Nathaniel Mackey Analysis

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Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Although much of the critical attention Nathaniel Mackey has received has concentrated on his poems, his novel series, From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate—which contains Bedouin Hornbook (1986), Djbot Baghostus’s Run (1993), Atet, A.D. (2001), and Bass Cathedral (2008)—has increasingly gained the notice of critics of postmodern fiction. His critical essays and other writings have been collected in Discrepant Engagement: Dissonance, Cross-Culturality, and Experimental Writing (1993) and Paracritical Hinge: Essays, Talks, Notes, Interviews (2005).


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Nathaniel Mackey’s Splay Anthem received the National Book Award in Poetry (2006) and the Northern California Book Award in Poetry (2006). His first full collection of poems, Eroding Witness, was selected by Michael S. Harper as the National Poetry Series winner in 1984. He also received a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship (1969), a Whiting Writers’ Award (1993), a Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award (2007), and the Stephen E. Henderson Award for poetry (2008). He served as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2001 to 2007.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Anderson, T. J. Notes to Make the Sound Come Right: Four Innovators of Jazz Poetry. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2004. Examines the jazz poetry of Mackey, as well as of Bob Kaufman, Stephen Jonas, and Jayne Cortez. Anderson provides overviews on jazz poetry as well as chapters on each of the poets.

Finkelstein, Norman. “Nathaniel Mackey and the Unity of All Rites.” Contemporary Literature 49, no. 1 (Spring, 2008): 24-55. Reading Mackey’s poetry and poetics through the lens of René Girard’s concept of sacred violence as well as Peter O’Leary’s reading of Mackey as a Gnostic poet, Finkelstein develops a reading of Mackey that emphasizes both the religiosity of the cultural quest underpinning Mackey’s poetry and the modern skepticism that forecloses any possibility of reaching the holy grail of that quest.

Lavery, Matthew A. “The Ontogeny and Phylogeny of Mackey’s ’Song of the Andoumboulou.’” African American Review 38, no. 4 (Winter, 2004): 683-694. Lavery situates Mackey’s project within the context of American poetic movements such as the Black Mountain school and Projectivist poetics. At the same time, he argues that the figures in Mackey’s poem find themselves between various value systems (linguistic, cultural, social, and so on). Thus each enactment of movement, thematized as an endlessly beginning journey in the poetry, circles about itself endlessly, propelled by the “broken” music of language itself.

Mackey, Nathaniel, and Kamau Braithwaite. Conversations with Nathaniel Mackey. Staten Island, N.Y.: We Press, 1999. Contains the public discussion between Braithwaite and Mackey at Poet’s House in New York in November, 1993. Provides insights into Mackey’s work.

Maynard, James. “Pragmatist Improvisations.” Journal of Modern Literature 30, no. 3 (Spring,...

(The entire section is 660 words.)