cover image Thread


Michael Palmer. New Directions, $15.95 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-0-8112-1921-1

Palmer's 21st collection of poems, at first glance, looks like many of his previous books, but he's got some new tricks up his sleeve. Like many poets in later stages of their careers, Palmer is meditating on mortality in these lyrics and sequences, but he's doing it in a style that has evolved increasingly toward an unlikely intersection of mythic imagination and experimental techniques. The book opens with a group of poems addressed to the "Master of Shadows," who often speaks in lines that sound like dark nursery rhymes: "My head is a cracked and pitted bell/ or only the crack within the bell// and I've lost my reflection/ down the town well." Other sequences%E2%80%94Palmer uses groups of poems with the same title to establish and then vary themes over several fugue-like pages%E2%80%94are reminiscent of fables and, at times, the poems of Wallace Stevens: "There is no more/ a Joao Cabral//that one who wrote/ of lucid spindles." Most surprising are intermittent prose poems that flirt with, then subvert, the most quotidian autobiography: "I have been to countless poetry readings over the years, some I'm certain very good, many of course not. Yet I have no memory of any of them." Finally, the long, closing title sequence strings new lines from lines that seem to come from other sources: "So, Alyosha, maybe it is true./ that we live in perhaps./ Perhaps the earth... perhaps the sky...." Throughout, we see a master surprising himself and his readers with a poetry that feels as old as it does new. (May)