Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Palmer, Michael. Sun. San Francisco, CA: North Point Press, 1988.

Toward the beginning of Sun, Palmer writes: “Some stories unthread what there was” (25), and a bit later: “They refuse you their stories, pour soot on you/ and into you” (35). Both of these passages, to a large extent, speak to the manner in which the poet’s writing undermines narrative and rational thought through the use of a highly disjunctive lyric mode that offers both images one can only connect through wide associative leaps and meta-linguistic commentary. But these features are not merely toothless artifice; what could digress into fanciful evasions of social realities is actually highly politicized speech. Palmer writes: “We, the center, offer narratives” (62); and if the “center,” or locus of power controls these “narratives,” then the desire to “Give me something in words for a change” (15) can be read as a call for marginalized poetics to assert themselves. Such an assertion will be, if not antagonistic, at least a source of uneasiness for the “center”: “Moans can be heard coming from poems—poems you, Senator, want desperately to read but will not let yourself, since you are a citizen, proud and erect” (32); if the “Senator” and his constituents will not read the moaning poems, poems that provide “Unutterable/ pages/ of counterlight/ in the fluid window” (55), it is because they have a language of violence, of the “proud and erect” to enact: “Write this. We have burned all their villages// Write this. We have burned all the villages and the people in them.// Write this. We have adopted their customs and their manner of dress” (83). This, then, is what Palmer’s verse attempts to combat: the burning of villages, the massacre of its denizens, and the appropriation of their culture through the hegemonic force of the dominant modes of language and writing. As an alternative, one should have “Words pass backward// onto the tongue” (59) and “churn hymns into fragments” (60) so that the “mirage// of the referent” (61) can be exposed; not so as to drift into a foundationless subjectivity, but to understand “all things are what they seem, at last. Rain is rain at last, and not rain” (33). Or stated differently, we as producers and consumers of language can grasp words as both signifiers relating to a signified within a particular context, but must know the arbitrary nature of these signs that a) can be altered, b) do not directly correspond to material objects, and c) can be used to promote a progressive politics. While it may take a leap of faith to substitute “F for alphabet” and “Z for A” (86), one must begin somewhere, pulling back language by pieces and re-writing it. Or, as Palmer writes: “I sang my name but it sounded strange/ I sang the trace then// without sound,/ then erased it” (66).

No comments: