Of the thousands of poems she's written, Palmer says, "the majority of those will never see daylight, unless I get famous and they drag them out when I'm dead." But she has been published in more than a dozen literary journals online and in print, including miller's pond, Wicked Alice, Moondance, Conspire and Eclectica, and she has performed her poetry at various venues across the United States and abroad. She sells "Gallery" and "Under the Scrimshaw Moon," two self-produced CDs, various chapbooks (self-made pamphlets), and Poems in a Bag, four little books containing "a baker's dozen of poems," she says.
Palmer's poems are infused with a lyrical quality as a natural result of her many years as a music student and teacher. Her poems have been set to jazz, and she often uses musical accompaniment for live performances. Although Palmer has experimented with numerous structures and styles, her current work tends to follow a narrative lead inside a free form. Humorous poems such as "I Broke My Tooth in Texas" and "Not by the Book (Sex with Martha Stewart)" share equal time with more serious poems, such as the Pushcart Prize-nominated "(I wanted to)":
(I wanted to) dance on your grave
but they burned you to ashes
stacked your box with the others
father upon father
no stones, no graves
no dancing daughters
Since she relocated to Richmond in 1971 from Houston, Palmer's dedication to poetry has helped her play a significant role in reshaping Richmond's literary landscape. "There are the slam poets, the poetry society poets, the students and the regular Joes like me," says Palmer, a church choir director who likes to write about "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll." Palmer is hard to categorize, but she would like to see Richmond's poetic factions united.
A regular participant in Richmond's oldest open mic at Border's Books and Music, Palmer recognized a need for more local poetry venues. She co-founded what is now Richmond's second-oldest open mic with fellow poet Cherie Bowers in 1998. A year later the poets moved to Shockoe Espresso, where she and co-host Kelly Lane now meet every second and fourth Sunday come hell or high water. In an effort to heighten literary awareness, Palmer also runs a Web site and distributes a seasonal events calendar.
Her position in the Poetry Society of Virginia has given Palmer a view into poetry on a broader scale, as poets from around the state participate in annual gatherings, sponsor contests and raise money to bring poetry into local schools.
As Palmer finishes teaching "Poetry for the People," a three-part workshop focused on writing, publishing and performing at Art6, she concludes, "In my mind, all poetry is good. It's not all great, but it's all good. If you write a poem, you've done a good thing." S
Shann Palmer's one-woman show, "Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget," will be at Art6 Gallery March 12 at 8 p.m. Palmer's Web site is groups.msn.com/FlashPaperPoetry.