The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Spotlight on … Nathaniel Mackey From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate (2010)


‘The thing with Nathaniel Mackey’s “new thing” is that it isn’t, and doesn’t, I don’t think, want to be. Late Arcade (New Directions, February 2017) is the fifth volume in an ongoing, open-ended epistolary fiction collectively called From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate. Like the previous installments, it is a series of letters written by a visionary horn player, N., who lives in Los Angeles in the early 1980s, addressed to an Angel of Dust, who answers N. but whose responses we never see. While Mackey’s fiction has always had an eye on the past, the first installment appeared in 1986, five years after the story it depicts took place. We’re now thirty years on and the story has only progressed by four. As a result, the quotidian elements of N.’s letters have only become more radiant, as if Mackey’s interests in music, mysticism, and the recent past have been distilled to their most potent forms.

‘N.’s letters tend to describe his dreams or performances with his jazz sextet, Molimo M’Atet, and they shift between rhapsodic descriptions and theoretical interpretations—the implication, it seems, is that playing music feels like a kind of dreaming, and that dreams adhere to the logic of songs. Sometimes, N.’s letters are preempted by his “cowrie shell attacks,” visionary sequences prompted by shards of glass embedded in N.’s forehead, and sometimes the sextet’s performances are punctuated by the appearance of mysterious “balloons” that reveal the musicians’ subconscious lives and loves. But tonally, these interruptions are more like brushes on the cymbal than sticks. Never jarring, they are only deeper strangenesses in a world already strange.

‘Okay, but, what happens? Well, not much. More than the previous installments, Late Arcade is ambitiously intimate, the cast of characters is stable and streamlined and its narrative is consistently filled with the familiar invaded by other familiars. N. writes when something is worth puzzling over and stops when there is nothing left to say, instead of with a knock on the door. Mackey could not be less interested in the moral crises and cliffhangers that shaped the first epistolary novels. Instead, he has said he was attracted to the form because of its compulsory repetition of salutation and conclusion, which offered an opportunity to translate some of the features of serial poetry. But it would be a mistake to think that the absence of trauma or the predictable topics of discussion mean that the book lacks emotional heft.

‘In Roland Barthes’s Mourning Diary, he writes about how the death of his mother helped him to understand contemporary art: “Struck by the abstract nature of absence; yet it’s so painful, lacerating. Which allows me to understand abstraction somewhat better: it is absence and pain, the pain of absence—perhaps therefore love?” Because Mackey’s fiction mistrusts these moments of succinct clarification, I’m almost embarrassed to put them alongside each other. But Barthes’s words help recast the power of the absence at the center of these books. No matter how precise or sumptuous the prose, Mackey has now written close to one thousand pages of fiction about music that does not exist. This will turn off some readers. What is so revolutionary about it, still, is the way Mackey makes the pain of this absence into the occasion for renewing a love of language, of redirecting our ears toward the page: “I’ve long been intrigued by and attracted to the idea of getting musical information from a picture…”

‘Mackey’s handling of history is subtle and immaculate. Details are never used as gimmick or commentary but as bass notes in a mood of simultaneous deterioration and recombination. N.’s letters prefer specificity to systemic analysis, avoiding Reagan and rising income inequality but excited about new albums and despairing the increasing frequency of oil spills: “It’s as though it were the dinosaurs and mastodons’ revenge, prehistory’s grudge against what came after… against preservation or containment, fossil solidity, an entropic brief against past and present keeping their places.” These details seem to trust that we have always the bigger historical picture in mind. They also offer opportunities for aesthetic response that were missed at the time, a sort of untimely dissent. N.’s description of the “mastodons’ revenge,” of course, becomes the inspiration for a new piece of music performed by the group, “Fossil Flow.” We can’t help but wish that these responses had happened at the time.

‘In part, this is because we receive Mackey’s N. as already doubly belated. He is fascinated by the artists who made Los Angeles an avant-garde hotbed in the early ’60s, but he lives a generation later. His is no longer the city of Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, and the Ferus Gallery. And this distance is compounded by the restaurants and clubs visited by Molimo M’Atet being both real and deceased—the Comeback Inn, Club Lingerie, and Gorky’s form their own geographic “Fossil Flow” to us today. Although the era of “the first truly autobiographical intelligentsia in Los Angeles history,” as Mike Davis referred to Coleman et al in City of Quartz, has passed, Mackey’s attention to a particular subcultural experience is so thoroughly fused with the markers of its description that we might call N.’s letters symbiographical.

