The Promises of Glass

Michael Palmer, Author New Directions Publishing Corporation $21.95 (103p) ISBN 978-0-8112-1443-8
Palmer's obliquities, resonant mysteries and near approaches to sense have latterly made him one of the poets young, smart aesthetes admire and imitate. This 17th book of poems (following 1998's selected, The Lion Bridge) continues Palmer's familiar and ambitious programs: each of its seven sequences deftly interweaves hints of narrative, bits of landscape description, philosophical proof-lets, personal asides and meditations on why and how we try to represent people, ideas and art. Real people and cities--the poet Max Jacob; ""you, Jane, and you, Bill""; Paris--jostle Palmer's trademark personages and places--""the Hypnotist to the Stars,"" ""Quod the Metaphrast,"" ""the Lake of Lost Souls or Last Songs."" The title sequence begins with a few poems reprinted from Palmer's At Passages, then finds new frames for the old questions of epistemology and ontology--""Are you bearing an alphabet/ among the rats in your hold""; ""Our time is a between time; best to stay out of it."" A short sequence responds to work by the British figurative painter R.B. Kitaj, bringing Palmer as close as he has ever come to directly mimetic description. More than anything else, the poems contemplate the process of contemplation in order to come up with symbols for making symbols: ""I became a painter of paintings briefly/ then I eliminated paint."" A professional choreographer, Palmer seems to pick up many ideas from dance, and also from the French and Italian contemporary poets he has translated, and from Wittgenstein (on whom his aphorisms can seem parasitic). But Palmer has as many ways of evading ""prose sense"" as others have of making it. If this collection marks no large-scale departure, his writing is as good here as it has ever been--sometimes faux-intellectual and self-indulgent, but often superbly strange, sharply provocative, full of slippery acoustic pleasures. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
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