I don’t even know where to start. Michael Palmer’s work seems to have so many facets. As his Wikipedia entry fittingly points out: “Some reviewers call [his work] abstract. Some call it intimate. Some call it allusive. Some call it personal. Some call it political. And some call it inaccessible.”
Throughout his fifty year career he has published not only numerous celebrated works of poetry, poetics and prose works but he also worked extensively with contemporary dancers and collaborated with composers as well as visual artists.
Reading up on his work and life, I found myself confronted with such a variety of different accounts – some of them celebrating his dedication for the political within the poetic, others elaborating about his unique understanding of poetry as a “site of passages”, or focusing on his particular interest in the notion of narration as a means of concealment as well as openness. However, what emerges from all of these different accounts is a picture of a poet who is – even after all these years – still pushing the boundaries, still asking questions and exploring new territory. As Robert Hass wrote about Palmer in relation to his Wallace Stevens Award in 2006:
“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.”
My below piece is a little exercise in response to his “Notes for Echo Lake” series, a play with notions of the autobiographical and the fictional.
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Notes for Albuquerque
[ Words that come in smoke and go.]
She not me with the windows down in hot desert breeze. While I waited outside the garage for an answer. Her cowboy hat an angular cut three inches above the faded denim knee.
We were never there. The hotel room stayed vacant neon flicker. Motor dead dream. A pillow moist with lust.
She laughed and drew another breath in the red light of our teenage years. So pretty but always always not central. I was the writer and so the story was she. She was the writer of a story and I wasn’t even in. Words deserted her often and sometimes murmured. We finished each other’s sentences.
Words that came in sat down across from us at the glass table. Dodgy types with the mirror shades.
She laughed and drew another breath always in the red light. Her footsteps exes and whys and sometimes just you. I was certain I was going to write that story if narration was something substantial to believe in. We tapped impatiently we waited both always hot.
Albuquerque is the most populous city in the US state of New Mexico. It is a high-altitude city. We drew to a halt just outside Sandia looking for shade. She was always pretty. But I don’t remember.
We were never even there. It was simply the magic of letters in certain orders. Words falling in through the cellar door scrambled. Don’t ever talk to me that way.
Words that came in sat down across from us at 4 in the morning with white rings around their nostrils and a heavy stare. It was always hot in the room. It was always red and lonely.
She laughed and drew another breath as we parked the car outside in the shade of the pine trees. She whistled at the boys naked torsos gleaming across the fevered concrete. We went in with the car keys jingling. Elevator music behind the glass.
The hotel room stayed hot stuffy air gathering. Her right leg pushed out from under the crumpled sheets. I sat by the window stirring coffee as the sun rose. Words that came in were always red.
I was the story. She wasn’t even breathing. There was no roadmap the engine dead.
Words that came in Albuquerque. We were lost. It was hot. She not me.