Magnificent: an astringent blend of surrealism and symbolism.

The New York Times Book Review

Michael Palmer

Michael Palmer was born in New York City in 1943. While at Harvard College he edited Joglars magazine with Clark Coolidge. He took his graduate degree in Comparative Literature at Harvard and moved to San Francisco in 1969. Since 1974 he has collaborated on over a twenty dance works with Margaret Jenkins. He has also collaborated with numerous composers and performance artists. His radio plays, Idem I-IV, were produced by Eric Bauersfeld for KQED radio in 1980. Books and chapbooks include Plan of the City of O (Barn Dream Press, 1971), Blake’s Newton (Black Sparrow Press, 1972), C’s Songs (Sand Dollar Press, 1973), The Circular Gates (Black Sparrow Press, 1974), Without Music (Black Sparrow Press, 1977), Transparency of the Mirror (Little Dinosaur Press, 1980), Alogon (Tuumba Press, 1980), Notes for Echo Lake (North Point Press, 1981), First Figure (North Point Press, 1984), Songs for Sarah (with the painter Irving Petlin, Lobster Cove Editions, 1987), Sun (North Point Press, 1988), For a Reading, (Dia Art Foundation, 1988), An Alphabet Underground (After Hand, 1993), and At Passages (New Directions, 1995). The latter received the America Award for Poetry in 1995. A book of prose, The Danish Notebook, was published by Redaktion Brondum in Copenhagen in the spring of 1998. (The American edition was published by Avec Press in the fall of 1999.) The Lion Bridge (Selected Poetry 1972-1995) also appeared in the spring of 1998, from New Directions, and The Promises of Glass, a new collection of poetry, was issued by the same press in the year 2000. He is the editor of Code of Signals: Recent Writings in Poetics (North Atlantic Books, 1983) and translated Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000, by Alain Tanner and John Berger, for the same press. He has published a number of other translations, including (with Norma Cole) The Surrealists Look at Art, from Lapis Press. Painters with whom he has collaborated include Micaëla Henich , Sandro Chia, Gerhard Richter, Irving Petlin and Augusta Talbot, among others. His work has been translated into over thirty languages. He has been awarded two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships for poetry and was a Guggenheim Fellow in poetry during 1989-90. He is a contributing editor to Facture magazine and has taught and lectured at many colleges and universities around the United States, in Asia and in Europe. During the years 1992-1994 he held a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund Writer’s Award. Theory of Tables, a translation of the poetry of Emmanuel Hocquard, was published in 1992 by o-blek editions. With Michael Molnar and John High, he has helped to edit and translate a volume of poetry by the Russian poet Alexei Parshchikov, Blue Vitriol, (Avec Press, 1994). An evening-length dance work, The Gates (Far Away Near), in collaboration with Margaret Jenkins, Paul Dresher and Rinde Eckert, had its first Bay Area performances in September of 1993 and was shown at New York’s Lincoln Center in the “Serious Fun Festival” in July of 1994, and has toured throughout the United States and Europe. Another dance work with the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, Fault, had its premiere in the fall of 1996. With Régis Bonvicino and Nelson Ascher, he edited Nothing the Sun Could Not Explain: 20 Contemporary Brazilian Poets, published by Sun & Moon Press in 1997. It reappeared in an expanded edition, from Green Integer Books, in 2003. In the spring of 2001 he received the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America., and Codes Appearing (Poems 1979-1988) was published by New Directions. From1999 to 2004, Palmer served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. In 2005, the Academy awarded him the Wallace Stevens Prize for Poetry. His most recent academic appointments were as Distinguished Visiting Poet in the graduate writing programs of St. Mary’s College of Moraga and the California College of the Arts during the 2006-2007 academic year. His book, Company of Moths, was published by New Directions in April of 2005. A selected essays and talks, Active Boundaries, also from New Directions, came out in July of 2008. Thread, a new collection of poems, appeared in the spring of 2011 from New Directions. Also in 2011, in conjunction with Palmer’s appointment as Visiting International Poet at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Oxford University Press published Madman With Broom, a selection of poems with Chinese translations by Yunte Huang. During a two-week Paris residency supported by the Tamaas Foundation in June of 2011, Palmer completed a bilingual film script, Notre Musique, with the poet Liliane Giraudon. A new dance work, Light Moves, in collaboration with the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, had its premiere at the Novellus Theater in San Francisco in November of 2011, with texts and structure by Michael Palmer. In May 2012, Palmer received the Arts and Letters Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in June the Northern California Book Critics Award for Thread. In June, he also attended the “poesie festival Berlin” to celebrate the publication of Gegenschein, a selected poems with German translations. His poetry collection, The Laughter of the Sphinx, was published by New Directions in the spring of 2016, followed by Little Elegies for Sister Satan in May of 2021.

cover image of the book Little Elegies for Sister Satan

Little Elegies for Sister Satan

Little Elegies for Sister Satan presents searingly beautiful new poems by Michael Palmer, “the foremost experimental poet of his generation, and perhaps of the last several generations” (citation for The Poetry Society of America’s Wallace Stevens Award).

