Donaldson, Scott. Archibald MacLeish: An American Life.

Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1992. Hall, Donald. Their Ancient Glittering Eyes: Remembering

Poets. New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1992, p. 122.

Gerald Schwartz

MAC LOW, JACKSON (1922-2004) Jackson Mac Low is among the most innovative and prolific poets of the 20th century. He is best known as a poet who employs chance operations and other deterministic compositional procedures (see cyberpoetry). That is, he frequently writes by letting objective and impersonal guides or systems determine what he will write. However, Mac Low also has written traditional sonnets, political, occasional, and confessional verse in a diverse body of work that continues to baffle and inspire his contemporaries, Robert creeley, Jerome rothenberg, and Armand schwerner among them. Influenced by Buddhism, pacifist anarchism, and the modern lyric poetry tradition extending from Walt Whitman and Carl sandburg to Ezra pound and Gertrude stein, Mac Low has also composed music and theatrical works, worked as a painter, film, and video artist, and performed individual and collaborative works, often with his wife, the artist and poet Anne Tardos. Taken as a whole, Mac Low's work reorients readers' assumptions about free will, conscious authority, and the individual ego.

Mac Low was born in Chicago, Illinois. He studied philosophy with Paul Goodman and other "Chicago Aristotelians," a group of philosophers and critics whose views contrasted to the coterminous New Criticism (see fugitive/agrarian school), at the University of Chicago. In 1943 Mac Low moved to New York City, eventually earning a bachelor's degree in classical languages at Brooklyn College (1958). In the meantime he had worked as poetry editor for the pacifist-anarchist magazines Why?/Resistance, Retort, and, later, WIN (Workshop in Nonviolence [1966-75]). In the mid-1950s, Mac Low studied Zen and Kegon Buddhism with Dr. D. T. Suzuki at Columbia University and attended John cages course in experimental music. Mac Low has performed his poems—often devised as musical/theatrical scores— since 1960, when the Living Theater produced his The Marrying Maiden: a play of changes. The title refers to the oracle used to compose the piece, the i Ching, or Book of Changes, the same oracle Cage used to compose certain of his musical pieces, including his soundtrack for Mac Low's "play." Mac Low's first major poetry collection, stanzas for iris Lezak, was published by Dick Higgins's Something Else Press in 1972. The works in the collection are among the first composed by means of Mac Low's innovations in procedural, chance-deterministic methods. Other collections of poetry particularly suitable for staged performances followed, among them Words nd Ends from Ez, a methodical lyric revision of Pound's epic the cantos, taking the iconoclastic "spirit of Pound" to a logical extreme. Between 1966 to 1994, Mac Low taught at New York University, Temple University, and the Naropa Institute, among other institutions, and performed and exhibited works in various media from New Zealand to Germany, Japan, France, Sweden, and across the United States. In 1994 his 42 Merzgedichte in Memoriam Kurt Schwitters shared the America Award for literature for a book of poetry published in that year. Other significant awards, fellowships, and grants have included those from the National Endowment for the Arts (1979), the Guggenheim Foundation (1985), and the Tanning Prize from the Academy of American Poets (1999).

Mac Low's work takes modernism's formal innovations in verse to the level of meaning-making in language itself. From 1954, having already produced a significant body of work in traditional, free verse and cubist forms (see prosody and free verse), Mac Low began composing via chance-deterministic methods, often devising poems from randomized linguistic units (permuting words or strings of words) culled from "source texts"— whatever he happened to be reading at the time. The motives for composing in this unusual manner, within a poetic tradition and deeply invested in the personal expression of the author, were based in part on interpretations of Zen Buddhism, which advocate circumventing the individual ego so that one's work might lead to the enlightenment of others. Mac Low developed three approaches based on such motives: intentional, quasi-intentional, and nonintentional.

Each approach is defined by the degree to which the author is able to foresee the results of the process of composition, on the one hand, and the performance (including silent reading) on the other. One of the results of using strict compositional methods is that Mac Low is meticulously responsible for his prosody and other formal measures, while performances frequently allow a great deal of initiative to the performers. Nonintentional and quasi-intentional works have contributed toward making Mac Low a primary influence on the linguistic experiments of the language school in the 1970s and 1980s.

His later, "intuitive" works, often created, as he has said, "from the liminal area of the mind," point to a fourth method that does not prioritize "intention" in general (Mac Low). These later works produce rich cadences demanding a full and equal attention to language. This attention is signaled by scoring the poetic line with spaces to indicate pauses, hyphenation, and accents, as in this line of verse: "Finding your own level of hell with cultural signifiers-glow-

ing-in-the-lamplight" ("Finding Your Own Name {Forties 154}" [2001]). There is no ultimate religious message in Mac Low's work, implicit or explicit. Instead, he discloses how language permeates the individual ego with the social exigencies of the world that makes the idea of the ego possible in the first place.

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