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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Nathaniel Mackey's Song of the Andoumboulou 26

[After about a six-month break, I have decided to return to this continuing series of posts that reflect on Nathaniel Mackey's Song 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, in addition to the poems themselves, 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.].

Allusions / Definitions
>This poem is the first of a group of ten that go under the heading "stra." I am not sure what Mackey is referring to. It could be a simple anagram for "star." It could also be the name for "sîra," what seems to be an Arabic name for a story that is part of a larger saga. Maybe it will come clearer later.

>Ra — Egyptian sun god

>Raz — unsure. Certainly negative relative to the majesty of Ra.

>C'rib — seems to be the proper noun for the blow he suffered to the back of the head.

>Zar — Religious ceremony in the Sudan and Southern Egypt conducted by women and intended to cast out demons.
>Loquat leaves — In China and Japan, special healing qualities are attributed to these

>Profligate — wildly licentious

> Ta'wil— explanation, interpretation, esp. of Qur'an.

>twin / twinless — In Dogon cosmology, according to the anthropologists Marcel Griaule and Germaine Dieterlen, twins are important in their creation myth. [See here. After you get to the page, click on the html given about half way down.]

>gremlin — Created in the Royal Air Force during World War II, this is a mischievous folk figure who causes trouble with planes and aeronautics.


Before jumping into a discussion of the poem proper, I want to address the experience of reading it. It can be frustrating.

On the one hand, Mackey writes with enough power, authority, and narrative momentum to create a desire for knowing what is going on. On the other hand, he does not provide enough information for figuring this out. So we are left with the sense that something mysterious is happening, but we cannot get to the bottom of it.

No matter how many allusions we track down, no matter how much unusual diction we make clear, we will remain ill at ease.

Obviously, frustrating the reader cannot be the goal of these poems. So we must look elsewhere than traditional notions of how a poem is held together. I will need to formulate this more carefully later, but Mackey seems to be aimed at the reading process itself, at the coming to fruition of a sense, and insight, a togetherness, only to watch it dissipate.

Other poets have done this sort of thing: Ashbery, Ron Silliman, Lyn Hejininian and so on. What sets Mackey apart is that he does this in a cross-cultural arena. In a way, he ups the stakes: with him, we are not just learning how to read complex poetry, we are learning how to read each other in our cultural differences, in what Mackey would call the difficult creakiness that attends all communication, both intra- and inter- cultural.

My next post on Mackey will consider #26 more particularly. At a later date, I will consider how he specifically contributes to contemporary poetry.

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