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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Nathaniel Mackey: Andoumboulou 21

[This is a continuing series of posts that reflect on Nathaniel Mackey's Songs of the Andoumboulou, a series of poems that Mackey has been working on through three books. His latest book with Andoumboulou poems in them, Splay Anthem, won the National Book Award. I take into consideration his allusions, Mackey's prose, interviews with him, and critical discussions of his work. As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. To access all of the posts, click on "Nathaniel Mackey" in the list to the right.]

[I am currently discussing Mackey's book Whatsaid Serif. If for some reason you cannot buy it (and I sincerely hope you do), many of the poems can be found here. Also, Mackey reads 10 of the poems with musical accompaniment on an album entitled Strick.]

Allusions / Vocabulary
Paulinho —
minha primeira vez — Portuguese for "my first time"
loquat —
Såo Paulo —
Djbai — See Mackey's Atet A.D. pages 111-112
Bittabai — See above
Strick —
Lag — I think he is using the verb, meaning "to fail to keep up," as a noun
Apse —
Aliquant —


This poem seems to be a continuation of the previous one. Mackey allows for such readings because he says in interviews that the poems in Song of the Andoumboulou can be thought of as overlapping.

That said, we must ask what the effect is of making the break between the two poems where he does. I think it is rhythmic: while all of Mackey's poems look fairly similar on the page, the way they work out specifically can be quite distinct. In Song 20 toward the end, the words are placed in a highly vertical and tilted fashion. You will have to trust me on this, because this blog form will not allow me to do justice to a quotation. In addition, pounding allusion and repetition add to the momentum.

In 21, the feeling is much more horizontal, and more space is given within and between lines. It seems that the break between poems is used to slow us down and to get us to view the same series of events (the poem begins with the word "next") within a more relaxed rhythmic medium.

"Next a Brazilian cut" -- Thus the poem begins. Mackey is referring to a song, a "cut", on an album of the Braziliam percussionist and singer Paulinho. They are also still in a train: "loquat groves hurried by / outside ... in southern Spain." Nevertheless, the sound of the Brazilian's music means that Brazil is placed within Spain, the air of the train as much of the distantly recorded song as of the earth of Spain.

Attention then shifts to a train in Brazil, "a train / less of thought than of quantum / solace, quantum locale." I believe that Mackey is getting at the still not fully understaood physics term "action-at-a-distance." Physicists have observed causal connections between particles too far apart to have any sort of typical interaction. What Mackey seems to be offering is quantum poetics, a way of thinking about music and poetry and culture that is also quantum, not hampered by overly determined notions of locale.

Put another way — a youngster from Pulaski, WI today may very well know less about his town's legendary polka music than of Scandinavian death metal. Action at a distance.

This continues in the final stanza, which seems to represent Brazil at carnaval (and it doesn't matter if Mackey was 'actually' there — action at a distance): "crowds milling," "loco, lock-kneed samba," polyrhythmic remit." Mackey does not seem very positive about this event, emphasizing the "book of / it" more than the it.

Heidegger (a philosopher I have deep reservations about, but he is useful here) in the 60's wrote about how when he first saw pictures of earth from orbiting satellites, he felt that we had lost the earth forever. Granted, Heidegger's concept of "earth" was extremely complex, but ultimately his pronouncement must be seen as conservative. There was a right way to experience earth, it is forever in the past, and we have lost it. Nostalgia.

There seems to be a bit of that nostalgia in this poem. There is no home here. We are in a cultural situation where we are always on trains, not to escape slavery as we saw in poem 20, but because it is simply where we cannot help but be. The mood of this poem seems a little downcast about this complex cultural place.

But Mackey has other moods. Mackey does not stay with this conservative mood.

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