NOTES FOR ECHO LAKE by Michael Palmer


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Palmer is one of the better American obscurantists now working (Clark Coolidge and Lyn Hijenian being two others). He has a talent for radically dispersed argument: ""Ideas as elements of the working not as propositions of a work, even in a propositional art (Someone said someone thought)."" And he has taken up the valuable but neglected thread provided by the language-investigating poets of San Francisco in the 1950s: Robert Duncan (Writing Writing) and Jack Spicer (The Heads of the Two up to the Aether). So now, in this collection, Palmer fashions an image-Echo Lake--to serve as a sign, a semiotic, for the pathos of perpetual re-beginning that is language: ""To be at a loss for words. How does the mind move there, walking beside the bank of what had been a river."" But though these ""Echo Lake"" notes are all interesting, only parts 4 and 12 prove wholly successful and the shorter poems here work far better than the longer ones-perhaps because of the almost knell-like strictness of tone in Palmer's voice: ""Singing first the solemn, imaginary/ world of brilliant error/recognized/as twin to that paradise/ against which day breaks."" When extenuated, this tone can seem humorless, granitic, even passionless--an oblique coverup for vagueness, solid only in its theoretical notions. But in shorter forms, it's a voice which--like early Eugenio Montale--prods the poem's words to dry and bleach like a memorable arrangement of bones. Palmer is now clearly coming into his stride, and if orthodoxy and a tendency toward excess elaboration do not hold it back, it's one that we can expect to be important.

Pub Date: April 15th, 1981
Publisher: North Point Press