Nathaniel Mackey was born in Miami, Florida in 1947. He was raised in California, studied at Princeton University and completed his doctorate at Stanford University. There he was a co-editor of the first issue of the literature magazine ‘Hambone’, the title of which refers to a syncopated form of rock’n’roll and simultaneously to the vernacular figure of a hobo in the Afro-American community. Music, regional culture as well as intercultural affairs are sources of inspiration for Mackey who includes all three as central motifs in his work. After a lapse of eight years, he took up editing ‘Hambone’ again, having become a professor of literature in the intervening period, during which no issues had been released. By publishing such diverse poets as Sun Ra and Robert Duncan, he added a distinctive touch to the magazine.
A characteristic feature of Mackey’s work are his continuous and varied treatments of specific themes and forms. Following two books of poetry his lyric debut: ‘Eroding Witness’ (1985) was published. This volume included the texts which eventually became the beginnings of his two best known works. The first of these is the cycle of poems: ‘Song of the Andoumboulou’, which runs through to sequence 35 in his volume of poetry entitled: ‘Whatsaid Serif’ (1998). Sequences 16 to 25 were released also on the CD ‘Strick’ (1995), in which Mackey is accompanied by flutes, reeds and percussion instruments of Caribbean, African, and Indonesian origin. The title of the poem cycle refers to a funeral song of the West African Dogon people, in which an earlier, unfinished form of man is invoked. Andalusia and the Caribbean are additional inspiring locales in Mackey’s experimental and hermetic texts. Word plays, ellipses, repetitions, irregular line spacing as well as ragged borders on the right and left sides of the text convey the subversive structures of improvised, dissonant music. In fact jazz is the theme upon which Mackey’s second large work is based, which had already been established with his lyric debut. This work is the letter series ‘From A Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate’. In letters to a mysterious ‘Angel of Dust’, a composer-come-band member reflects on music and describes his life. The third and, up until now, latest volume in this series is ‘Atet A.D.’ (2001). His most recent academic publication is: ‘Paracritical Hinge: Essays, Talks, Notes, Interviews’ (2005).
Since 1979 Mackey has taught at the University of California, Santa Cruz. In 1993 he received the Whiting Writers’ Award, and in 2001 he was elected Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. For his collection of poems ‘Splay Anthem’ (2006) he received the National Book Award. Mackey lives in Santa Cruz, California.
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