poem index

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.

Song of the Andoumboulou: 21

Nathaniel Mackey
  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

From Whatsaid Serif by Nathaniel Mackey. Copyright © 1998 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


—“mu” ninety-eighth part—

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

"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

-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