Nathaniel Mackey

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.

Double Trio

For thirty-five years the poet Nathaniel Mackey has been writing a long poem of fugitive-making like no other: two elegiac, intertwined serial poems—“Song of the Andoumboulou” and “Mu”—that follow a mysterious, migrant “we” through the rhythms and currents of the world with lyrical virtuosity and impassioned expectancy. In a note to this astonishing box set of new work, Mackey writes: “I turned sixty-five within a couple of months of beginning to write Double Trio and I was within a couple of months of turning seventy-one when I finished it.…
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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.…
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Blue Fasa

Nathaniel Mackey’s sixth collection of poems, Blue Fasa, continues what the New Yorker has described as the “mythological conception” and “descriptive daring&rrdquo; 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.…
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Nod House

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”.…
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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.…
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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.…
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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”).…
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Still sourcing and exploring two massive, braided streams of retrospective invention—‘Mu’ and Song of the Andoumboulou—Mackey’s liturgy falls and sprays and pools in Double Trio. Bottomless, modal, modular as McCoy Tyner’s matched, augmented threes, surfaces bloomed with turbulent, recombinant bottom like Bill Dixon’s double-bassed ensembles, Double Trio doesn’t culminate: it promises.
—Fred Moten
Mackey’s own rare combinations create an astonishing and resounding effect: his words go where music goes: a brilliant and major accomplishment.
—Don Share, The Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize Citation
Because of their crablike logic Mackey’s lines feel simultaneously abraded and buffed, their meanings fugitive, tremulous, mercurial. He is a lyric poet whose probing of wounds and the whir of words reaches into epic dimensions.
—John Palettella, The Nation
Mackey is doing what might be the most technically virtuosic rhythmo- syntactic work in the English language. No one comes close. I hope these two long poems never end.
—Mike Lala, Brooklyn Rail
Our greatest living epic poet…Mackey’s poetry and criticism…have reinvented modernism for our time.
Instead of accepting the casual clichés which plague musical writing, Mackey adapts a set of stylistics which are uniquely his own: much like those breaths which are prodigiously pushed out of a tenor, a trumpet, or an oboe, the words read as chaotic, harmonious, suspensions of the spirit which one must hear before they may fully inhabit.
—Bennet S. Johnson, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI
A literary adventure of the highest order, a feat of prose and imagination that takes the fiction genre into new territory. One of the most memorable meetings of prose and jazz in English literature.
—Florence Wetzel, All About Jazz
A poetic lift…wild, free-wheeling spirit…
Nathaniel Mackey is a poet of ongoingness involved in a kind of spiritualist or cosmic pursuit.
—Edward Hirsch, The Washington Post
It feels, sentence to sentence and page to page, like a work in the act of being created. It is not simply writing about jazz…. There is a cliché about music writing, sometimes attributed to Thelonious Monk, among others: ‘Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.’ If so, Nathaniel Mackey is compelled, rather than deterred, by the multiform madness of the enterprise. He is the Balanchine of the architecture dance.
—David Hajdu, New York Times
Mackey is a sure and skilled and authoritative composer / compositor…The workings of his words indicate an uncontestable care and loving respect for the most subtle and resonant nuances of language.
African American Review
Mackey’s rampant alliteration and his reconfiguration of words on the phonemic and morphemic level create a sonic atmosphere that enacts a state of jazz.
Boston Review
Mackey’s writing (much like the best of Ornette Coleman or country blues) rewards close reading with resonances of real experience.
The Village Voice
Blue Fasa asks what the lyric can give us, and answers in an immense and generous manner. In Mackey’s music, we viscerally feel the physicality of language as well as the history and feeling encoded in it. It would be a loss for contemporary poetry to forget that sensuous shuttle of syllables from tongue to sound wave.
—Laura Jaramillo, Indy
Nothing short of astounding.
—Michael Delong, Boston Review
The book is a collection of many poems that can also be treated as one epic poem. It follows several characters, who are on a journey of self-discovery, known as the philosophical posse.
Remarkable erudition and singular lyric virtuosity.
Publishers Weekly (starred)
Nathan Mackey’s ongoing serial projects in poetry and prose over the past three and a half decades arrow among the great wonders of our literary moment.
—Poetry Foundation
Mackey’s words go where music goes: a brilliant and major accomplishment.
—Ruth Lilley Poetry Prize Citation
Nathaniel Mackey is a poet of ongoingness involved in a kind of spiritualist or cosmic pursuit.
—Edward Hirsch, The Washington Post
Nathaniel Mackey’s poetry ambitiously continues an American bardic line that unfolds from Leaves of Grass to Pound’s Cantos to H.D.’s Trilogy, winds through the whole of Robert Duncan’s work, and extends beyond all of these. Mackey’s own rare combinations create an astonishing and resounding effect: his words go where music goes: a brilliant and major accomplishment.
—Don Share
An open-ended exegesis of musical meaning that is equal parts African American history, Bedouin mysticism, and Mackey’s own imagination.
The Believer
The pleasure of the book comes from its descriptive daring.
The New Yorker
He is the Balanchine of the architecture dance.
—David Hajdu, The New York Times Book Review
In both Song of the Andoumboulou and ‘Mu,’ Mackey describes the music he hears––its history, players, sounds. But more often than not he transposes the music he hears into words, channeling the spirit, re-incarnating it into the English language.
—Travis Nichols, Stop Smiling
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