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North Carolina African American Literature




following passage, which, like much of the book, invokes a mysterious “they,” sometimes referred to elsewhere as “we.” In a 2006 interview with Publishers Weekly,2 Mackey acknowledges that some might take those pronouns to refer to avant-gardists in general, or to African Americans in general, since he himself belongs to both groups, but he invites any reader to include him- or herself. Momentary release the most

Robert Johnson to John Coltrane to Rahsaan Roland Kirk, from Leo Frobenius to Janice Boddy to Kamau Brathwaite. To that contextualization, add discussions of relevant etymologies and wordplay, including the title’s references to the Fasa, a west African people left homeless after the fall of the Ghana Empire, and to trumpeter Kenny Dorham’s jazz composition Blue Bossa; plus, commentary on the book’s division into two parts: Rãg and Rag. Some readers will be fascinated by all this and eagerly forge ahead. Others, particularly those new to this poet, may feel intimidated. But they too should forge on. These braided serial poems – both adjectives are Mackey’s own – resemble in some ways Ezra Pound’s Cantos; one is the fact that they don’t require you to begin at the beginning. Just as one can enjoy and find much to admire in a middle installment of Pound’s poem without having to go all the way back to A Draft of XXX Cantos, so one should be able to admire Blue Fasa without having to dip back to Mackey’s

they’d gotten, liberatory this

Splay Anthem or earlier. That Mackey himself is comfortable with discontinuity is made clear by all the ellipses among Blue Fasa’s individual sections: the book begins with what it says are the sixty-fifth and sixty-sixth parts of Mu, proceeds to the eighty-eighth and eighty-ninth parts of Song of the Andoumboulou, then to the sixty-ninth part of Mu (skipping parts sixty-seven and sixty-eight), then to the ninety-first part of Song of the Andoumboulou (skipping part ninety), then to the seventy-first part of Mu (skipping part seventy), and so on. Whether we’ll ever see the missing parts implied by that numbering isn’t terribly relevant; the fact is, the author views Blue Fasa as complete enough to be published and read as it is. And as it is, it does offer much pleasure. Every clause is sculpted; the unfolding of each sentence from line to line requires and rewards the reader’s closest attention, and the play of ideas is always engaging. Like any good book of poetry, it’s better read aloud than in silence. Take the

ABOVE Nathaniel Mackey reading poetry while Vattel Cherry

accompanies him on bass, Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University, Durham, NC, 23 March 2015

or that debated endlessly, philosophic posse’s pet . . . How to make moment more than moment, they kept asking, how to make moment not elapse . . .

That’s from Mu, part sixty-nine, which is titled “Moment’s Gnosis” in Blue Fasa. The pun (“moment’s notice”) isn’t gratuitous: the word “gnosis” refers to secret knowledge relating to spiritual truth, something certainly relevant to the passage above and, for that matter, to the rest of the book. Here and at other points are echoes of T.S. Eliot’s highly “philosophic” Four Quartets, where Eliot writes of “the still point of the turning world,” telling us “at the still point, there the dance is, / But neither arrest nor movement” – and where he also writes of the possibility of “liberation / From the future as well as the past.”3 Another passage reminiscent of Eliot – especially Four Quartets – is this one, from part ninety-seven of Mackey’s Song of the Andoumboulou in Blue Fasa: 2

Cray Morgan Teicher, “A Conversation with Nathaniel Mackey,” Publishers Weekly 22 Nov. 2006: web.


T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets (Harcourt, 1943) 5, 36; subsequently cited parenthetically.

Profile for East Carolina University

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2019  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2019  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.