Grappling with our dark times and our inability to stop destroying the planet or to end our endless wars, Palmer offers a counterlight of wit (poetry was dead again / they said again), as well as the glow of wonder. In polyphonic passages, voices speak from a decentered place, yet are rooted in the whole history of culture that has gone before: “When I think of ‘possible worlds,’ I think not of philosophy, but of elegy. And impossible worlds. Resistant worlds.”

In the light of day
perhaps all of this
will make sense.

But have we come this far,
come this close to death,
just to make sense?

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The Laughter of the Sphinx

Michael Palmer’s new book—a collection in two parts, “The Laughter of the Sphinx” and “Still (a cantata—or nada—for Sister Satan)”—contains 52 poems.

The title poem begins “The laughter of the Sphinx / caused my eyes to bleed” and haunts us with the ruin we are making of our world, even as Palmer revels in its incredible beauty. Such central tensions in The Laughter of the Sphinx—between beauty and loss, love and death, motion and rest, knowledge and ignorance—glow in Palmer’s lyrical play of light and entirely hypnotize the reader. The stakes, as always with Palmer, are very high, essentially life and death: “Please favor us with a reply / regarding our one-time offer / which will soon expire.”

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Michael Palmer’s new collection is structured in two parts, “What I Did Not Say” and “Thread,” subtitled “Stanzas in Counterlight.” It begins with a beautiful suite of poems featuring “The Master of Shadows” (first glimpsed in his 2006 collection The Company of Moths). The counterlight of the title section shines in shafts of Palmer’s ever-surprising ironic wit, which is given to sidelong parallel leaps. Several poems in Thread directly address our endless wars, yet even in sorrow and rage the poems still glow with wonder. In multiphonic passages, voices speak from a decentered place, yet are grounded in the central rootedness of the whole history of poetry and culture that has gone before. In his new poems, signature palimpsests create complex cycles of thought, “returning and returning” via echoes to what he has called “the layering process, the process of accretion and the process of emergence.”

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Active Boundaries

A lifetime engagement with poetry radiates from every page of this distinguished collection of essays and talks that span forty years of a poet’s life. Active Boundaries by Michael Palmer offers readers an intimate glimpse into the poetry behind the poetry that, as Robert Creeley once noted, “makes possible a place where words initially engage their meanings—as if missing the edge of all ’creations,’ of all ’worlds.’” With philosophical grace and conversational ease, Palmer unearths a vanguardist tradition in poetry that permeates languages and cultures, centuries and histories. He investigates an “active boundary” as it relates to a sense of form as well as, Palmer writes, “to a more social sense of poetic activity as it exists in the margins, along the borders and, so to speak, ’underground.’” Meditations on poets such as George Oppen, Paul Celan, Octavio Paz, Shelley, and Dante rise to the forefront among a multitude of other voices, like those of Trinh Minh-ha, Anna Akhmatova, Toru Takemitsu, and Susan Howe. Diaristic entries about his mother on her death bed are interspersed with epiphanic fragments; “Within a Timeless Moment of Barbaric Thought” confronts poetry’s relation to memory, war, the War on Terror, contingency, and experience. Pulsing through the heart-lines of Active Boundaries is poetry’s renewal.

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The Company Of Moths

Michael Palmer has been acclaimed “exemplarily radical” (John Ashbery) and “one of America’s most important poets… startlingly lyrical and visceral” (The Harvard Review). His new book, Company of Moths––a collection in four parts, “Stone,” “Scale,” “Company of Moths,” and “Dream”––is beautiful and fierce: “bright archive, sad merriment,” “question pursuing question.” Palmer in our dark times asks, “How will you now read in the dark?” Winner of the Shelley Memorial Prize and translated into over twenty-five languages, Michael Palmer was born in New York City in 1943 and lives in San Francisco, California.

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Codes Appearing: Poems 1979-1988

Michael Palmer’s Codes Appearing combines in a single volume three of his most beautiful poetry volumes: Notes for Echo Lake, First Figure, and Sun (1981, 1984, 1988 respectively, from North Point Press). Making available a great deal of Michael Palmer’s most influential, exciting, and stunning work, Codes Appearing is a landmark volume. “It is impossible,” as The Boston Review noted, “to overstate Palmer’s importance.” “Michael Palmer,” as Joshua Clover declared in The Village Voice, “is the most influential avant-gardist working, and perhaps the greatest poet of his generation. And his books, including the essential ’80s triptych of Notes for Echo Lake, First Figure, and Sun, are organized not by story but by a dreamland of calculus and sway …. [Palmer’s] genius is for making the world strange again.”

