyone but you
in your window of the Pontalba Apartments where you watch,
the same taffeta you pressed for me years back
corseted tight about your waist. And I here, bouquet in hand,
wilted and wet like these wild roses, meet your stare,
forbidden by your immortal soul to come up to you.


Readings by the poet, Peter Cooley


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