Late Arcade is a work of gradual understanding, one that is interested in how ideas and experiences can continue to work on us even as we revise our understanding of them—a sort of dolly zoom, but for the everyday life of an artist.’ — David Hobbs, BOMB



Nathaniel Mackey @ New Directions
Nathaniel Mackey’s magazine ‘Hambone’
Nathaniel Mackey’s Long Song
Nathaniel Mackey @ Electronic Poetry Center
Nathaniel Mackey @ PennSound
POEMTALK Requiem so sweet we forgot what it lamented
Notes toward understanding Nathaniel Mackey’s ‘Outer Pradesh’
The Song Sung in a Strange Land
Nathaniel Mackey unites modernism, jazz and poets near and far
Nathaniel Mackey: Black breath matters
Song of the Andoumboulou: 142
Comeback City
A Conversation with Nathaniel Mackey
Root Work
A Philosophical Posse Hunts For The Self In Nathaniel Mackey’s Poems
Phrenological Whitman
Buy ‘From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate’



A Conversation with Nathaniel Mackey

Nathaniel Mackey Reading

Nathaniel Mackey: On writing workshops

Nathaniel Mackey: Finding a different tempo


from Callaloo


Christopher Funkhouser: In your work you take improvisation, jazz, and other styles of music and use them as a well-spring. Could you describe how you came to this and manage to keep it such a prominent part of what you do?

Nathaniel Mackey: Probably the earliest aesthetic experiences for me were experiences with music, going back to when I was a kid. Certainly that’s what that comes from and it has continued to be a very important part of my experience. Not that I started off listening to a lot of the music I listen to now. But music has always been a very important part of my life even when I was seven, eight, nine years old. Why I didn’t take up an instrument and become a musician remains a mystery to me but I didn’t and that has to do with circumstantial things which are just circumstantial things. Late in high school I got into reading poetry and fiction on a more serious level, as something other than what you did because it was assigned. I was actually beginning to do it because I was interested in it, because it was speaking to me in a meaningful way. Some of the literature I got into had analogies with music, though I wasn’t always aware of it. Some of the writers who had an early impact on me were also engaged with music. William Carlos Williams was a writer whose work I got interested in when I was in high school. I didn’t know about his interest in music, which wasn’t that strong or that extensive, but later I found out about it, though it wasn’t necessarily that I was hearing music coming through in Williams’s work. Among those writers I was reading early on was Amiri Baraka, whose engagement with music is enormous, tremendous. It was one of the things that galvanized the relationship between writing, reading, and music which began to develop for me.

Funkhouser: Was there anything equally as important as music as an influence?

Mackey: The music was pretty close to and bound up with the religious for me. Some of the earliest music I was exposed to was the music in the Baptist Church, so the relationship between music and the spiritual was very strongly imprinted very early through the church experience. Seeing people respond to music in ways that were quite different from music being listened to in a concert situation, I mean people actually going into states of trance and possession in church, had a tremendous and continuing impact on me. It’s no doubt one of the reasons I so often refer to and incorporate aspects of, say, Haitian vodoun, Cuban santeria and other trance rituals that involve music-dance as a form of worship. That was part of the music experience, the wider context into which the music experience extends. I don’t know what else. Obviously one of the things is that I was interested in a variety of things, even as a kid, so there are a variety of things that were pertinent to my early development. I was a precocious reader, read a lot of different kinds of things and had an interest in mathematics and science early on. I don’t know to what extent that comes in but it does. There was a time when I was reading philosophy, although it’s been a while. I think all of those things play a part. It’s easier to see the role that music plays because it’s so pronounced and it has become a central preoccupation or the trope for a variety of preoccupations that such a work as From A Broken Bottle Traces Of Perfume Still Emanate builds upon. The poems participate in that in their own way, in both the musicality of the writing and the overt referentiality to music in the writing. For me music is so much more than music that when you ask “What else besides music?” it’s hard for me to answer because music includes so much: it’s social, it’s religious, it’s metaphysical, it’s aesthetic, it’s expressive, it’s creative, it’s destructive. It just covers so much. It’s the biggest, most inclusive thing that I could put forth if I were to choose one single thing.

