Review of Mackey's Four for Glenn (Chax Press, 2002, $16)
It becomes almost an impossible task to select a quotation from Nathaniel Mackey's work because of its thick texture, of that noise which was so well defined by Paul Naylor, that is in fact a background, for/ground, a most exacting music. In an interview with Christopher Funkhouser, Mackey talks of his widespread interests in literature (Professor of Literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz), and among the many authors quoted it is delightful to see the Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz (the one introspective poet who was against the poets). Interests which are part of a larger one "in the movement of cultural influences and exchanges over wide geographic areas, the cross-cultural mix that the planet is", as the author states, which unmistakably develop into an anthropological curiosity that combined with his intense approach to music - to the point that in high school he considered becoming a musician attracted as he was of the black musicians of the sixties - bring Mackey to get deeper into what can be defined a world culture with a keen preference for primordial tribes, religious rites, a new mysticism which can be felt by any contemporary who is willing to turn his dreams into poetic perception, and poetry meant as an esthetic experience. While trying to define the talented personality of the poet and digging into his past ambitions to outline a fixed portrait, it is no surprise that he was good at mathematics and science, and this leads us to a sketch of an all-enveloping figure who gives us intercalating stanzas of one-two-three-four-five lines separated by one word set at the end of the following separating line, like a single displaced note, a take five which includes all the previous times with this only black note dropped there to dislocate the listener, awaken him out of the gentle humming. Four for Glenn by Nathaniel Mackey is as "light as a feather" with its 24 pages, a graceful gift conveying a world of grace adults easily forget about. Dedicated to Glenn Spearman is the "Song of the Amdoumboulou: 42" opens the minute collection. Perception, the capacity of accepting and bringing to reality what can be felt, an open eye onto what can and could be, and the humbly realized knowledge that our existence is much more complex than what our school books have told us, than a delimitation of physical flesh which contains it all; these are some of the many ideas that have come to my mind while reading Mackey. A wish to detect what is commonly known as "unreal", to deploy its rules, if any, or simply let it invade his Self, play with him to the extreme, to be able in a later moment to describe it.
. . . Torn cloth, we the
whatsay, more than could be seen we saw,
In Paul Naylor's interview, it's Mackey who introduces us to the definition of Andoumboulou: "It wasn't until I read The Pale Fox in the course of writing School of Udhra that I found out the Andoumboulou are specifically the spirits of an earlier, flawed or failed form of human being--what, given the Dogon emphasis on signs, traces, drawings, etc. and the 'graphicity' noted above, I tend to think of as a rough draft of human being. I'm lately fond of saying that the Andoumboulou are in fact us, that we're the rough draft." And to go deeper into the subject I would like to quote a remark by the author on his early steps as an artist: "people going into states of trance and possession in church, had a tremendous and continuing impact on me." From an early observation of one of the most impressive phenomena practically estranged from Christian Catholic religion but extremely vivid in the South of the States with its spirituals which most impressed me during my stay in New Orleans, there is in Mackey a transformation of what can be critically and rather cynically defined as emotional exaltation into a refinement of impressions through the individual filtering of the poet.
A long poem, divided into distinct poetic compositions, that brings the reader to a choral belonging--we are one of those strings the author plays, part of the song he is singing. Again, how long since the last time, a poetry which brings back the most vivid images which are actual dreams, those from which you awaken and feel at easy, things and people around have acquired their dimension, and you fit exactly well in what you have always known to be your place. As a god, as a god-wo/man, as a wo/man, as a being whose right to exist has been made sacred.
When it turns out we were/are roughed: "horns held high, heads back, / eyes / right, Struff Street promenade, / struck".
Terrors of strangers, sojourners, scanned by numbers and songs, rites purifying and estranging this time from commonality, to be able to go back to life. No wonder the "ladder" is to be found here; it was Mircea Eliade who highlighted its symbolism common to almost all the tribes dislocated in various continents in his exhaustive anthropological research. A ladder in Mackey's "Glenn on Monk's Mountain" which leads to a Buddhist state when finally: "breath / an abiding chime, chimeless, / bells / had we been / rung."
As per the Kundalini practice, concentration on our breath can bring us to higher levels of meditation, and Mackey's poetry has maybe this quality.