Poetry of the absurd


It is scribbled along the body
Impossible even to say a word

An alphabet has been stored beneath the ground
It is a practice alphabet, work of the hand

Yet not, not marks inside a box
For example, this is a mirror box

Spinoza designed such a box
And called it the eighth sky . . .

Visiting poet Michael Palmer began his reading Monday night with the poem “Eighth Sky,” explaining that he wrote it in memory of French writer and painter Max Jacob, who died in a Nazi deportation camp. Most of the poems Palmer read to the audience of about 150 in the Social Sciences building were dedicated to writers who had inspired him, and Palmer followed “Eighth Sky” with “SB,” for playwright Samuel Beckett, then read an untitled poem dedicated to contemporary poet David Shapiro that revealed Palmer's philosophical bent. "What is the relation of the painting to its title?” asked one verse. “The painting bears no relation to its title,” responded the next.

“There are plenty of seats,” Palmer said to students tiptoeing into the auditorium, before continuing with a selection from his latest book, Company of Moths, (2005). Reading the poem “Untitled, October 22nd,” Palmer began, “Eva Braun advised me in a dream to always be kind to dogs,” a line that made the audience chuckle. “So I summoned my dog, gnarly dog." Once he finished reading the poem, Palmer incited more laughter, explaining, “I ran into trouble when my French translator was trying to translate gnarly.”

Palmer, who will give a lecture Wednesday on his 30-year collaboration with the San Francisco–based Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, finished the reading with recent and unpublished poems reflecting his sense of humor and taste for the absurd. After seeing Kane Kwei’s sculpture, “Coffin in the shape of a Cocoa Pod,” at San Francisco’s de Young art museum, Palmer wrote a poem beginning, “Bury me in a cocoa pod. It’s time," and going on with requests to be buried in a Mercedes-Benz, a pot of India ink, a cuckoo clock, and more. Before his listeners lined up for cookies, cheese, and wine, Palmer closed with another poem whose last line read, “Poem, don’t be so strange.”

Jenny Fisher, '07

Photo: Poet Michael Palmer reads his work.

October 24, 2006