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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Mackey: Vision and Reflection

Picking up on my thoughts from yesterday, Mackey is more a fast-moving poet who reflects on spiritual, cultural, and ecstatic matters than he is a spiritual or ecstatic poet. He seems also to be a visionary poet. Both visionaries and those who reflect do so from a position on the edge or outside. (Mackey in interviews often speaks of the edge.)

Take the example of Jayne Cortez. Especially in her live work with the Firespitters and other groups, her work has an immediacy that is necessary for both the spiritual and the ecstatic. Is it an absolute immediacy? Of course not. If that were the case it would be wide open to Derridean deconstruction. As Derrida points out, all language slips, but some slips more than others. Cortez typically is too intense and lacking in irony to create a lot of slippage relative to other poets.

Are intensity and a lack of irony sufficient reasons for a piece to be considered spiritual or ecstatic? I doubt it. But it seems to me they are necessary. Even the hilarious ancient Persian mystic Hafiz had an intensity about him.

Mackey is as interested in deferral, stammer, stutter, and slippage as he is with anything. Perhaps much of his work is not spiritual or ecstatic, but shows forth the stuttering and slippage that occurs with such language but often goes repressed or unnoticed.

Some examples from School of Udhra (I choose it because it is next to my keyboard. Any of his books would show the same sort of pattern):

"not yet asleep I'm no longer awake" (3) [Emphasis is on negation, not ecstasy.]

"Took the dust of an eroded footprint" (4) [Self-cancelling image.]

"at the mention of loss a new convert / to light" (6) [Speech engenders.]

"I sit up holding you a / year ago" (7) [Notice how the shift in tense creates slippage.]

"scorched earth looked at / with outside eyes" (9)

"disembodied voice" (10) [Notice how Mackey speaks of a disembodied voice rather than from one, which would be speaking from a state of ecstasy.]

This goes on throughout Songs of the Andoumboulou.

A note of caution: above I have analyzed thematic content. Mackey's form must also be addressed along these lines. I do so in the post before this one.

Paul Naylor in an excellent article in the Spring 2000 Callaloo seems to disagree with me. He references Heidegger as defining 'ecstasy' as standing outside of one's self in language. "The selves that inhabit the poetic terrain of SoA, are able to stand outside themselves...and it is language that is at once the condition for the possibility of such ecstasy and its site."

Now I don't want to nor claim to critique Naylor in a thorough manner, but I must say I disagree with him on this important point. Ecstasy is not the only way to get outside one's self in language. Reflection can do it as well. Vision is a third way. (By 'vision' I am not referring to a coherence that an artist works toward, but a construction by the artist that, while coherent in some senses, is also quite open. For a writers to have an 'artistic vision' in the most extreme manner would be the end of their writing.)

Naylor seems to argue that Mackey's poetry is the site of ecstasy. I believe that it is the site of reflecting on and constructing visions about, among other things, ecstasy.

A future post will need to consider the interrelationship between this reflection and vision building and Mackey's unique form.

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