An Apollonian Scream: Nathaniel Mackey’s Rewriting of the Coltrane Poem in ‘Ohnedaruth’s Day Begun’

Luke Harley

Abstract


Nathaniel Mackey (1947–), Visiting Professor of English at Duke University, is an African-American poet, novelist, essayist, anthologist, and broadcaster. In 2006 he won the United States’ National Book Award for his fourth full-length poetry volume, Splay Anthem, and in 2010 was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for poetry. This article, drawing on a personal interview with Mackey in 2008, looks closely at one of his most important (and little studied) poems from his ‘early’ period, ‘Ohnedaruth’s Day Begun’. It shows how, rather than reducing John Coltrane to the political figure claimed by black nationalists in the sixties, Mackey instead focuses on the great saxophonist’s preferred identities, as a mystic and artistic innovator. In doing so, he rewrites the ‘Coltrane poem’ genre, bringing to language a similar testing of the limits of signification that his subject so majestically brought to jazz.

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