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American poet and performer Tad Cornell (T. H. Cornell) was essentially an underground poet after his first book, Glance Over at These Creatures, was published in 1977. Some of his writing was distributed conventionally, but more was personally bound and hand-gifted, presented in poetry slams and avant-garde stage productions (in Hong Kong, Houston, and Philadelphia), and on guitar and vocals as part of poetry fusion rock band Edgar Allen and the Poettes, and other ensembles. Cornell’s childhood until age twelve was in Germany, where his father worked for the US State Department (as a CIA agent, Cornell later learned). A child opera star at the Frankfurt Playhouse, he was featured in the Boy Scouts magazine Trailblazer. He attended high school in suburban Philadelphia, starring in theatrical productions and writing music. Cornell spent three semesters at Goddard College in Vermont, where he was profoundly inspired to pursue poetry by his teacher, Paul Nelson (who was later an NEA fellow and AWP poetry award winner and longtime poet laureate of Maine).* Cornell went on to earn a BA in English from Temple University, a master’s degree in special education from Antioch College, and a master’s degree in English literature from Villanova University. The special needs of his only child, born with spina bifida, led him to a thirty-year career in social work. At intervals along the way, he was drawn to consider the priesthood, served as a Trappist novice in the Abbey of the Genesee, and studied theology in Rome at the Angelicum. Cornell’s former wife, author Marly Cornell, wrote The Able Life of Cody Jane: Still Celebrating about the life of their daughter.

*Paul Nelson's many poetry collections include Burning the Furniture (Guernica Editions, 2014)

Paul Nelson
Tea Cup

Poetry books by Tad Cornell . . .

Ghostship Dream Sinking(Juggling Teacups Press, 2021)

(Juggling Teacups Press, 2018)

The Needle's Eye: Sonnets to Cristos
(Juggling Teacups Press, 2016)

Blue Heron Rising
(Juggling Teacups Press, 2015)

In Whom Is My Delight
(Juggling Teacups Press, 2015)

The Unspeakable Mating
(Latitudes Press, 1989)

Honey From the Rock & Hong Kong Elegies
(Latitudes Press, 1988)

Glance Over At These Creatures
(Resources for Human Development, 1977)

Chapbooks by Tad Cornell . . .

The Garden of the Moon (Sonnets to the Body) (2014)
Stooped in my Brain's Amygdala (2011)
The Red Lawn (2009)
Spectaculum (2007)
The Graphics of the Mouth (2006)
Sex and Melancholy (2005)
Waving and Heaving (Poiein Anaphoran) (2005)
Puzzle Me Back (2004)
Svengali: The Musical
(script and score, 1999)
Gloria Über Alles, dramatic adaptation of Magnetosphere with Stan Heleva (1994)
Magnetosphere (1993)
A Single Pearl (1992)
Mine Umbra: Collected Poems 1985–1992 (1992)
It Seems Important (1988)
Honey From the Rock (1985)
Hong Kong Elegies (1980)
The Promise of Silence (1978)
Rosie Knuckles Knows (1978)
Cough Poems for the Tickle (1978)
Looking the Moon in the Face (1977)
Hollywood Diamond Exchange (1977)
Marco Polo (1977)
The Unspeakable Mating (1977)

Tad Cornell’s resourceful Imagist poems are often satirical—laced with insights and playfulness—about theology, philosophy, literature, and pop culture. The aperture into his poetry is the delight in writing one’s way through thinking. Five sequences are seamlessly fused into one grand book (In Whom Is My Delight, Juggling Teacups Press, 2015) by the variations of his witty voice. The first section is a narration of incarnation, reflecting Chesterton’s views. The second section narrates a social worker’s monologue of an ethical crisis. “Today I am an ‘on call’ worker, and so/ the phone may ring, and I be majestically shot/ into my own denial before the cock’s crow/ ‘Welcome to the historical present,’ I say/ to St. Mark or anyone who may know/ his use of Greek in that gospel where he’ll play/ with language at life’s core./ All this before my foot even touched the floor./ Go figure. He also serves who doesn’t care.” Yet a reprieve, as the patient’s “eyes searching mine and not mine into his soul/ is what drives me through the rain to his side, to undo/ my own hollow, loveless acts of control,/ hoping for Sam’s childlike verdict reading into/ my soul the star of Bethlehem, the songs of hope. . .”

The third part peers into the brain of poetry, where Cornell has “staked my life/ on an obsolete craft,” discovering that “It’s only when you can’t find the last thread that clarity/ and mystery can occupy the same space at the same time.” A clever “Suite” sings as confessional poetics in the fourth section: “Compelling as/ masterful origami, the point is fragile, elegant pointlessness.” The last reminds of Shakespeare in sonnets to the body, where “The garden of the moon is an utter gift/ like heart to heart and spousal loin to loin/ or sighting land when all you had was drift.” As readers “drift” through the musing texts, Cornell’s images will be unforgettable.

~Robert Bonazzi, Outside the Margins: Literary Commentaries, Wings Press, San Antonio, Texas, 2015