Whatsaid Serif

Nathaniel Mackey, Author City Lights Books $12.95 (112p) ISBN 978-0-87286-341-5
Mackey's third book of poems continues the exquisite ""Song of the Andouboulou"" cycle inaugurated in his first book, Eroding Witness, and continued through his second, 1993's School of Udhra, also published by City Lights. With a poetic line that is syncopated and improvisational, yet balanced in an elegant, nearly classical style, Mackey sets out on a terrifying, inspiring spiritual quest, taking on cultural displacement and the ruins of communal identity. Like Eliot, Mackey is an elegist for a lost culture, but his historical fracture is not industrialized Europe, but the Middle Passage. Taking up the phenomenon of syncretism (the reemergence of African traditions in the New World after centuries of total suppression), Mackey creates a language that pun-fully subverts the language of Western myth: ""C'rash it became, he said next. / C'rib went on putting its / tongue to what ears would listen./ B'Us was the craft we rode,/ it kept assuring us, name/ not even/ we could arrest?"" Even the basic act of pronominal identification is rendered strange: ""He to him, she to her, they to them,/ opaque/ pronouns, `persons' whether or not we/ knew who they were?"" While refusing to tell his stories straight (""Sound/ raveling sound calling itself eternity. No known locale/ though names accrue""), Mackey's raspy, rebus-like cultural resurfacings are both beautiful to read and worthy of repeated efforts at comprehension. (July)
Reviewed on: 09/28/1998
Release date: 01/01/2001
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