Jackson Mac Low

Jackson Mac Low

About Jackson Mac Low

Jackson Mac Low (1922–2004) was an American poet, performance artist, composer and playwright. He was 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. An early member of Fluxus, he is known to most poetry readers as a practitioner of systematic chance operations and other unintended compositional methods in his work, which he first experienced in the musical work of John Cage, Earle Brown and Christian Wolff. 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 Creely, Jerome Rothenberg, and Armand Schwerner among them. Of the more than 30 volumes of poetry that Mac Low wrote, some of the most significant include Stanzas for Iris Lezak (Something Else Press, 1972), Bloomsday (Station Hill Press, 1984), Representative Works: 1938-1985 (Roof Books, 1986), and Pieces o' Six: Thirty-three Poems in Prose (Sun and Moon Press, 1992). In addition, Mac Low was a visual and performance artist, as well as a composer. His visual works have been displayed in the United States and abroad. His compositions, which were heavily influenced by John Cage, have been collected in Jackson Mac Low: Doings; Performance Works 1955-2002. Perhaps Mac Low's most famous work, Verdrous Vangunaria, was performed in the loft of Yoko Ono (the wife of Beatle John Lennon) in 1967.
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.
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, Mac Low began composing via chance-deterministic methods, often devising poems from randomized linguistic units.
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.

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