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Nathaniel Mackey

Poet and novelist Nathaniel Mackey was born in 1947 in Miami, Florida. He received a BA degree from Princeton University and a PhD from Stanford University.

His books of poetry include Eroding Witness (Selva Oscura Press, 2018), Blue Fasa (New Directions, 2015), Nod House (New Directions, 2011); Splay Anthem (New Directions, 2006), which won the 2006 National Book Award in Poetry; Eroding Witness (University of Illinois Press, 1985), which was selected for the National Poetry Series; and Four for Trane (Golemics, 1978).

He is also the author of an ongoing prose work, From A Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate, of which four volumes have been published: Bass Cathedral (New Directions, 2008), Atet A. D. (City Lights, 2001), Djbot Baghostus's Run (Sun & Moon Press, 1993), and Bedouin Hornbook (University of Kentucky Press, 1986), the first three of which are collected in From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate: Volumes 1-3 (New Directions, 2010).

The poet Robin Blaser has called Mackey's work "a brilliant renewal of and experiment with the language of our spiritual condition and a measure of what poetry gives in trust—'heart's/meat' and the rush of language to bear it."

Also a critic and literary theorist, Mackey is the author of Discrepant Engagement: Dissonance, Cross-Culturality, and Experimental Writing (Cambridge University Press, 1993). With Carolyn KizerJohn HollanderRobert Hass, and Marjorie Perloff, he is a coeditor of American Poetry: The Twentieth Century (Library of America, 2000), and with Art Lange, of Moment's Notice: Jazz in Poetry and Prose (Coffee House Press, 1993). He also edits the magazine Hambone. In 1995, Strick: Song of the Andoumboulou 16-25, a compact disc recording of poems read with musical accompaniment, was released.

Nathaniel Mackey has received numerous awards including a Whiting Writer’s Award and a 2010 Guggenheim fellowship. He is the Reynolds Price Professor of English at Duke University and served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2001 to 2007. Mackey currently lives in Durham, North Carolina.

Selected Bibliography

Blue Fasa (New Directions, 2015)
Nod House (New Directions, 2011)
Splay Anthem (New Directions, 2006)
Arranging Nature (Chax Press, 2006)
Whatsaid Serif (City Lights, 1998)
Song of the Andoumboulou: 18-20 (Moving Parts Press, 1994)
School of Udhra (City Lights, 1993)
Eroding Witness (University of Illinois Press, 1985)
Four for Trane (Golemics, 1978)

From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate: Volumes 1-3 (New Directions, 2010)
Bass Cathedral (New Directions, 2008)
Paracritical Hinge: Essays, Talks, Notes, Interviews  (University of Wisconsin Press, 2005)
Atet A. D. (City Lights, 2001)
Djbot Baghostus's Run (Sun & Moon Press, 1993)
Discrepant Engagement: Dissonance, Cross-Culturality, and Experimental Writing (Cambridge University Press, 1993)
Bedouin Hornbook (University of Kentucky Press, 1986)

By This Poet


Song of the Andoumboulou: 50

-ring of the well-                        

Fray was the name where we came
to next. Might've been a place,
might not've been a place but
we were there, came to it
than we could se... Come to
so soon, it was a name we stuck
pins in hoping we'd stay. Stray
was all we ended up with. Spar
was another name we heard
went by... Rasp we also heard it
called...          Came to it sooner
than we could see but soon enough
saw we were there. Some who'd
come before us called it Bray...

Sound's own principality it was, a
pocket of air flexed mouthlike,
meaning's mime and regret, a squib of
something said, so intent it
seemed. At our backs a blown
bamboo flute, trapic remnant,
Coast reconnoiter come up empty
but for that,          a first, forgotten
warble trafficked in again even so,
mango seed's reminder sent to what
end we'd eventually see...

                              We had
Come thru there before we were
told. Others claiming to be us had
come thru... The ubiquitous two lay
bound in cloth come down from on
hoping it so, twist of their raiment

integument, emollient feel for what
might not have been there. Head in the
clouds he'd have said of himself,
have said elsewhere, his to be above and
below, not know or say, hers to be
alibi, elegy otherwise known...

have said elsernrheren

Above and below, limbo what fabric
intervened. Limbo the bending they moved
in between. Limbo the book of
bent knee... Antiphonal thread
attended by thread. Keening string
by thrum, inwardness, netherness...
strings tied their hair high, limbo
the headrags they wore... The admission
of cloth that it was cover, what
was imminent out of reach,                   given
went for real, unreal,                                          


Song of the Andoumboulou: 21

  Next a Brazilian cut came
on Sophia picked. Paulinho's
 voice lit our way for what
    seemed eternity, 
   primeira vez the one
  we caught or could understand,
    no matter it ended
soon as it'd begun. 
   beginning. Endless goodbye.
     Always there if not ever all
 there, staggered collapse, an
    accordion choir serenaded
  loquat groves hurried by
    outside. . .
                    It was a train
   in southern Spain we
     were on, notwithstanding
    Paulinho's "first" put one
      place atop another,
     Brazil in, air as much of
 it as earth, even more, an ear
   we'd have called inner unexpectedly
    out. . . Neither all in our
heads nor was the world an array
  random than we'd have
                                    thought. . .
 It was a train outside São
   Paulo on our way to Algeciras we
  were on. . . Djbai came aboard.
    Bittabai followed. . .
                                 A train
less of thought than of quantum
  solace, quantum locale. "Quantum
   strick, bend our way," we
 begged, borne on by reflex, a
   gotten on in Miami, long since


    Lag was our true monument.
   It was an apse we strode under,
     made of air. There inasmuch
as we exacted it, aliquant amble,
    milling around on corners began
   to move, the great arrival day
      we'd heard so much about begun,
 sown even if only dug up again.

    Call it loco, lock-kneed samba. . .
Multi-track train. Disenchanted
   feet. . .
               It was the book of
 it sometimes going the wrong
   way we now read and wrote. . .
  script. Polyrhythmic

Irritable Mystic

"mu" fifth part —

  His they their
we, their he
 his was but if
need be one,
I, neither sham nor
 excuse yet an
alibi, exited, 
the only where
 he'd be. 

the long since
 body, imagines
each crack, each
    crevice as it sweats
   under cloth,
                   tongues touching
     down on love's endlessly
 warmed-over thigh. 
                             The awaited one
    she mistook him for haunts
       him, tells him in
     dreams he told 
                            him so.
       Such offense,
   but at what
      won't say, 
                       no resolve if not
      not to be caught 
                             out. . .

     Abstract advance, its
    advantage unproved,
     what wish would
 give. . . 
             Late eighties 
momentarily bleached by
         bomblight. Awoke,
     maybe inwardly wanted
       wrestling with dreams 
                                      of the
 awaited one again. 
back but a moment later
        what moodier start
     to have gotten off
       angered by that but
 begrudged it its impact
     so sits remembering,
         pretending, shrugs it
off. . . 

             Arced harp. Dark
     bent-over body. Esoteric
         sun whose boat its
 upheld. . . 
vast underbelly of
       limb-letting thrust. 
                                  Tread of
     hoofs. Weighted udders of
 dust. . . 
               His it their she
once they awake, 
       arisen one, 
           at her feet, 
                                 her feet 
       one with their 
   ankledeep in damage
                                   though she 
           dances. . . 
 The slippings off
                         of her
 of their hands define
her hips, whose are
       the suns whose
           his nights taste 
     and as at last he
       lies her legs loom, 
 loose gown pulled from
           her, sleep 
And he with his 
           cramps the air, 
       lotuslike, lips
                           part kiss,