Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Portrait of Nathaniel Mackey by Chris Vitiello at Indy Week : Harriet ...

Poetry News

By Harriet Staff


Nathaniel Mackey has been teaching at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina for the last five years. This year, he received the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, awarded by the Poetry Foundation, for his contributions to literature. At the Durham, North Carolina–based publication, Indy Week, Chris Vitiello introduces readers to Mackey’s work.

Mackey’s body of work includes the collection Splay Anthem, which won the 2006 National Book Award. He’s a former chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. His lifetime contribution was recognized this year with the prestigious Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, which comes with $100,000.

“[His writing] is both elliptical and suddenly direct,” says Joseph Donahue, a poet and professor at Duke, “quite dramatic and moving and then witty, like a voice talking to itself. This isn’t like writing poems—this is a way of thinking and talking that this poet has wandered into, and you just want to keep going.”

Donahue, who named one of his sons Nathaniel (after Mackey and Hawthorne), draws inspiration from the restless, iterative quality of Mackey’s poetry and prose. This is embodied in two poetic series—”mu” and the “Songs of the Andoumboulou,” an early form of humanity from Dogon mythology—and the cycle of novels (four of them, so far) gathered under the title From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate.

Mackey’s career as a poet, novelist and critic builds upon the work of American modernists such as Robert Duncan and William Carlos Williams and jazz visionaries such as Don Cherry and John Coltrane to create a new space for experimental, lyric verse. Through his presence and his work, Mackey connects disparate ideas and people, whether bringing together concepts of blackness, myth and music or gathering poets from both sides of the academic fence. He’s really more of a condenser than a connector.

“The community of black experimental writers, the ones trying to engage in and studying that work—it’s not the biggest community within black intellectual life,” says poet Fred Moten, a former Duke colleague of Mackey’s, who now teaches at the University of California, Riverside. “But those of us in it, we were these Nate Mackey-ites scattered across the country. I met a lot of my good friends in the academy in the search for more of them. . . .

Learn more at Indy Week.

Tags: Chris Vitiello, Indy Week, Nathaniel Mackey

Posted in Poetry News on Thursday, December 11th, 2014 by Harriet Staff.


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