Commitment to the Lyric

I have been dipping into a lot of Michael Palmer’s work over the course of the last four months. At times, I feel his poems guiding me into some particularly sunlit but dusty room, in which, at first, I feel as though I will be able to discern certain certain elements that will in turn define his poetics, but then I turn the page, or I take a step back, because the last thing I want to do with something I enjoy is find for it a translatable definition, or a place that keeps it part of the quickly conversational backsweep. In The Iowa Anthology of New American Poetries, editor Reginald Shepherd mentions how Palmer has said that “though he is sympathetic to and even inspired by much of Language poetry, he is not and could never be a language poet, because of his commitment to the lyric.” I think this is exactly the place I stop trying to define Palmer–he consistently breaks further into place, making an at times discursive sweep across space, only then to revive some element of lyrical ingenuity within an image turning, a seeming being.

Shepherd further notes that “a commitment to the lyric means, for one thing, that the self, however problematized and decentered, is not discarded; it also means that beauty is not banished as obsolete or dishonest.” That the self is not discarded is the catch here, for quite often in Palmer’s work I sense the self leaving the room for a minute, or the self as the thing that wakes up to take a sip of water before returning to the dream. Not much weight should be placed on dream here, only the feeling that a slight departure has been made. The pulse that keeps at it for me in Palmer’s work comes when the self returns, not as if awaited for, but as if to bring some additional concrete texture to the space, for the room. There is a sly allowance of less self-contingency inherent in this mode, less poetic role taking, and although I am not sure how to clarify my attachment to it, I shall at least, for now, keep notes on how it stirs me.


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