Nathaniel Mackey honors Thaddeus Mosley at Pitt Contemporary Writers | Program Notes
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Friday, March 26, 2010

Nathaniel Mackey honors Thaddeus Mosley at Pitt Contemporary Writers

Posted By on Fri, Mar 26, 2010 at 7:01 PM

The demise last year of the International Poetry Forum left a gaping hole in the local literary scene. So it's good to see this series -- like the Drue Heinz readings, which recently hosted Elizabeth Alexander -- helping to pick up the slack.

Mackey, for instance, is a National Book Award-winning poet, for 2005's Splay Anthem. Last night at the Frick Fine Arts Building, he read from that volume and some of his other work, including From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate, an epistolary novel about an Art Ensemble of Chicago-style band.

Highlights included a poem about the work of another noted jazz fan -- Pittsburgh's own Mosley, a renowned sculptor. Mackey says he knows Mosley and had just visited the artist's North Side studio.

Mackey said the poem, "Double Staccato," was inspired by a Mosley wood sculpture that was in turn inspired by two jazz trumpeters. (He named both, but I caught only " Fats Navarro.")

Mackey, who teaches at the University of California -- Santa Cruz, celebrated Mosley's signature medium with lines like "wood's new kingdom come," "wood's walk talked," and described Mosley's piece, in part, as "a wobbly walk through the forest of semblances." The poem concluded, "dark woods spiking light, we leaned in. Dark wood's long way home."

I found a nice symmetry with this tribute in a moment during Mackey's concluding onstage interview with Pitt associate professor Ben Lerner, himself a celebrated poet.

Mackey writes frequently about historical events (From a Broken Bottle is set several decades ago, for instance) and is also much inspired by West African cosmologies and the ancient times that spawned them. Mosley, meanwhile, creates his beautifully sinuous sculptures from found wood (like driftwood). So when Mackey told Lerner, "This is a kind of animate debris I'm working with," he might just as well have been explicating Mosley.

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