Funkhouser: In the work — the prose and the poetry — there is an extreme lyricism that’s transmitted from somewhere. What lineage do you see your work aligned with?

Mackey: Well, I’ve already named Williams and Baraka. The larger tendencies in American poetry that they are a part of I relate to and relate myself to. Oppen, for example, whose line “bright light of shipwreck” I use as a subtitle to one of the poems in Eroding Witness. Some of the so-called “New American Poetry,” the poets in Donald Allen’s anthology, which I read and was very much impacted upon by in the mid-sixties. The Black Mountain “Projectivist” poets were very important: Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan. Denise Levertov early on was an important poet for me. I began reading poetry seriously in high school. I graduated from high school in 1965. It was when I went to college that I began to read more, began to read more contemporary, more recent stuff, more post-war poetry. Those were the people I was reading at that time. And, you know, one goes on reading and building on what one has read, and I’ve gone on to other people since then. A couple of Caribbean writers have been very important to me, Wilson Harris and Edward Kamau Brathwaite. Other Caribbean writers as well, like Aimee Cesaire, and other writers, a range of writers.If I start naming them I’ll name all day. There was a period when, for example, the new novelists of France, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Nathalie Sarraute, and others — I read their work quite attentively. I was a big fan of a Polish writer named Witold Gombrowicz. I remember reading and re-reading his novels. You know how it is: you read and you read and you read and some stuff you re-read.

Funkhouser: Did you write at Princeton?

Mackey: Yes. I had written a little bit, had gotten the impulse to write in high school, but hadn’t written a whole lot. It was when I was in college that I started writing more and started thinking about that as something I wanted to do if I could. It was in college that I really began to invest in and investigate the sense of myself as a writer.

Funkhouser: There were teachers there that helped you?

Mackey: Not particularly. It wasn’t so much that setting or any particular teachers there. There were teachers there that I talked to and liked and whose classes were an influence, but not in a direct sense of there being writers there who were teachers of mine. It was more the exposure to literature that I got in literature classes, the exposure to readings that took place on campus, and Princeton being only an hour-and-a-half drive from New York. I would go in and hear readings there, although there wasn’t really a heavy reading scene at that time. Mainly what I did when I went into New York was hear music. That was one of the big stimuli that that allowed. I wasn’t a creative writing major or anything like that — I think I took one creative writing course the whole time I was in college and that was enough. But I wrote and I published in some of the campus literary magazines.

Funkhouser: You manage to place, by virtue of being a publisher and via radio broadcasting, some of your creative output within the context of Western culture, not limiting it to African or Asian or some of the other reference points. Are you striving at all to facilitate any type of social change or awareness, or is it just art?

Mackey: Well, if it can facilitate social change and awareness in a positive and progressive direction, then, certainly, more power to it. I don’t want to overestimate or inflate what work of that sort — doing a radio program, or editing a magazine, or writing poetry and prose — can do. But certainly to the extent that categories and the way things are defined — the boundaries between things, people, areas of experience, areas of endeavor — to the extent that those categories and definitions are rooted in social and political realities, anything one does that challenges them, that transgresses those boundaries and offers new definitions, is to some extent contributing to social change. The kind of cross-cultural mix that a radio program like “Tanganyika Strut” offers diverges from a pre-packaged sense of what appropriate content for a radio program is, where one is usually offered a homogeneous program. There’s a challenge in heterogeneity, whether it’s radio programming, editing a magazine, one’s own work, putting together a syllabus for a class or whatever. These are questions that resonate with all of the political and social urgencies that have to do with how do you get different people to live together in society in some kind of positive and
productive way.

Funkhouser: So where do you find your audience? Are you directing what you are transmitting as poet, as radio programmer, as teacher, to any specific audience or are you just throwing it out there?

