Thursday, July 16, 2009

Getting Angry with Jackson Mac Low

Struggle again today. This time I spent two hours browsing the interent on a semi-important errand. Not as important as the writing though, obviously. But after that I read a few things from that Jackson Mac Low best of that I bought awhile ago. Some of his stuff is so good and I mean the non-random stuff here. People always think of him as that guy who wrote chance poetry or whatever, but his other stuff, which admittedly is in the minority, is so good. Like inthe first section of phone (the later sections get more experimental and for me not part of the poem?):
Whenever I answer the phone
It's never you

Even if it was you
It'd never be you

Hello it's me
I love you so much
I can hardly wait to see you
Can I come over right now

Yes yes yes yes

So I hate the sound of the phone
& worse
To answer it

Hello hello
No I'm not me
I'm not here
I'll never be
Except for possibly the last line (I can't decide whether I love it or hate it) this is a beautiful, simple, philosophical and playful poem. Why couldn't he have written these instead of letting chance get in there and take over? Just because of some stupid buddhist commandment about refuting the ego? Sometimes an ego is needed I think. Someone has to do something after all. Someone has to do the writing and if you can do it as well as he can then why the fuck not! I feel kind of cheated that there isn't more of these.

So anyway, after reading Mac Low's work I wrote a silly thing about my most vivid memory from Standard Four which involved pencils, compasses and indiscriminate stabbings. Hmm.


  1. Jackson MacLow's "phone" is breathtaking -- not principally because of the first page, or "theme," but rather because of the exquisite, partly chance-determined transformations to which this opening is subjected. Take another look at the last three pages, or variations, of the poem. These render the opening sentiment even more poignant. The chance operations have enabled the poet to discover/unveil new nuances and ramifications.

    I once saw Mr. MacLow read this poem. Simple, unpretentious, altogether compelling.

  2. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for your comment. I'm sure it would be stunning read aloud. I think we might be talking about matters of personal preference here, I know I certainly am. I definitely admire MacLow's pioneering attitude and breaking down of the the traditional 'authorship' and his work with chance operation, we probably wouldn't have such a rich heritage of post-modern peotry without him. But at the same time I have reservations about how much of it I want to read, and I mean on the page here as opposed to performed which are, for me, two completely different modes.

    In short I prefer poetry that packs an entire world into each line. I like poetry that works extremely hard and works me extremely hard and I'm not sure subtly nuanced repetition is enough to keep me interested or want to go back and read those sections again. I guess I found so much beauty and complexity in that first section which was then slowly expanded on in the later sections and I wanted more than that slow expansion. I just wanted more, more in the way that the first section definitely delivered. I guess I'm fairly conservative in my love of dense lyric poetry. And maybe if MacLow had just left it at the first section and not introduced chance operation then it would have been just another lyric poem (J.A.L.P?), which is fair enough and a good reason to do something different. But knowing that still doesn't change how I read it or enjoy it.

    MacLow is certainly an artist, and that is what I like about his work, it is so uncompromising, so driven by experimentation.

    His 'Instructions for Dancers' (if I remember the title correctly) is another matter altogether. I absolutely adore those, they somehow marry the experiment, the form, the subject(s) and the language beautifully. Brilliant!


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