Jackson Mac Low

Michael Palmer: 'Tomb of Aimé Césaire' and 'Light Moves (1–6), for Jackson Mac Low'

Editor’s note: I’m using today’s Poems and Poetics to celebrate the publication of Michael Palmer’s new poetry collection, The Laugher of the Sphinx, just out from New Directions.

Caterpillar

'A magazine of the leaf, a gathering of the tribes'

Caterpillar colophon
Caterpillar colophon

Begun in 1966 by Clayton Eshleman as a series of chapbooks by writers such as Jackson MacLow, David Antin, and Louis Zukofsky, Caterpillar Books became Caterpillar: A Gathering of the Tribes (though the subtitle was quickly dropped) in October 1967 when Eshleman realized he “could cover more ground with a literary journal than with undistributable chapbooks.” In a 2008 dialogue in Jacket, Eshleman says that he “wanted to do a magazine based on Cid Corman's Origin, but one that was bigger and more burly, taking on more ‘fronts’ than Cid had engaged.”

Cat 2 tocBegun in 1966 by Clayton Eshleman as a series of chapbooks by writers such as Jackson Mac Low, David Antin, and Louis Zukofsky, Caterpillar Books became Caterpillar: A Gathering of the Tribes (though the subtitle was quickly dropped) in October 1967 when Eshleman realized he “could cover more ground with a literary journal than with undistributable chapbo

Jackson Mac Low in 1984

On stability, choice, connection, political poetry, & other topics

Jackson Mac Low, "Drawing-Asymmetry #10" (1961), from the collection at MoMA

Jackson Mac Low speaks during a long question-and-answer session at New Langton Arts in San Francisco, c. 1984. This recording came to PennSound’s archive in two parts, and — thanks to the efforts of Hannah Judd — we now make them available in segments roughly topical.

Part 1 (47:38): MP3

  1. On philosophy of humanism (2:40): MP3
  2. On human value (8:43): MP3
  3. On identification (9:15): MP3
  4. On self-perception (6:40): MP3

Hear 'Cellar Song for Five Voices' (1960)

Emmett Williams's "Sense Sound" (left); poster for 2/6/1990 performance at Paula Cooper Gallery (right).

New at PennSound — Jackson Mac Low, Dick Higgins, Petr Kotik, Joseph Kubera, and Chris Nappi perform Emmett Williams’s Cellar Song for Five Voices. This piece was written in 1960. The recording here was made of a performance in 1990, presented by the S.E.M. Ensemble, recorded by Mikhail Liberman at Paula Cooper Gallery, 2/6/1990. Click on this link to the Jackson Mac Low PennSound page: http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Mac-Low.php#cellar .

Witness Jackson Mac Low and Gerhard Richter

Generating the haphazard

Last week I began with the installed environment, moved on to surfaces (painted or printed), and emerged into “ambiance.” This week I will consider how chance is deployed to install some essential attribute of the outside, inside of a work. Since visual prosody is the theme of these commentaries, “a work” refers equally to a poem or an image. The environment tailored to resemble itself there is given a voice by an artist who avoids using their own. Essential attributes of the artist’s material should reveal its relation to an outside, and a politics of visual or verbal relation beheld there. My examples are the Asymmetries and Forties by poet Jackson Mac Low and two iterations of the Colors series by painter Gerhard Richter. Mac Low and Richter are equally motivated to exhaust the forces named by “chance” and its cognates so as to question received critical values and to essentialize aesthetic values of their media.

The kind of poetry I want

Jennifer Bartlett, John Godfrey, Jackson Mac Low, Miekal And, Robin Brox, Luxorius, Yugen

cover by Susan Bee

St Mark's Talks (1985)

Erica Hunt, Bruce Boone, Peter Inman, Jackson Mac Low, David Antin, Barbara Guest, Lorenzo Thomas, Steve McCaffery, Kathleen Fraser, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Nathaniel Mackey, Ron Silliman, Bob Perelman, Anne Waldman, Nick Piombino

In 1985, Eileen Myles was the new director of the St. Mark's Poetry Project in New York. She asked me to curate a lecture series, the first such program at the church. I modelled the series at the Poetry Project on my earlier series New York Talk, giving it the amusing title, given the sometimes seeming resistance to poetics at the St. Marks at the time, St. Marks Talks. And talk it did.

Mac Low writing through Stein

Stein's 'A Long Gay Book' rewritten by Mac Low's diastic Stein series: Notes on 'Very Pleasant Soiling (Stein 7)'

Jackson Mac Low made available several sections of his Stein series on his EPC page. I sometimes introduce my students to this series by reading and discussing with them number 7, titled “Very Pleasant Soiling.” Mac Low’s notes, as usual, describe the process by which this (and other) pieces in the series were composed:

Jackson Mac Low issue of Paper Air (1980)

new@Eclipse

Paper Air 3:2 (1980) at Eclipse

Students respond to Jackson Mac Low's work

“A Vocabulary for Peter Innisfree Moore” was created by Jackson MacLow in memory of his friend Peter Moore, who in photographs documented the doings and performances of NYC Fluxus and other artists in the 1960s and early 70s. The text or, more properly, the score is filled entirely with words (960 of them) drawn from the letters in the name of “Peter Innisfree Moore”; words like smite, opinion, freer, re-import, Semite, fen, minister, and smote circle around one another in various hand-drawn shapes and sizes.

Richard Kostelanetz writes, “This visual-verbal text can then become a score for a live performance in which any number of readers are encouraged to read aloud whichever words they wish, at whatever tempo they wish, for indefinite durations; and Mac Low's instructions for this particular piece suggest that the individual letters can be translated into certain musical notes (and, thus, that the same text can be interpreted as a musical score).”

One performance in the summer of 1975 was managed by MacLow. Here is a 6-minute excerpt from the audio recording of that event.

A few years ago my students and I discussed this work. Some didn't find it beautiful; some had doubts about its effectiveness as an alternative mode of elegy or memorialization. Most found it beautiful, worthy and a good alternative to the usual methods we use to describe or narrate the life of a dead friend or colleague. You can hear a recording of the entire class session (1 hr 20 minutes).

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