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Mackey, Nathaniel (Ernest)

MACKEY, Nathaniel (Ernest)


Nationality: American. Born: Miami, Florida, 25 October 1947. Education: Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, 1965–69, A.B. 1969; Stanford University, Stanford, California, 1970–74, Ph.D. 1975. Family: Married Pascale Gaitet in 1990; one daughter and one stepson. Career: Professor, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1974–76; professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, 1976–79. Since 1979 professor, University of California, Santa Cruz. Editor, Hambone.Awards: Woodrow Wilson fellowship, 1969; National Poetry Series selection, 1985, for Eroding Witness; Whiting Writer's award, 1993. Address: c/o Moving Parts Press, 70 Cathedral Drive, Santa Cruz, California 95060, U.S.A.

Publications

Poetry

Four for Trane. Los Angeles, Golemics, 1978.

Septet for the End of Time. Santa Cruz, California, Boneset Press, 1983.

Eroding Witness. Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1985.

Outlantish. Tucson, Chax Press, 1992.

School of Udhra. San Francisco, City Lights Books, 1993.

Song of the Andoumboulou: 18–20. Santa Cruz, California, Moving Parts Press, 1994.

Whatsaid Serif. San Francisco, City Lights Books, 1998.

Recording: Strick: Song of the Andoumboulou 16–25, Spoken Engine, 1995.

Novels

Bedouin Hornbook. Lexington, Kentucky, Callaloo Fiction Series, 1986.

Djbot Baghostus's Run. Los Angeles, Sun and Moon Press, 1993.

Other

Discrepant Engagement: Dissonance, Cross-Culturality and Experimental Writing. New York, Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Editor, with Art Lange, Moment's Notice: Jazz in Poetry and Prose. Minneapolis, Minnesota, Coffee House Press, 1993.

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Critical Studies: "Let's Call This: Race, Writing, and Difference in Jazz" by Winston Smith, in Public (Toronto), 1990/91; Nathaniel Mackey issue of Talisman (Hoboken, New Jersey), 1992; "The 'Mired Sublime' of Nathaniel Mackey's Song of Andoumboulou" by Paul Naylor, in Postmodern Culture (Raleigh, North Carolina), 1995; interview with Christopher Funkhouser, in Callaloo (Baltimore), 18(2), spring 1995; "On Nathaniel Mackey," in Chicago Review, 43(1), winter 1997; Scenes of Intent: Community, Lyric Subjectivity, and the Formation of Poetic Career: Robert Duncan, Robin Blaser, Charles Olson, and Nathaniel Mackey (dissertation) by Andrew Richard Mossin, Temple University, 1998.

*  *  *

Nathaniel Mackey's work describes and inhabits a pluralistic universe of spirits. Divinities from Africa and the Middle East weave through his prose and poetry like a root system, creating what might be described as a New World spirit culture of jazz.

Eroding Witness (1985), Mackey's first full-length collection, serves as a pantheon and map for his unique series From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate, of which Bedouin Hornbook (1986) is the first volume. Though classified as a novel, the book can equally be viewed as a prose poem in epistolary form. In the work N., a postbebopper, postmodern poet-musician, who is the book's main character, carries on a conversation with the Angel of Dust about the deeper nature of the priesthood and practice of jazz on both an everyday and a cosmic level. In part through language itself, these two levels are conflated in a way that seems both natural and tinged with yearning. N. doubles on saxello and contrabass clarinet in a jazz band first called the Deconstructive Woodwind Chorus, then named the East Bay Dread Ensemble, and finally, and appropriately, known as the Mystic Horn Society, and he reports to the Angel of Dust about the band's various jobs. For example, just as the band is renamed Mystic Horn Society, he writes, "We haven't done any actual playing yet but we've had an interesting series of discussions on the idea of duende, some of them quite heated at times." The world through which N. moves is surrounded by polycultural presences and signs from African religions transformed through slavery, colonization, exile, containment, and resistance.

Bedouin Hornbook is the most profoundly well realized work of poetic writing to emerge out of the American free jazz movement, which began in the late 1960s and was identified with the political and social black power movement in the United States. The book's heterodox play crunches anthropology (texts and numbers), critical theory, poetic ethnography (Hurston, Deren), and musicology into a continuum that has no end to its delights and surprises. It is an extraordinary project.

Mackey also edits Hambone, a vigorous literary periodical. It includes a broad, yet precise range of poetry and poetics, in which Sun Ra can be read in the same company as Leslie Scalapino. With Art Lange he coedited Moment's Notice, an outstanding anthology of poetic and creative writing on jazz that is notable for its intelligence, inclusiveness, and scope.

—David Meltzer

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