“What any experimental art is trying to get you to do is move beyond your preconceptions and your expectations regarding what should be happening, what’s going to happen, what kinds of effects it should have, and enter a liminal state in which those things can be redefined in the way that the particular artist or piece of art is proposing.”
—“mu” one hundred thirty-fourth part—
by Nathaniel Mackey
Let myself be leaned on though I did, linger
though I did, I heard enough hearing he died
when Terremoto died . . . So it was I plugged
ears with strum. Had I listened I’d have la-
mented my lost body. I leaned against his lean-
ing, lent my support . . . Propped up in my
right, I wondered what I leaned on. A shade
he might’ve been, soul serenade the song he
soul, it seemed, a fund
There is something fundamentally contradictory in trying to include Nathaniel Mackey’s long form poetry into the style of this blog – Fourteenlines. As a master of Jazz poetry and spoken word poetry, Mackey deserves to be included in this months collection, but excerpts simply don’t do his work justice. I would encourage you to read more of his work in its original form if these snippets strike your fancy. Mackey is known for his embrace of long form poetry to share a deeper narrative about his own and our collective journey as human beings.
There are two words that Mackey frequently uses in his poetry; antiphon and andoumboulou. Antiphon means; a verse or song to be chanted or sung in response, like a psalm, hymn or prayer sung in alternate parts. Andoumboulou, from West African Dogon mythology, means “a rough draft of human being, the work-in-progress we continue to be.”
Chanting is common place as a form of shared worship in many religions of the world, but has become seen as a bit old fashioned in many Protestant congregations. It’s a shame that chanting has faded from popularity. Frederick Buechner, a noted theologian, says that group chanting can reconnect words to meaning. He wrote on a recent blog: “when a prayer or a psalm or a passage is chanted, we hear the words again. We hear them in a new way. We remember that they are not only meaning, but music and mystery. The chanting italicizes them. The prose becomes poetry. The prosaic becomes powerful.”
If you would like to learn more, I recommend the short video below, its a great way to learn about Nathaniel Mackey’s approach to his art and life.