San Francisco poet Michael Palmer was born in New York City and is known the world over for a large and provocative body of work that resists the divide between the personal and the philosophical. He writes dense, analytical – and startlingly lyrical – poems that explore the nature of language and syntax and their relation to form, meaning, society, and notions of self.

According to Publishers Weekly, “Palmer has long and rightly been considered the most lyrical and the most aurally accomplished among poets in the experimental tradition of Louis Zukofsky and Gertrude Stein.” Or, as The Village Voice put it, “Palmer has been one of the most influential writers in recent years, perhaps because he fuses contemporary concerns about syntax and meaning production with some very ancient poetic pleasures.”

Long at the forefront of the avant-guard movement, Palmer has published fourteen books and chapbooks. Each new collection represents a distinct departure from the goals and surfaces of the last, just as one stanza is often challenged and qualified by the next; but everything he writes becomes part of a web of intention and invention in which the process is the subject.

As he wrote in a 1985 essay, “Poetry seems often a talking to self as well as other as well as self as other, a simultaneity that recognizes the elusive multiplicity of what is called ‘identity’…. Poetic speech often becomes paradoxically more direct in its presentation than apparently simpler forms of writing: the evasions, displacements, recurrences, etc., stand as an immediate part of the message….”

In addition to poetry, Palmer has authored works of criticism, edited anthologies and translated poetry from Russia and Brazil, and served as contributing editor of Sulfur magazine. He has also written many radio plays and collaborated with painters and choreographers, including the creation of a dozen dance works with choreographer Margaret Jenkins.

Palmer has won multiple grants from the NEA and the Guggenheim Foundations, and was Co-Winner, with Alice Notely, of the Shelley Memorial Award of the Poetry Society of America. Judge Peter Gizzi said of Palmer’s poems: “Through their gates we re-enter the originary magic of the word.”


Poems by Michael Palmer

The Library is Burning


Autobiography 3




    Poetry Center Reading:
    Spring 2004