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This review is taken from PN Review 142, Volume 28 Number 2, November - December 2001.

A PART AND APART MICHAEL PALMER, The Lion Bridge: Selected Poems 1972-1995 (Carcanet) £12.95

A bridge, Heidegger claimed, 'does not just connect banks that are already there'. Instead, 'The banks emerge as banks only as the bridge crosses the stream' and 'gathers the earth as landscape.' Michael Palmer's The Lion Bridge gathers seven major collections, from the dense, hermetic Blake's Newton (1972), through the cool but strangely intimate Notes for Echo Lake (1981), and concluding with At Passages (1995), the most elegant, groundbreaking volume of American poetry to grace the previous decade.

Palmer's work demonstrates that absence of rhyme does not preclude reason or attention to form. Negotiating notions of corpus as body and text, his poetry is replete with headless torsos, detached limbs, and people schizophrenically divided. Through this dis-figuring lens, 'an arm folded might mean "to flow"', and when 'a dog floats headless in the water / careful to avoid the shore', whether swimming or decapitated it gestures at the signifier's empty, open drift.

In First Figure (1984) Palmer writes, 'Wet snow is falling once more / The scene as always is tropical', indicating not so much a confused climate as the way reality is troped. Only in an always-already contrived world is it possible to posit, without contradiction, phenomena such as 'a real landscape / they have invented,' 'a room within a smaller room', 'November the thirty-third / of an actual November', and 'a week of eight days'. Even the natural world is recognised as constructed, where 'snow falls upward' while 'trees grow downward', and 'Today ...


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