Nathaniel Mackey was born in Miami, Florida, in 1947, and grew up, from age four, in California. He is the author of five chapbooks of poetry, Four for Trane (Golemics, 1978), Septet for the End of Time (Boneset, 1983), Outlantish (Chax Press, 1992), Song of the Andoumboulou: 18-20 (Moving Parts Press, 1994), and Four for Glenn (Chax Press, 2002); five books of poetry, Eroding Witness (University of Illinois Press, 1985), School of Udhra (City Lights Books, 1993), Whatsaid Serif (City Lights Books, 1998), Splay Anthem (New Directions, 2006), and Nod House (New Directions, 2011); and an ongoing prose work, From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate, of which four volumes have been published: Bedouin Hornbook (Callaloo Fiction Series, 1986; second edition: Sun & Moon Press, 1997), Djbot Baghostus’s Run (Sun & Moon Press, 1993), Atet A.D. (City Lights Books, 2001), and Bass Cathedral (New Directions, 2008); the first three of these have been published together as From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate: Volumes 1-3 (New Directions, 2010). He is also the author of two books of criticism, Discrepant Engagement: Dissonance, Cross-Culturality, and Experimental Writing (Cambridge University Press, 1993; paper edition: University of Alabama Press, 2000) and Paracritical Hinge: Essays, Talks, Notes, Interviews (University of Wisconsin Press, 2005). Strick: Song of the Andoumboulou 16-25, a compact disc recording of poems read with musical accompaniment (Royal Hartigan, percussion; Hafez Modirzadeh, reeds and flutes), was released in 1995 by Spoken Engine Company. He is editor of the literary magazine Hambone and coeditor, with Art Lange, of the anthology Moment’s Notice: Jazz in Poetry and Prose (Coffee House Press, 1993). His awards and honors include the selection of Eroding Witness for publication in the National Poetry Series, a Whiting Writer’s Award in 1993, election to the Board of Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets in 2001, the National Book Award for Splay Anthem in 2006, an Artist’s Grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts in 2007, the Roy Harvey Pearce/Archive for New Poetry Prize in 2007, the Stephen Henderson Award from the African American Literature and Culture Society in 2008, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2010, and The Bollingen Prize in 2015. He lives in Durham, North Carolina, and teaches at Duke University, where he is the Reynolds Price Professor of English.
Nathaniel Mackey’s sixth collection of poems, Blue Fasa, continues what the New Yorker has described as the “mythological conception” and “descriptive daring” of his two intertwined serial poems—where, however, “no prior knowledge is required” for readers new to this poet’s visionary work. This collection takes its title from two related black musical traditions, a West African griot epic as told by the Fasa, a clan in ancient Ghana, and trumpeter Kenny Dorham’s hard bop classic “Blue Bossa,” influenced by the emergence of Brazilian bossa nova. In two sections Blue Fasa opens with the catch of the heart and the call of romance, as it follows a band of travelers, refugees from history, on their incessant migrations through time, place, and polity, toward renewal.
With Nathaniel Mackey’s fifth collection of poems, Nod House, we witness a confluence of music and meaning unprecedented in American poetry. Mackey’s art continues to push the envelope of what is possible to map and remap through words in sounds and sounds in words. Picking up from the Republic of Nub’s disintegration at the end of his previous collection — the National Book Award-winning Splay Anthem — we follow a traveler and a tribe of travelers ensconced in myth and history as Mackey continues to weave his precisely measured music with two ongoing serial poems, Song of the Andoumboulou and "Mu". The collection is divided into two sections, both titled “Quag,” and it is this double Quag in which the tribe is exiled––worlds within alternate worlds where names and places are ever shifting, and dreamlessness reigns. From the pyramids to the projects, Ivory Coast to Lone Coast, Lagos to Stick City, amidst chorusing horns and star-spar lightning, Nod House unfolds as gorgeous eulogy and mourning song.
From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate Volumes 1-3 collects the first three installments—Bedouin Hornbook, Djbot Baghostus’s Run and ATET A.D.—of Nathaniel Mackey’s genre-defying work of fiction. A project that began over thirty years ago, From a Broken Bottle is a lifelong epistolary novel that unfolds through N.’s intimate letters to the mysterious Angel of Dust. Unexpected, profound happenings occur as N. delves into music and art and the goings-on of his transmorphic Los Angeles-based jazz ensemble, in which he is a composer and multi-instrumentalist. The story opens in July 1978 with a dream of haunting Archie Shepp solo, and closes in September 1982 on a glass-bottomed boat borne aloft by the music. This edition also includes a discography, plus an author’s note that offers some reflections on the writings of this extraordinary novel—a realist-mythic layering of lyrical prose unlike anything being written today.
Los Angeles, October 1982: Molimo m’Atet, formerly known as the The Mystic Horn Society, is preparing to release its new album Orphic Bend. The members of the jazz ensemble—Aunt Nancy, Djamilaa, Drennette, Lambert, N., and Penguin—are witness to a strange occurrence: while listening to their test pressing, the moment Aunt Nancy’s bass solo begins a balloon emerges from the vinyl, bearing a mysterious message: I dreamt you were gone...Through letters N. writes to a figure called Angel of Dust, the ever-mutating story unfolds, leaving no musician or listener untouched. Bass Cathedral is Mackey’s fourth volume in his ongoing novel with no beginning or end, From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate. Thought balloons morph into mute-stereoptic emanations; N. encounters a master mouthpiece-maker; Drennette leaves Penguin dateless; Lambert’s kicking it around with Melanie—much is abuzz but something else is happening to the ensemble. The music seems to be living them. N. suffers cowrie shell attacks and they are all stranded on an Orphic Shore. Socio-political forces are at play or has this always been the essence and accident of the music’s resilience? And Hotel Didjeridoo must be resurrected, but how? Myth spins music spins thought spins sex—Mackey’s post-bop boxless box set is, as the Utne Reader wrote, "Avant-garde literature you can love: an evolving multivolume novel of the jazz world that plays with language and ideas the way Thelonious Monk plays with flatted fifths."
Part antiphonal rant, part rhythmic whisper, Nathaniel Mackey’s new collection of poems, Splay Anthem, takes the reader to uncharted poetic spaces. Divided into three sections—"Braid," "Fray," and "Nub" (one referent Mackey notes in his stellar Introduction: "the imperial, flailing republic of Nub the United States has become, the shrunken place the earth has become, planet Nub")—Splay Anthem weaves together two ongoing serial poems Mackey has been writing for over twenty years, "Song of the Andoumboulou" and "Mu" (though "mu no more itself / than Andoumboulou"). In the cosmology of the Dogon of West Africa, the Andoumboulou are progenitor spirits, and the song of the Andoumboulou is a song addressed to the spirits, a funeral song, a song of rebirth. "Mu," too, splays with meaning: muni bird, Greek muthos, a Sun Ra tune, a continent once thought to have existed in the Pacific. With the vibrancy of a Miró painting, Mackey’s poems trace the lost tribe of "we" through waking and dreamtime, through a multitude of geographies, cultures, histories, and musical traditions, as poetry here serves as the intersection of everything, myth’s music, spirit lift.