Readings in Contemporary Poetry

Michael Palmer

Introduction by Brighde Mullins

There was a seven year space between the appearance of Michael Palmer's full-length collection Sun, and 1995's publication of At Passages. Because of its linguistic and apocalyptic energies, Palmer's work commands our attention.

Palmer's dialectic, with its underpinning of phenomenological panic, with its awareness of the psychotic matrix of the political and the personal, is evinced in somatic terms, is realized through semantic sustenance.

His poetic is situated yet active, and it affords a range of pleasure due to his wonderful ear, his intellection, his breadth. In this century of the Eye over the Ear, Palmer's insistence on Sound evokes a subtextual joy.

"I said darkling, you said sparkling" he writes in Songs for Sara, and this is one level of the somatic elements in his work. His mise-en-sècne provides another manifestation: "these things happened, but not to me," he writes. "I am a visitor here, with a notebook." I am reminded of Didi's speech to Gogo: "We are not saints, but we have kept our appointment. How many can say as much?"

Zukofsky's description of the poet: the poet writes one poem his whole life, and that poem is his Song. Song is irreduceable, experiential, and involves not only a readership but an audience of listeners, listeners that must get involved on multiple levels, ear first, as it were, since the ear is in the lead. "Once I couldn't see for awhile, so I listened," Palmer writes. From the sequence of poems dedicated to Robert Duncan come these lines:

"You can bring down a house with sound.
Not to understand this.
But we builded it.
Not with periods (the
sentence) or any sense of design--
sight or sound.
Builded it while blind.
Rain came in.
Noises not ours."