Poetry. DISTANT MUSIC inhabits a harsh Midwestern America of damaged prairies and inward-turning small towns, whose people are nonetheless touched by moments of grace. Unmarked paupers' graves in a rural cemetery underlie native flowers "in glorious bloom." A guilt-ridden snow-plow driver finds respite after a long night's work, waking to snow-banked streets and "all that weight pushed aside." Sex, love and marriage are explored in the details of berry picking and home can-ning. These poems are grounded not only in place but in an artistic commitment to accuracy and precision of language and emotion."John Palen's new collection, DISTANT MUSIC, is populated with the likes of Bach, Picasso, covered wagons, and hardscrabble boys 'feral under an ivory moon.' The poems move easily from concert hall to back porch to the poet's own father in 'a plain corner of the afterlife.' John writes about people, those he knows well and those he can only re-create from recorded history, in a way that frees them to become equal quantities observed and observer. These poems are solid and beautiful 'the way light reflects off the grain/ of spruce or maple.' They are 'headlights sweeping the ditch banks' to unmask treasures at the edge of the prairie that you might have passed by without noticing. The poetry in DISTANT MUSIC settles onto you, helping you understand what is dispensable and what isn't."—Julie Price Pinkerton"What a pleasure to have this ample collection of John Palen's work, and to discover its uniform excellence. The poems have a wonderful specificity and precision, filled with the names of things, learned through a lifetime of paying attention, and stories of ordinary people, gleaned through a lifetime of caring. Palen has that rare skill of placing them—the people and the things—just so and then letting them speak for themselves. To speak of his writing process, Palen conjures a man cruising the streets where people put out their cast-off things, looking for usable wood, passing most of it by: "Then something pulls at you: / clean lines, / the way light reflects off the grain / of spruce or maple, / and you stop / and pop the trunk."—Eric Torgeresn
John Palen grew up in small towns in southwest Missouri and attended Washington University in St. Louis, where he was a student of Donald Finkel. His poems have been published in literary magazines since the late 1960s. Recent work has appeared in Bluestem, MacNeese Review, Main Street Rag, Delmarva Review, and upstreet. Mayapple Press published Open Communion: New and Selected Poems in 2005, SMALL ECONOMIES in 2012, and DISTANT MUSIC in 2017. After a 45-year career as a journalist and journalism educator, Palen lives in retirement in central Illinois.
Author City: IL USA