Book Review: The Laughter of the Sphinx

The Laughter of the Sphinx

by Michael Palmer


96 pages.

Genre: Poetry

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

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My Thoughts:

The Laughter of the Sphinx is a book of poems that takes us to many exotic and interesting places around the world with surreal and symbolic imagery. I can say one thing if nothing else about this book. It lives up to its title.  The title poem reads: “The laughter of the Sphinx caused my eyes to bleed.”  Well… that’s exactly what it did to me, albeit not in a literal sense. The same poem mentions “sad-eyed scholars and mournful scribes”. That’s exactly what I felt like as I read through most of these Sphinx riddles.

I enjoy the surreal and symbolic world. I wouldn’t be so attached to my Haruki Murakami novels and Salvador Dali prints if I didn’t. But this book.  Oh my God… this book is the most cryptic book of poems I’ve read since Blinking With Fists.

I could not make sense of connections out of most of them, and the imagery itself just wasn’t speaking to me as a whole.  Maybe it’s just written on a level that’s too far above me to interpret.  While I enjoy deep thinking and pondering hidden meanings behind things, I found myself short of patience with this book.  I mentally tuned out many of the lines as I read them simply because it was becoming a chore.  Books like this require patience in a quiet room and a lot of free time.

That’s not to say that there weren’t any poems in here that I didn’t like. There were a small handful of poems that I did get and enjoyed them, which is what earns the half of the second rating star. I wanted to rate it 2 stars for just being okay because of the few poems that I liked, but in the end, the ones that I had to read to get to those points were just too painful.  Overall…  I just didn’t get it.  That darn Sphinx got me pretty good!

Favorite Poems/Lines:

For Laszlo K
The characters are the victims of the novel
They pay with their lives
for our words
They fall between the pages
in their silence
and we invent hounds
to devour them
We invent worlds
to swallow them
We pass sentence
upon them
The hangman arrives
with his silken rope
its infinite strands
forming a circle
without beginning or end
round as the wave’s grey eye
rolling toward what sudden shore
unpeopled yet teeming
with nightful night fires

… it is too brief
how the wind and light pass
through our bodies of glass.

While dying
you grew

as translucent
as bone china

and your mind took flight
through space and time

as minds
should always do


All the secrets of my work
in the languages I have forgotten

I can’t remember
who it was
whispered this to me

The Republic

They bellow, these silent
creatures of the carousel,

these dragons and centaurs,
unicorns and sea-beasts,

and always the horses,
dappled, candy-striped, pure white.

Their eyes are ablaze
with what they cannot see,

ablaze with the thoughts
they cannot think.

They cannot think
of the spinning world

in which they turn.
They cannot hear

the music they encircle
pouring from the pipes

of the wheezing calliope,
its melodies bent by the wind

into the semitones
of an unintended world.

And the children, the wild
children as they ride,

laugh in their pleasure
and in their terror

at a slow-dawning knowledge

that the beasts will devour them.

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

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