Biography of Michael Palmer
Michael Palmer was born in New York City and educated at Harvard in the early 1960s, where he encountered Confessional poetry. His opposition to Confessionalism found root in a developing poetics when he attended the landmark 1963 Vancouver Poetry Conference, a three-week gathering where he met Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, and Clark Coolidge. Correspondence with those three poets greatly influenced Palmer’s early development as a poet. Often associated with Language poetry, Palmer’s exploratory work confronts notions of representation and habits of language, and also seeks to examine the space through which poetry acts. Though critics have noted the influence of Louis Zukofsky, Paul Celan, Samuel Beckett, Surrealism, and philosophical and linguistic theory in his poetry, Palmer’s work continues to evade categorization. For example, on awarding the 2006 Wallace Stevens Award to Palmer, panel judge Robert Hass wrote, “Michael Palmer is the foremost experimental poet of his generation and perhaps of the last several generations…His poetry is at once a dark and comic interrogation of the possibilities of representation in language, but its continuing surprise is its resourcefulness and its sheer beauty.”
Palmer has written more than half a dozen books of poetry, beginning with Blake’s Newton (1974). Critic Brighde Mullins notes, “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.” The Company of Moths (2005) aligned the poet figure with its eponymous moths, but in such a way to suggest, according to Geoffrey O’Brien in the Boston Review that “the figure’s borders are open; the moth is a stage in a transformation, two pages in the book of a species, temporary, migrant, recursive.”
In a 2006 interview, Palmer described the trajectory of his poetry as “moving a little bit away from radical syntax into the mysteries of ordinary language, in the philosophical if not every day sense. It probably looks less unusual on the page. And I’ve been interested in the infinite, ingathering potential of the lyrical phrase—not confession, but the voicing of selves that make up the poetic self, from Greek lyrics to the Italians, to modern poets like Mandelstam.”
Rather than pursuing teaching as a primary career, Palmer has translated work from French, Portuguese, and Russian, and edited Nothing the Sun Could Not Explain: Twenty Contemporary Brazilian Poets (1997). He has also collaborated extensively with the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company and with visual artists and composers.
Palmer’s awards include two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writer’s Award, a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, and the Shelley Memorial Prize from the Poetry Society of America. From 1999 to 2004, he served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. He lives in San Francisco.
Michael Palmer Poems
Write this. We have burned all their villages Write this. We have burned all the villages and the people in them
He painted the mountain over and over again from his place in the cave, agape at the light, its absence, the mantled skull with blue-tinted hollows, wren-
Who Is To Say
Who is to say that the House of Tongues is not that place where rats swarm around your feet under blooming sofas
It is scribbled along the body Impossible even to say a word An alphabet has been stored beneath the ground
The Village of Reason
This is a glove or a book from a book club This is the sun or a layer of mud
[The order of islands here]
The order of islands here If you take it will I give it back at two o'clock
Notes for Echo Lake 4
Who did he talk to Did she trust what she saw Who does the talking
Notes for Echo Lake 1
"I am glad to see you Ion." He says this red as dust, eyes as literal self among selves and picks the coffee up. Memory is kind, a kindness, a kind of unlistening, a grey wall even toward which you move.
But the buried walls and our mouths of fragments, no us but the snow staring at us . . . And you Mr. Ground-of_what, Mr. Text, Mr. Is-Was, can you calculate the ratio between wire and window,
[In the Empire of Light]
In the Empire of Light the water's completely dry floating on a surface of itself
(for two voices) Let's see, how could you describe this to a listener? How can I describe this to our listeners? My head is in a steel vise I have been on a long voyage—a sea voyage—I have been travelling, sailing in a white ship, the
[He stopped part way across the field to...
He stopped part way across the field to sit down and rest. An eagle descended from the sky and an angel with the face of death
False Portrait of D.B. as Niccolò Pagani...
Those who have lived here since before time are gone while the ones who must replace them have not yet arrived.
1 Beneath the writing on the wall is the writing it was designed
It is scribbled along the body
Impossible even to say a word
An alphabet has been stored beneath the ground
It is a practice alphabet, work of the hand
Yet not, not marks inside a box
For example, this is a mirror box