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Splay Anthemby Nathaniel Mackey
Synopses & Reviews
In a stunning new collection of poems of transport and transcendence, African-American poet Nathaniel Mackey's "asthmatic song of aspiration" scuttles across cultures and histories — from America to Andalucía, from Ethiopia to Vienna — in a sexy, beautiful adaptive dance.
Part antiphonal rant, part rhythmic whisper, Nathaniel Mackey's new collection of poems, Splay Anthem, takes the reader to uncharted poetic spaces. Divided into three sections — "Braid," "Fray," and "Nub" (one referent Mackey notes in his stellar Introduction: "the imperial, flailing republic of Nub the United States has become, the shrunken place the earth has become, planet Nub") — Splay Anthem weaves together two ongoing serial poems Mackey has been writing for over twenty years, Song of the Andoumboulou and "Mu" (though "mu no more itself / than Andoumboulou").
In the cosmology of the Dogon of West Africa, the Andoumboulou are progenitor spirits, and the song of the Andoumboulou is a song addressed to the spirits, a funeral song, a song of rebirth. "Mu," too, splays with meaning: muni bird, Greek muthos, a Sun Ra tune, a continent once thought to have existed in the Pacific. With the vibrancy of a Miró painting, Mackey's poems trace the lost tribe of "we" through waking and dreamtime, through a multitude of geographies, cultures, histories, and musical traditions, as poetry here serves as the intersection of everything, myth's music, spirit lift.
"Published in installments across several decades, Mackey's two epic series — one called Mu, the other Song of the Andoumboulou — bring the attitudes of free jazz and the reverberating patterns of West African ensemble music to the goals of the American encyclopedic long poem la Charles Olson. The mysterious, even hermetic, new verse extends both of Mackey's epics, even (as his prose foreword explains) merging them, so that they form one enormous text describing a mystical quest. Mackey's figures seek the source of inspiration, and his dense stanzas track their uneven progress; 'We' pursue it, by foot, train or boat, into realms of fable and myth, via chants, archival and esoteric references, portmanteau words and archeological research. 'Atless' (that is, lost without a map) and given to interjections like 'wuh,' Mackey's crew crosses the 'City of Lag' on the 'Not Yet Express,' as the poet himself sends his spirit 'up/ Unreal Street unstrung' in search of new sounds and rituals." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
Nathaniel Mackey is a poet, literary critic, fiction writer, and journal editor whose eight books of poetry include Four for Trane, Septet for the End of Time, Outlantish, and Song of the Andoumboulou. His 1985 poetry book, Eroding Witness, was selected for publication in the National Poetry Series. He received a Whiting Writers' Award in 1993 and was elected to the Board of Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets in 2001. He is also the author of an ongoing prose composition of which three volumes have been published and of two volumes of literary criticism, Paracritical Hings (2005) and Discrepant Engagement: Dissonance, Cross-Culturality, and Experimental Writing (1993). He is editor of the literary magazine Hambone and is a Professor of Literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
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