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About this poet

On October 9, 1942, Michael Palmer was born in New York City. In 1963, he attended the Vancouver Poetry Conference, taking part in three weeks of workshops, readings, and discussions. While there, he met Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, and Clark Coolidge, who each became important influences on the development of Palmer's poetics.

Palmer is the author of numerous books of poetry, including Thread (New Directions, 2011); Company of Moths (New Directions, 2005), which was shortlisted for the Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize; Codes Appearing: Poems 1979-1988 (2001); The Promises of Glass (2000); The Lion Bridge: Selected Poems 1972-1995 (1998); At Passages (1996); Sun (1988); First Figure (1984); Notes for Echo Lake (1981); Without Music (1977); The Circular Gates (1974); and Blake's Newton (1972). He is also the author of a prose work, The Danish Notebook (Avec Books, 1999).

Palmer is frequently associated with Language Poetry, a connection which he responded to in a recent interview in Jubilat by saying: "It goes back to an organic period when I had a closer association with some of those writers than I do now, when we were a generation in San Francisco with lots of poetic and theoretical energy and desperately trying to escape from the assumptions of poetic production that were largely dominant in our culture. My own hesitancy comes when you try to create, let's say, a fixed theoretical matrix and begin to work from an ideology of prohibitions about expressivity and the self—there I depart quite dramatically from a few of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets."

Palmer has also translated work from French, Russian and Portuguese, and has taken part in collaborations with both painters and dancers. He edited and contributed translations to Nothing The Sun Could Not Explain: Twenty Contemporary Brazilian Poets (Sun & Moon Press, 1997), and Blue Vitriol (Avec Books, 1994), a collection of poetry by Alexei Parshchikov. He also translated Theory of Tables (1994), a book written by Emmanuel Hocquard after translating Palmer's "Baudelaire Series" into French. He has also frequently collaborated with others artists, including the painter Gerhard Richter and the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company.

Michael Palmer's honors include two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writer’s Award, a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, the Shelley Memorial Prize from the Poetry Society of America, and he was awarded the 2006 Wallace Stevens Award. In 1999, he was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. He lives in San Francisco.

Who Is to Say

Michael Palmer, 1942
Who is to say
that the House of Tongues is not that place 
where rats swarm around your feet 
under blooming sofas

is not that place
of poisoned snows, pens run dry 
and secrets now too late to know 
and certainly the murmuring there below

was a mur-  was a mur-  was a 
murmuring almost to be heard 
a bubbling like water 
invisible, underneath

And look the shadow of a wing 
does fall here as blood 
does drink deeply of itself 
and does whisper yes for no

Once these faces behind glass 
might have returned your glance 
might even have gathered up 
their limbs, in order to stand

Who is to say
that certain of their words did not spill out 
as far as the eyes of cats could see 
across the river in the dark

                             Leningrad
                             15 sept 90

From "Three Russian Songs" in At Passages, published by New Directions, 1995. Copyright © 1995 by Michael Palmer. Reprinted with permission.

From "Three Russian Songs" in At Passages, published by New Directions, 1995. Copyright © 1995 by Michael Palmer. Reprinted with permission.

Michael Palmer

Michael Palmer

Born in 1943, Michael Palmer is the author of numerous collections of poetry and served as a Chancellor for The Academy of American Poets

by this poet

poem
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-
like bird plucking berries from the fire 
her hair alight and so on
lemon grass in cafe in clear glass. 
Dearest reader there were trees 
formed of wire,
poem
She lay so still that
as she spoke

a spider spun a seamless web
upon her body

as we spoke
and then her limbs came loose

one by one
and so my own
poem
We thought it could all be found in The Book of Poor Text,
the shadow the boat casts, angled mast, fretted wake, indigo eye.

Windows of the blind text,
keening, parabolic nights.

And the rolling sun, sun tumbling
into then under, company of moths.

Can you hear what I'm thinking, from there, even as you sleep