Categories and labels appeal to inattentive minds. In poetry, for example, more people may use the terms "confessional" or "Beat" or "Romantic" than have paid attention to poems by Sylvia Plath or Alan Ginsberg or John Keats.
Michael Palmer has been associated with "non-referential" or "language-centered" poetry. There may be some truth to these categories, but they leave out or neglect too much. And the better a writer or a particular work, the less useful any label that may be applied to him.
Here is Palmer's poem "Study":
In a darkened room they
speak as one against the
religion of the word, against
the prophetic, the sublime, the
orphic call. It is a
strange conversation, coming as it
does after hours of making
love, mid-afternoon till now, at
this their second meeting, shutters
closed to block the lamplight
outside. Seated on the bed,
the curve of her back
toward him, she is smoking.
It is unclear whether they
believe what they are saying.
The narrative presents its reality as reliable. The poem's final sentence goes so far as to say that the two characters have an inward reality -- the degree of their belief -- that is independent, beyond what the poet who makes the "study" of the title can say.
Or is the study a room: a room containing the author, or containing the couple with their intellectual judgments and lovemaking?
The poetic term "stanza" comes from an Italian word for "room"; in a poem entitled "Stanza," Palmer considers what is contained in a body (the ringing left ear can signify an out-of-body experience), in a room containing the words in books or voices, in things that can't be found, in weather -- in the dizzy enigma of the last line, which seems to dramatize the escape of meaning out of all its containers, including language, including the room of this poem.
"A ringing in your left ear . . . "
Some of the books can't be found
and likewise certain rooms
with words in them
or built of words
appear to have been sealed
Sealed against what? First
light perhaps, nails of the hand
tendering the spine a glance
Rain must have its place, its chance
at the music -- text
now lost, now gone
Does distance cause the call
Do nights spin
(Michael Palmer's poems "Study" and "Stanza" are from his book "The Promises of Glass." New Directions. Copyright © 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 by Michael Palmer.)