Arts Listings

Arts: Michael Palmer and Douglas Blazek Read at Moe’s

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Friday April 07, 2006

Mondays At Moe’s features an unusual pairing of poets this coming Monday at 7 p.m. when Michael Palmer and Douglas Blazek split the bill at the popular reading series on Telegraph Avenue, programmed by Owen Hill. 

Blazek’s reputation for poetry, associated in the 1970s with Charles Bukowski and with Cleveland poet d. a. levy—as well as various other writers dubbed “The Meat Poets”—would seem at a considerable remove from Michael Palmer’s work, associated with older poets like Robert Duncan and Robert Creeley, as well as experimentation with language. 

But Blazek, who lives in Sacramento, has been long involved in an intense transformation of his own writing, and credits the example of Palmer’s as a source of inspiration for his changes. 

“I don’t think that I write like him at all, but his work helped me to turn some corners,” Blazek said. “By the theories he applies to his work, and some of the results in his poems, he—and others—gave me, at a crucial time in life, the permission to explore how language works. Not just a change in subject matter, or in the description of experiences in this world, but the language in poetry itself.” 

Blazek’s “restoration” of his work began a quarter century ago. 

“Somewhere in the mid-’80s, I started looking back,” he said. “I’d published hundreds of poems in hundreds of places. But they were lacking something, not as realized as they could be. I was going through a deep life transformation, slowly evolving into a considerably different person than the one associated with my older poems. I started to draw back, go into a cave. My appearances in periodicals dwindled, calculatedly, while I worked exceptionally diligently on the poems, rewriting a great many of my earlier poems, and drafting notes for new ones while rewriting.” 

Blazek has produced seven unpublished full-length manuscripts, besides the one he will read from Monday. 

From two unpublished poems: 

To fall out of step. 

To fall through the dance-thinned floor. 

No earth but a bonfire of light 

and the gesticulations of wind 

—from “Revision” 


“So what if winter 

scales down the hands 

we once entertained 

with the tree of our mind? 

Whatever wavering 

there is 

is change fitting 


—from “Attendance Shifting Its Absence To Another Presence”  


Blazek says that reading with Palmer is “symbolic of how far I’ve departed from where I came from.” 

Palmer recalls that Blazek had seemed to disappear, to become “a voice from that curious past” of the ’70s. Then “he showed up at a reading I did with Eliot Weinberger at Cody’s last fall, and asked if I’d be willing to read with him at Moe’s in the spring.” 

Palmer said he hadn’t had any idea until then of Blazek’s self-recreation—and that he hasn’t seen his newer work. 

Palmer is a familiar figure to readers of poetry. He arrived in San Francisco in 1969 from Massachusetts, attracted by “the openness of culture,” he said. “For the kind of exploratory work I wanted to do, Cambridge was not so welcoming.” 

The scene in the Bay Area was then “sort of in between—the age of the S.F. Renaissance, of, say, Jack Spicer had ended a few years before,” Palmer said. “By the mid-’70s new poets had flooded into the area, with dual communities in San Francisco and Bolinas, which made for a very exciting, portentious time. It was a very supportive community, which kept me going.” 

His work has changed in recent years, he said, by “moving a little bit away from radical syntax into the mysteries of ordinary language, in the philosophical if not every day sense. It probably looks less unusual on the page. And I’ve been interested in the infinite, ingathering potential of the lyrical phrase—not confession, but the voicing of selves that make up the poetic self, from Greek lyrics to the Italians, to modern poets like Mandelstam. It’s a parallel development to empire, to materialism, but provides both a counter-voice and an echo chamber of other poets you’re overwriting. ‘Circulations of song,’ Dante called it in his homage to Rumi; voices that pass through us, rather than the notion of a singular psyche.” 

“Una Noche (after Bandeira),” from Company of Moths. 


Then El Presidente 

uncoiling his tongue, 


’You cannot stop time 

but you can smash all the clocks.” 


And so seeking Paradise 

we have burned down the bright house 


to the ground. 

A necessary act. 


We have invented glass 

and ground a dark lens 


and in the perilous night 

we continue to dance. 


The tarantella, the tango, 

the passadoble and the jig, 


the bunnyhop, the Cadillac, 

the Madison and the sarabande, 


mazurka and the jerk, 

the twist on tabletops, 


Roling our eyes, flailing our limbs. 


It’s how we keep time, 

our feet never stop. 


Michael Palmer and Douglas Blazek read Monday at 7p.m. at Moe’s Books, 2476 Telegraph Ave.e