December 21, 2008

Jackson Mac Low

Jackson Mac Low [USA]

Poet, composer, essayist, performance artist, playwright and painter, Jackson Mac Low was born in Chicago in 1922. His poetry began to be published in 1941. Since 1954 he has often employed chance operations and other nonintentional, as well as intentional techniques, when composing verbal, musical, theatrical, and multimedia performance works. Mac Low’s turn to nonintentional methods was inspired by Zen Buddhism (as taught by Dr. D. T. Suzuki), the I Ching, and John Cage and his music composed in the early 1950s by chance operations, some of which is indeterminate in its performance.

By the middle 1960s, Mac Low was well known for his readings, performances, and theater works. The Marrying Maiden, a play chance-operationally derived (1958-59) from the I Ching, was performed by The Living Theater in New York in 1960-1961; it was directed by Judith Malina, with d├ęcor by Julian Beck and music by John Cage. Mac Low’s Verdurous Sanguinaria (written in 1961 and published in 1967) premiered in 1961, produced by the composer La Monte Young in Yoko Ono’s New York loft. His Twin Plays was performed in 1963. Selections from The Pronouns, forty poems that are instructions for dancers, was written in 1964 and performed in 1965 by Meredith Monk and a group she organized.

In 1963, with the editor La Monte Young, Mac Low co-published the first edition of An Anthology, which through George Maciunas gave rise to Fluxus, of which Mac Low was the first literary editor. Mac Low published several books of poetry throughout the 1960s and the 1970s, including August Light Poems (1967), 22 Light Poems (1968), Stanzas for Iris Lezak (1972), 4 trains (1974), 21 Matched Asymmetries (1978), and Asymmetries 1-260 (1980).

The 1980s saw Mac Low working more often in intentional poetic forms, influenced, in part, by the “Language” poets, some of whom themselves claimed Mac Low’s poetry as an influence. Among the major works of this period are From Pearl Harbor Day to FDR’s Birthday (1982) and Bloomsday (1984). A large selection of his work also appeared in Representative Works: 1938-1985 (1986). Over the past decades Mac Low continued to publish important works including Twenties (1991), Pieces o’ Six (1992), and 42 Merzgedichte in Memorium Kurt Schwitters, which won the 1994 America Award for the best new book of American poetry. In 1999 Mac Low was awarded the Tanning Prize for Poetry.

Mac Low died in New York in 2004.


The Pronouns—A Collection of 40 Dances—for the Dancers (New York: Mac Low and Judson Dance Workshop, 1964); August Light Poems (New York: Caterpillar Books, 1967); 22 Light Poems (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Books, 1968); Stanzas for Iris Lezak (Barton, Vermont: Something Else Press, 1972); 4 trains (Providence, Rhode Island: Burning Deck, 1974); 36th Light Poem: In Memoriam Buster Keaton (London: Permanent Press, 1975); 21 Matched Asymmetries (London: Aloes Books, 1978); phone (New York and Amsterdam: Printed Editions and Kontexts, 1979); Asymmetries 1-260 (New York: Printed Editions, 1980); “Is that Wool Hat My Hat?” (Milwaukee,: Membrane Press, 1982); From Pearl Harbor Day to FDR’s Birthday (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1982); Bloomsday (Barrytown, New York: Station Hill, 1984); French Sonnets (Tucson, Arizona: Black Mesa, 1984); The Virginia Woolf Poems (Providence, Rhode Island: Burning Deck, 1985); Representative Works: 1938-1985 (New York: Roof Books, 1986); Words nd Ends from Ez (Bolinas, California: Avenue B, 1989); Twenties: 100 Poems (New York: Roof Books, 1991); Pieces o’ Six (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1992); 42 Merzgedichte in Memorium Kurt Schwitters (Barrytown, New York: Station Hill, 1994); Barnesbook (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1996); 125 Postcard Poems (Ellsworth, Maine: Backwoods Broadsides, 1996); Thing of Beauty: New and Selected Poems, ed. by Anne Tardos (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008)

The Jackson Mac Low online site can be reached at this link:

Winner of the PIP Gertrude Stein Awards for Innovative Poetry in English

Feeling Down, Clementi Felt Imposed upon from Every Direction.

( HSCH 10 )

“Democracy imposed from without is the severest form of tyranny.”

Lloyd Biggle, Jr.,
“The Problem of the Gourmet Planet,”
Analog, November 2003

Feeling down, Clementi armored herself against unwanted compliments.

The effects of painful desperation were imposing their influence, she felt, on every democracy.
She always felt worst for a crowd rightly punished for wrong reasons.

Could frugal Clementi have been beaming dispositive influences directly at others?
Had she, without a thought, imposed a negative influence on everyone near her?
Possibly, she supposed, someone of limited understanding had mistaken an ironic remark for a revelation.

Desperately, she noted, freedom competed with itself and murmured at opportunities imposed on it.
The dire effects of forced dependence were being repulsed by the desperate.
Indelicate competition in the midst of imposed democracy was imposing desperation.
Imposed democracy was imposing desperation.

Early on she’d recognized a great many sorts of pretended feeling.
Clementi had shamelessly declared compunction at the slaughter of fishes.
She wrongly supposed that no dependent would notice her myriad contradictions.
Wouldn’t that have influenced her freedom’s recognition?
She herself murmured at every opportunity imposed on her.

The tyranny of desperation was the crowning affectation imposed on her.
With delicate compliments she declared her objection to that desperation.
Was that when she declared imposed democracy a punishment?
She felt it a punishment greater than being found out
Clementi found that she’d been disposing noxious beams in all directions.
They directly revealed her own dependence and what she depended on!

How could she reply to what she revealed to herself?
All were insisting they were desperate for freedom.
But what seemed to be the effect of what they called democracy?
A myriad murmured desperately at every opportunity.
What could compete with that massive indelicacy?
Clementi had learned the effects of what was being called democracy.
She felt imposed upon from every direction.

Seven strophes of which the numbers of sentences in successive strophes follow the sequence of cardinal numbers 1 through 7. Diastic text selection utilizing a mix of sentences by Charles Hartshorne, Gertrude Stein, Lewis Carroll, and Gerard Manley Hopkins as source text and the poem’s epigraph as seed text produced a non-grammatical text from which the author “took off” when composing the poem. Words were modified, added, deleted, etc., as needed. Everything was tampered with.

Jackson Mac Low
New York: 9-13 October 2003; 14-15 April, 15 May 2004

Reprinted from The Poker, no. 6 (2005). Copyright ©2005 by Jackson Mac Low.
Permission to reprint granted by Anne Tardos.

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