February 18, 2012

Nathaniel Mackey

Nathaniel Mackey [USA]

Born in Miami, Florida, Nathaniel Mackey spent his youth in Southern California, where at the age of four, his family moved. He received his BA from Princeton, and his PhD from Stanford University.

His major poetic influences were William Carlos Williams and Amiri Baraka, but other jazz musicians such as John Coltrane and Don Cherry became important influences on his life, and particularly transformed his notion of fiction, which throughout much of his career he transformed into an ongoing series of prose works, published under the general name of From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate, fictions beginning with Bedouin Hornbook in 1986 (Callaloo Fiction Series, 1986, reprinted by Sun & Moon Press in 1997), and continuing in Djbot Baghostus’s Run (Sun & Moon Press, 1993), Atet A.D. (City Lights Books, 2001), and Brass Cathedral (New Directions, 2008), a series of fictions that have become important “underground” works that are extraordinarily popular with readers. The first three of these volumes were recently collected by New Directions in 2010. The works have been described by critic David Hajdu as “kinetic and also contemplative, elegiac and mercurial, sometimes volatile.”

     Mackey, for many years a professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz, also published books of criticism, including Discrepant Engagement: Dissonance, Cross-Culturality, and Experimental Writing (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1993) and Paracritical Hinge: Essays, Talks, Notes, Interviews (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005).

     Among his several volumes of poetry are Eroding Witness (University of Illinois Press), School of Udhra (City Lights Books), Whatsaid Serif (City Lights Books), and Splay Anthem (New Directions).

     Mackey has also edited and coedited books of essays, including Moment’s Notice: Jazz in Poetry and Prose (1993) and has published numerous works on tape. He has won the National Book Award for Splay Anthem, the Roy Harvey Pearce/Archive for New Poetry Prize in 2007, the Stephen Henderson Award from the African American Literature and Culture Society in 2008, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2010. Mackey also edits the magazine, Hambone.

     Mackey has been extremely important in his influence on younger African-American poets, particularly upon Los Angeles poet Will Alexander, whose works he advocated to Sun & Moon Press and others.

     After years of being a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Mackie recently became the Reynolds Price Professor of Creative Writing at Duke University.


 Four for Trane (Golemics, 1978); Septet for the End of Time (Boneset, 1985); Eroding Witness (Champaign: University of Illinois Press); Outlandish (Tucson, Arizona: Chax Press, 1992); School of Udhra (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1993); Song of the Andoumboulou: 18-20 (Moving Parts Press, 1994); Whatsaid Serif (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1998); Splay Anthem (New York: New Directions, 2006); Blue Fasa (New York: New Directions, 2014)

 For a sizable selection of recorded readings of poems, click here:

For an interview with Mackey upon his arrival at Duke University, click below:

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

Beginning ‘We the Migrating They’

      —andoumboulouous étude—

          We the migrating they we
      instigated, those in whose
name we went. To get where
    they were going and lie
   was all we wanted, love’s
     choric voices convening,
caroling home, home ex-
       ploded long since… It was
          up and be gone again,
     shell taken for sun where
there was no sun, without
   or about hope no one could
      We the migrating they we
    stared out at, prodigal wish to
burn elsewhere intransigent,
      Stella’s high skylight were
         suddenly one of us, she the
     one who said move on…
        They were not the dead
    dolls of the dead, a dream of
      coming back as we were going.
Eyes wide but eyes nothing
          out from, effigies adrift in the
    A parsed pomp and circumstance
  it was, not being there but the
      image of being there what they
were caught in, lagleg retreat,
      advance… Inside the bubble
  the house became we saw each
       awake one, puffed-up
ascendance all there was of
     ing back, an effigy of each if
  each its own effigy, each an un-
likely remit… Everyone someone
          knew, resemblance mocked us,
     faces doll hard, clavicles crossed.
Each with a big mouth, telling on
   everyone, what so-and-so did,
      so-and-so thought… Who they
          otherwise were we fell away from,
equate their going with our going
    though we did… Who they were
      otherwise were, the away what there
  of it still
Reprinted from Blackbox Manifold (2011). Copyright ©2011 by Nathaniel Mackey     

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