I picked up this book after reading the first poem (which is rare for me, to have something leap out in such a way) and after noticing a nice list ofI picked up this book after reading the first poem (which is rare for me, to have something leap out in such a way) and after noticing a nice list of "notes" at the back (nothing like a well-researched book of poems in conversation with other sources to whet my appetite), and finished it in one sitting (I'll admit, I couldn't put it down). With so many book awards out there I often am let down by the "winner", but I can honestly say this book clearly deserved to win the Bakeless Prize (recognizing there is much of my own aesthetic at work here to justify me saying this--another might take issue with the aesthetics represented in this book as I take issue with the aesthetics of the books that win that I don't like).
I liked the concept of vellum as a title that unifies the book. Vellum (processed animal hide) was historically important for both written manuscripts and for paintings, speaking of which, the ekphrasis in this book is lovely--not obtrusive or done in a "name-dropping" way, but in a legitimate use of metaphor: I connect X to Y in my head, this object or angle of light or color I see echoes, calls forth, and sometimes even differs from this painting or photograph I once saw and is relevant to the meditation at hand. The speaker of these poem-meditations is a working, searching, questioning mind, probing the sensory world around him with the immediate pleasure of detailed description, and the layered pleasure of relating what he sees to other stories, works of art, other experiences he's had. I was also struck by the creativity and experimentation in the well-structured stanzas and lines. My only quibbles: relying too often on catalog, the cataloging of images, objects, etc. rather than focusing a little more intently on fewer objects in the list; and a love for, and at times overuse of a certain rhythm, especially when listing in threes: "An axe, a bowl, some bread" or "macadam, a Florentine mosaic, Louie Louie's three slurred chords", etc.
Lastly I just have to say how impressed I am at the stylistic unity through the poems and how subjects as varied as Audubon, Rorschach tests, Dante's Inferno, Houdini, Montezuma, Charlie Chaplin, the Congo, a lynching in San Antonio, the Sistine Chapel, Saint Catherine, Keats and Severn, objects from the Mutter Museum of medical oddities in Philly, and artists from Giotto to Muybridge to Pollack and Picasso and many more all hold together: they all make sense in relation to each other in the world of this book in large part due to the consistent tone, speaker's voice, and inquisitive approach to material. I'm looking forward to reading this again....more
I heard Michael Palmer read back when I was studying at Michigan. Perhaps I wasn't ready for him then (that happens, that writers speak to you at diffI heard Michael Palmer read back when I was studying at Michigan. Perhaps I wasn't ready for him then (that happens, that writers speak to you at different points in your life, even certain books speak to you differently when you read them again at another time, in another space, at another place in your life). At that time I couldn't get into him, but now, I just read Company of Moths and was like, wait, this is quite good--that first section "Stone" made me read and reread every poem before I could go on.
So now I'm giving The Promises of Glass another go--I started to read it back then but couldn't get past poem one. But now, having tasted his syntax and breaks...well, so far, so good......more