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Nathaniel Mackey is a poet of ongoingness involved in a kind of spiritualist or cosmic pursuit.

—Edward Hirsch, The Washington Post

Nathaniel Mackey

Contemporary American poet

Nathaniel Mackey was born in Miami, Florida, in 1947. He is the author of several books of fiction of "exquisite rhythmic lyricism" (Bookforum), poetry, and criticism and has received many awards for his work, including the National Book Award in poetry for Splay Anthem, the Stephen Henderson Award from the African American Literature and Culture Society, the Bollingen Prize, and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. Mackey is the Reynolds Price Professor of English at Duke University.


Late Arcade

Fiction by Nathaniel Mackey


Nathaniel Mackey’s Late Arcade opens in Los Angeles. A musician known only as N. writes the first of a series of letters to the enigmatic Angel of Dust. N. is part of a jazz sextet Molimo m’Atet, which has just rehearsed a new tune composed by fellow band member Djmilaa. Horn players Lambert and Penguin read a chapter from The Egyptian Book of the Dead with lips clothespinned shut as N. on the trumpet, Djamilaa on synthesizer, Aunt Nancy on bass, and Drennette on bongos and conga mingle with strut and struff in a cosmic hymn to the sun god Ra.

N.’s epistolary narration follows the musical goings-on of the ensemble as they play gigs around Los Angeles, as well as in Santa Cruz and Detroit. N. suffers from what he calls “cowrie shell attacks” and is possessed by a figure named Dredj, who turns into a conduit for dreams. Balloons appear as the musicians perform. One balloon materializes in bed betwen Dredj and Djamilaa, bearing a message of a late arcade, a mall with its roof blown off and music in Dredj's ear that keeps him wandering from booth to booth all night. The balloons follow Drennette home, and she and Penguin become bound by a deep secret. Is this what love's late arcade has to offer? Will it last longer than captured breath?




Blue Fasa

Poetry by Nathaniel Mackey


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.



Nod House

Poetry by Nathaniel Mackey


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

Fiction by Nathaniel Mackey


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.



Bass Cathedral

Fiction by Nathaniel Mackey


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."



Splay Anthem

Fiction by Nathaniel Mackey


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.