Prose from Poetry Magazine

Destination Out

by Nathaniel Mackey

Centrifugal work begins with good-bye, wants to bid all givens good­-bye. It begins with what words will not do, paint will not do, whatever medium we find ourselves working in will not do. Amenities and conso­lation accrue to a horizon it wants to get beyond, abandoning amenities and consolation or seeking new ones. It will, of course, suffer marginal­ization, temporary in some cases, unremitting in most.

Black centrifugal writing has been and continues to be multiply mar­ginalized. Why would it be otherwise? At a time when academic and crit­ical discourse battens on identity obsession (even as it “problematizes” identity), black centrifugal writing reorients identity in ways that defy prevailing divisions of labor. In the face of a widespread fetishization of collectivity, it dislocates collectivity, flies from collectivity, wants to make flight a condition of collectivity. It says that “we” was never a swifter fiction—not so much a war between family and flight as the familial song of one’s feeling for flight. It says that only such admitted fugitivity stands a ghost of a chance of apportioning prodigal truth. This is one of the lessons it has learned from black music. It remembers that Coleman Hawkins felt no identity crisis playing an instrument invented by a Belgian, that Lester Young referred to the keys of his horn as his people.

Black art, like any other, is innovative, demanding and/ or outside to the extent that it addresses the wings and resistances indigenous to its medium qua medium, address ranging from amorous touch to agonistic embrace, angelic rub. To don such wings and engage such resistances as though they were the stuff of identity and community is to have taken a step toward making them so.

From Paracritical Hinge: Essays, Talks, Notes by Nathaniel Mackey. Copyright 2005 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Reprinted by permission of the University of Wisconsin Press.
Originally Published: June 2, 2014


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This prose originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of Poetry magazine

June 2014


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 Nathaniel  Mackey


Born in Miami and raised in Southern California, poet, novelist, editor, and critic Nathaniel Mackey earned his BA from Princeton University and his PhD from Stanford University.
Mackey cites poets William Carlos Williams and Amiri Baraka, in addition to jazz musicians John Coltrane and Don Cherry, as early influences in his exploration of how language can be infused and informed by music. In a 2006 interview with Bill Forman . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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