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The Promises Of Glass

Now available as a paperback, The Promises of Glass is Michael Palmer’s first new collection of poems since At Passages (New Directions, 1995). The Promises of Glass contains seven sections: “The White Notebook,” “The Promises of Glass,” “Q,” “Four Kitaj Studies,”" Five Easy Poems," “In an X,” and “Tower.” The Boston Book Review remarked that The Promises of Glass “seems to shimmer with an immaculate glow”; Publishers Weekly called it “superbly strange, sharply provocative, full of slippery acoustic pleasures.” Reviewing this collection, The Village Voice Literary Supplement acclaimed Palmer “the most influential avant-gardist working, and perhaps the greatest poet of his generation.”

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The Lion Bridge

The Lion Bridge: Selected Poems 1972-1995 offers for the first time a comprehensive view of Michael Palmer’s extraordinary poetry. Dense and haunting, analytic and lyrical, classical and profoundly innovative, Palmer’s work possesses a singular beauty. As Robert Creeley has stated, “The confident brilliance of this writing makes possible a place where words initially engage their meanings—as if the edge of all ‘creations,’ of all ‘worlds’ …” The poet himself has culled the 118 poems of The Lion Bridge from his great body of work. Rescuing from limbo much material that has gone out of print, this generous chronological selection (taken from seven of his books: Blake’s Newton, The Circular Gates, Without Music, Notes for Echo Lake, First Figure, Sun, and At Passages) includes individual poems, selections from serial poems, a sequence for his daughter, and two complete serial poems. Together the poems form a bridge, from the concentrated intensity of the earliest works to the increasingly expansive and echoic later explorations of “the persons of the poem,” as well as our century’s “stammers and vanishings,” its “embers and folds.”

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At Passages

At Passages is Michael Palmer’s first book of poetry in seven years––and his first book with New Directions. A collection in seven parts, At Passages explores the “hum of the possible-to-say,” and, as its title suggests, delves particularly into the paths and meetings of language and meaning: “as much the unseen / as the visible / As much what has disappeared / as what remains.”

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Ground Work

by Robert Duncan

With a contribution by Michael Palmer

Robert Duncan has been widely venerated as one of America’s most essential poets: Allen Ginsberg described his poetry as “rapturous wonderings of inspiration,” Gwendolyn Brooks called it “a subtle spice,” and Susan Howe pointed to Duncan as “my precursor father,” Lawrence Ferlinghetti said he “had the finest ear this side of Dante,” and Robert Creeley called him “the magister, the singular Master of the Dance.” Now Duncan’s magnum opus, Groundwork, is available in one groundbreaking edition. The first volume, Groundwork I: Before the War, was published in 1984, after a fifteen-year publishing silence, and received immediate acclaim: it was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award and won the first National Poetry Award for Duncan’s “lifetime devotion to the art of poetry and his grand achievement….” The second volume, Groundwork II: In the Dark, was published in February 1988, the month of Duncan’s death. The internationally renowned poet Michael Palmer has written a marvelous introduction for this new edition, where “the singlemindedness of [Duncan’s] life’s work shows itself in the confident energy of every line” (The Village Voice Literary Supplement).

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Magnificent: an astringent blend of surrealism and symbolism.

The New York Times Book Review

Palmer’s poems can suggest multiverses, silent but spectrally there.

James Gibbons, Hyperallergic

Depending on the poem, the laughter here is by turns bitter, wistful even playful, but typically inflected by a sense of enigma. Returning again and again to songs and singing, to voices and voicelessness, Palmer continues to push the boundaries of poetry with dream songs that explore the place of poetry in a surreal world ‘where headless horseman sing/fevered songs/of self and war.’ Palmer writes with uncanny precision about this world, a world that this book finds to be as beautiful as it is violated, and his poetry often achieves an ecstatic pitch, but one in which pain is rarely absent.

Jon Thompson, Free Verse

The music in these verses never exhausts itself […] Palmer recomposes the measures of poetic song for our time.

Benjamin Hollander, New York Times Book Review

The Laughter of the Sphinx…manages to cut deep into the unknowable appeal of the best poetry, some of which Palmer can claim to have written.


Palmer is among America’s most elegant—and abstract—heirs to modernist poetry.

The Believer

Even more than its music, it emanates silence.

Common Knowledge

The most influential avant-gardist working, and perhaps the greatest poet of his generation. His genius is for making the world strange again.

Village Voice

The foremost experimental poet of his generation, and perhaps of the last several generations.

Citation for the Poetry Society of America's Wallace Stevens Award

Michael Palmer is the foremost experimental poet of his generation and perhaps of the last several generations.

Robert Hass


New York Times Book Review

A magnificent poet.

New York Times Book Review

One of America’s most important poets…. startingly lyrical and visceral.

Harvard Review

Always in Palmer one gets the feeling of the language trying to get outside by undoing itself, by unraveling the complex fabric of language to feel its threads, yes, but also to see through it to what is behind and beyond it … A singular achievement.

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