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November 15, 2006Academy of American Poets OfficesFrom the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

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 Nod House (New Directions, 2011); Splay Anthem (2006), which won the 2006 National Book Award in Poetry; Whatsaid Serif (1998); Song of the Andoumboulou: 18-20 (1994); School of Udhra (1993); Outlantish (1992); Eroding Witness (1985), which was selected for the National Poetry Series; Septet for the End of Time (1983); and Four for Trane (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. (2001), Djbot Baghostus's Run (1993), and Bedouin Hornbook (1986), the first three of which are collected in From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate: Volumes 1-3 (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 (1993). He is the editor of American Poetry: The Twentieth Century (2000, with Carolyn Kizer, John Hollander, Robert Hass, and Marjorie Perloff) and Moment's Notice: Jazz in Poetry and Prose (1993, with Art Lange). 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.

Irritable Mystic

Nathaniel Mackey
"mu" fifth part —

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

              Before
the long since
  remaindered
 body, imagines
each crack, each
    crevice as it sweats
   under cloth,
                    numbed
  inarticulate
                   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, 
                     moot 
   remonstrance, 
                       no resolve if not
      not to be caught 
                             out. . .

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

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

From School of Udhra by Nathaniel Mackey. Copyright © 1993 by Nathaniel Mackey. Reprinted by permission of City Lights Books. All rights reserved.

From School of Udhra by Nathaniel Mackey. Copyright © 1993 by Nathaniel Mackey. Reprinted by permission of City Lights Books. All rights reserved.

Nathaniel Mackey

Nathaniel Mackey

Born in 1947 in Miami, Florida, poet and novelist Nathaniel Mackey was a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2001 to 2007.

by this poet

poem

-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
                                             sooner
than we could se... Come to

poem

—“mu” ninety-eighth part—


Remembered moment lamenting
  its exit, the anaphylactic aria
fell away. What beauty promised or
  we projected faded, we moved
                                          on,
  not’s province the place we
now camped in… The abandoned

poem
  Next a Brazilian cut came
on Sophia picked. Paulinho's
 voice lit our way for what
    seemed eternity, 
                             minha
   primeira vez the one
                                phrase
  we caught or could understand,
    no matter it ended
soon as it'd begun