Michael Palmer

Michael Palmer was born in New York City in 1942. In 1963, while participating in the Vancouver Poetry Conference, he met Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, and Clark Coolidge, who each became important influences on the development of Palmer’s poetics.
Palmer is the author of numerous books of poetry, including Thread (New Directions, 2011); Company of Moths (New Directions, 2005), which was shortlisted for the Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize; The Promises of Glass (2000); The Lion Bridge: Selected Poems 1972-1995 (1998); Sun (1988); First Figure (1984); Without Music (1977); The Circular Gates (1974); and Blake’s Newton (1972). He is also the author of a prose work, The Danish Notebook (Avec Books, 1999).
Often associated with Language poetry, Palmer’s exploratory work confronts notions of representation and habits of language, and also seeks to examine the space through which poetry acts. Though critics have noted the influence of Paul Celan, Samuel Beckett, Surrealism, and philosophical and linguistic theory in his poetry, Palmer’s work continues to evade categorization.
Michael Palmer’s honors include two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writer’s Award, a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, the Shelley Memorial Prize from the Poetry Society of America, and he was awarded the 2006 Wallace Stevens Award. In 1999, he was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. He lives in San Francisco.


Tbilisi Thoughts


You must disregard the silence

of the left side

of the poem.


You must disregard the howling

of the right side

of the poem,


the child soldiers at the city gates

with orphaned poems

on their bayonets.


Pay no heed

to the rats in the granary

or the thieves


who would steal the morning light

from the poem,

the lamplight from the poem,


the inner light from the poem,

the darkness of the poem

from the poem.


You must disregard

the sex of the poem

if you can,


if you can.

Never tell the poem

what is to be done.


Never beg for mercy

from the poem,

since it can offer none.



Do not ask

what language it speaks,

since the answer is none.


Remember that the light and the dark

are the same,

if you can,


if you can,

that the I

and the Thou are the same,


the above and the below,

the far and the near.

Embrace the words you cannot hear.