Michael Palmer


Griffin Poetry Prize 2006
International Shortlist

Book: Company of Moths

Poet: Michael Palmer

Publisher: New Directions

Click here to read and listen to an excerpt.



Michael Palmer was born in New York City in 1943. He is the author of numerous books of poetry, including Codes Appearing: Poems 1979-1988 (2001), The Promises of Glass (2000), The Lion Bridge: Selected Poems 1972-1995 (1998), At Passages (1996), Sun (1998), First Figure (1984), Notes for Echo Lake (1981), Without Music (1977), The Circular Gates (1974) and Blake’s Newton (1972).

Palmer’s work has appeared in literary magazines such as Boundary 2, Berkeley Poetry Review, Sulfur, Conjunctions, and O-blek. His honours include two grants from the Literature Program of the National Endowment for the Arts and a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship. In 1999, Palmer was elected a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets. He lives in San Francisco.

Palmer was the 2006 recipient of the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets. The $100,000 (US) prize recognizes outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry.

Judges’ Citation

“‘How listen, where dwell?’, asks Michael Palmer in a book whose continuous questioning only ever opens out to the surprising generosity of a kind of equivocation. That is, more questions, rather than a rectitude, follow from reflection, and they are the kinds of familiar questions we pose to a companion we love: ‘what of what wolfhound at full stride?’ ‘Did the glare bother us?’ ‘can you hear what I’m thinking …?’ His sequences shimmer on the edge of the surreal, scattering the suggestions of a symbolic plenitude pertains to a life lived with a dexterous consciousness of the necessity of transience. This is the world in its multiple thing-ness, with no gratuitous attitudinizing.”

Michael Palmer reads The Dream of Narcissus and Dream of a Language that Speaks

The Dream of Narcissus and Dream of a Language that Speaks, by Michael Palmer

The Dream of Narcissus

The dream of Narcissus,
that there would be a silence loud as time

The dream of the writer,
that there could be a silence loud as time

The dream of time,
that rest might come

The dream of rest,
that unrest might arise

The dream of the palm,
that pilgrims would enter the village

The dream of the village,
that they depart with their fronds

And the house dreaming of its leveling,
and the exile of his well

The dream of night,
that the day would be purified

The dream of day,
that the dark would be lifted

And the dream of the dream,
but who’s to speak of this

Dream of a Language that Speaks

Hello Gozo, here we are,
      the spinning world, has

it come this far?
      Hammering things, speeching them,

nailing the anthrax
      to its copper plate,

matching the object to its name,
      the star to its chart.

(The sirens, the howling machines,
      are part of the music it seems

just now, and helices of smoke
      engulf the astonished eye;

and then our keening selves, Gozo,
      whirled between voice and echo.)

So few and so many,
      have we come this far?

Sluicing ink onto snow?
      I’m tired, Gozo,

tired of the us/not us,
      of the factories of blood,

tired of the multiplying suns
      and tired of colliding with

the words as they appear
      without so much as a “by your leave,”

without so much as a greeting.
      The more suns the more dark –

is it not always so –
      and in the gathering dark

Ghostly Tall and Ghostly Small
      making their small talk

as they pause and they walk
      on a path of stones,

as they walk and walk,
      skeining their tales,

testing the dust,
      higher up they walk –

there’s a city below,
      pinpoints of light –

high up they walk,
      flicking dianthus, mountain berries,

turk’s-caps with their sticks.
      Can you hear me? asks Tall.

Do you hear me? asks Small.
      Questions pursuing question.

And they set out their lamp
      amid the stones.

      for Yoshimasu Gozo

From Company of Moths, by Michael Palmer
Copyright © 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 by Michael Palmer

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