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A Philosophical Posse Hunts For The Self In Nathaniel Mackey's Poems


Nathaniel Mackey's poetry has been described as metaphysical and mythological.

DOUGLAS KEARNEY: (Reading) Such as it was there was a life, Sophia said, it seemed it lectured us. It sat us down. Lotus-legged had we been looser. Stiff limbs sat even so. Bingle, it might have been - Bingle or Benares. It might have been by, we were in.

MARTIN: That's poet Douglas Kearney reading from Nathaniel Mackey's book of poetry, "Blue Fasa." The book is a collection of many poems that can also be treated as one epic poem. It follows several characters, who are on a journey of self-discovery, known as the philosophical posse.

KEARNEY: Well the book reads, as Nathaniel Mackey calls it, two series of poems. One is the Song of the Andoumboulou and the other is the Mou poems. And the Andoumboulou is based on this Dogon idea, this West African idea, that there were several drafts of humanity and the Andoumboulou were a kind of imperfect draft. But Nathaniel Mackey's argument is that, that's who we are. And so the philosophic posse is often times trying to reach a stage of completion or a stage of answer. They're making their way through the world. They're trying to find out whether the perfection is in the moment, right, a fixed point in time, or whether it's in movement, whether it's through this actual quest in and of itself. So to me, this poem, this book, dramatizes that.

MARTIN: So let's talk more about this particular poem, you read a couple stanzas from it - "Stick City Zazen." Who are the characters in this?

KEARNEY: Well, the philosophic posse contains the speaker, a character name Sophia Enunica Nunco (ph). But featured in this poem in particular, I think, in a really important way is Itamar and Iqbal, and Itamar and Iqbal are actually the same person. And Itamar in the poem preceding "Stick City Zazen," takes the speaker aside. It really reminded me of like "Lord Of The Rings," where you have this band of people traveling.

And then there's a scene where kind of the person stands in for the audience is there and then another one of the characters sort of takes that person aside and has a confession or talks about something that's going on in that character's head. And then we learn something more about it. And in this case, the poem that proceeds "Stick City Zazen," Itamar talks about wishing he could go back to embrace madness and instead of a chill - and I think he calls it a gnostic chill. And here in "Stick City Zazen," I mean, it's really Itamar's scene, and he's becoming Iqbal.

MARTIN: Can you read me a little bit of it?


(Reading) Light followed Itamar's lead, he made it seem. Live at the make-believe lounge. It might have been another new disc. We sat listening to another new tune on the box. Iqbal, we now knew his name was. The antiphonal way he and he had with Sophia. There never was a life, Itamar said, Iqbal said. You pass on as what happens, Iqbal said, Itamar said. The way he and he had of relating. Each the others in so far, I bluff, what to say, what we said.

MARTIN: That was poet Douglas Kearney reading from a collection of poems by Nathaniel Mackey. That collection is called "Blue Fasa." Doug, thanks so much for talking with us about it.

KEARNEY: Thanks for having me again. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.