Photo: Photo by Lawrence Schwartzwald

Nathaniel Mackey

Mackey’s writing draws on Sufi and West African mysticism and music, Bedouin traditions, the Quran, African American music (especially jazz) and history, and ideas of love, nothingness, initiation and spiritual journeys. His poetry and fiction exist in continuous transit between language that conjures an imaginary music and music from which language floats — in some cases, quite literally like a bubble. His criticism helps us understand disruption, discord and divergence as a ‘discrepant engagement’ — something that engages with the violent disparity between societies’ presumed norms and the lived experience that those norms work to eradicate or exploit. His idea of the ‘tellingly inarticulate’ frames choosing not to make sense as a way to reject and indict racist societies and the ways they make sense to themselves. 

“It is not simply writing about jazz, but writing as jazz…” - David Hajdu, The New York Times

Nathaniel Mackey is of the most celebrated poets emerging from the Black Radical Tradition. The New York Times described him as a writer of “realist-mythic layering of lyrical prose unlike anything being written today”. His ongoing series From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate is some of the best writing ever about or as jazz, by being written as jazz. His critical essays offer us all profound tools for understanding formal experimentation in poetry, literature and music and how they address the problems and paradoxes of social life. He’s an encyclopaedic jazz and world music radio DJ, and editor of hugely influential collections of poetry. He’s probably your favourite poet’s favourite poet. 


“Mackey has now written close to one thousand pages of fiction about music that does not exist….What is so revolutionary about it, still, is the way Mackey makes the pain of this absence into the occasion for renewing a love of language, of redirecting our ears toward the page…[His] handling of history is subtle and immaculate.” — BOMB Magazine 


“Our greatest living epic poet…Mackey’s poetry and criticism…have reinvented modernism for our time.” — LitHub


“Mackey composes realist-mythic layering of lyrical prose unlike anything being written today.” — New York Time


Thanks to The University of Arizona Poetry Center for the use of the photograph.


Image Description: Nate is shown from the waist up, leaning against a fence that forms the right-hand side of the image. He wears a dark blue t-shirt and metal rimmed glasses. His arms are folded. On his left wrist is a black strapped watch, and what looks like a leather bracelet or hair band. He has a grey short beard on his chin, but no moustache. His hair is in thin dreads, swept back from his face, reaching down past his neck and resting on the collar of his T-shirt. He’s looking at the camera.

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