Mackey: I’m not just throwing it out there, I’m putting it out there, but I can’t say that I am putting it out there with a particular audience in mind because the way in which audiences are defined is often dependent upon those categories that I mentioned earlier that are fixed and static and I think misrepresent reality in most instances. Therefore I can’t let those senses of possible audiences be what dictates what I do. So I don’t think about the given categories of audience. I think about doing what makes sense to me, what is meaningful to me, with the conviction that there are other people that it will make sense to, be meaningful to, and with the hope that what I’m doing will find its way to them and they’ll find their way to it.That’s the sense of audience I work with. To me it’s more the work finding or defining, proposing an audience, than the work being shaped out of some idea of an audience, consideration of an audience, “this is what such and such a group of people wants to hear…”

Funkhouser: There are writers, especially at this time, who are thinking that way because there’s money in it. That’s not why I was asking you though. Mostly I ask because a lot of the references in your writing are almost completely obscure to someone who is not really on-top-of-it as far as world music goes, as far as “outside” musics go. Someone naively picking up your books might think they were Pound’s Cantos, with so many obscure reference points. For instance, most people would have no idea who Albert Ayler was, and so on. Automatically you might, in a way, sever some understanding.

Mackey: Well, obviously you can say certain things about the audience for a work by looking at the character of the work. In many ways the work itself answers the question “What is the audience for this work?” If you look at a work that is making mention of Albert Ayler, then obviously that work is aimed at people who know who Albert Ayler is or are interested in finding out, would want to find out. You have to talk and write from what you know, about what you know, with what you know. You have to take the risk of speaking to people about things they may be unfamiliar with, just as there are things other people know that you are not familiar with. I have read people whose work spoke of things and made reference to things that I didn’t know about, and reading that work has been an impetus for me to find out about those things. Since that has been my experience as a reader why wouldn’t it be the experience of others? One doesn’t have to be constantly looking over one’s own shoulder asking, “Can I say this? Is the reader still with me?” I think you have to go with the faith that there are readers who are with you. You may not know who or where they are but you have to take that risk.



Nathaniel Mackey From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate
New Directions

From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate Volumes 1-3 collects the first three installments—Bedouin Hornbook, Djbot Baghostus’s Run and _ATET A.D._—of Nathaniel Mackey’s genre-defying work of fiction. A project that began over thirty years ago, From a Broken Bottle is a lifelong epistolary novel that unfolds through N.’s intimate letters to the mysterious Angel of Dust. Unexpected, profound happenings occur as N. delves into music and art and the goings-on of his transmorphic Los Angeles-based jazz ensemble, in which he is a composer and multi-instrumentalist. The story opens in July 1978 with a dream of haunting Archie Shepp solo, and closes in September 1982 on a glass-bottomed boat borne aloft by the music. This edition also includes a discography, plus an author’s note that offers some reflections on the writings of this extraordinary novel—a realist-mythic layering of lyrical prose unlike anything being written today.’ — New Directions


___________________ 6.X1.83

Dear Angel of Dust,

Once again it will have come to nothing. Again we will have sat exchanging thoughts on what was to be. Again we will have heard music, albeit not music so much as music’s trace, music’s rumor, pianistic breakdown as an archetypal he and she gazed out drapeless windows. What stayed with us will have been a wincing, distraught right hand backed by a grumbling left on an abject keyboard, a right undone or done in as much as backed by a disconsolate left. We will have stood and stretched as gray, wintry, late afternoon light filled each window, a wounded look on what lay outside and on our faces as we looked out upon it. An archetypal he and she alone but for the music, aloof to each other even but each the music’s intended, we will have so seen ourselves but no sooner done so than drawn back. Something found in a wrinkle, something found in a fold, it will have been this that set our course and put us on it, collapse and come to nothing though it would.

So I thought, at least, earlier today at Djamilaa’s. What will evanescent splendor have come to I wondered as she stood at a window and at one point leaned against the window frame, her left arm raised, her left hand touching the curtain rod. She stood that way only a moment but the way she stood highlighted her long beauty, lank beauty, her long arms and legs a miracle of limbs. For an instant something jumped out at me and at the same time jumped inside me, a mood or a mix of elation compounded with dread. I saw what so much rays out from and relies upon, however much it shook me with apprehension: lank intangible grace, nonchalant allure, love’s modest body. It was the news of the moment but yesterday’s news as well, something aspect and prepossession seemed intent on saying. What that something was, as Penguin would say, more than met the eye, but it did nonetheless meet the eye. My heart leapt and my stomach dropped.

“Leave it alone,” Djamilaa said, demure as to what was at issue but sensing my mood.

“I wish I could,” I said.

The right hand on the keyboard prompted me perhaps, apprehension of any kind its mandate, apprehension of any kind’s fraught base. Thought’s ricochet played a role as well. Momentary angst was its immediate heir, an ungainliness of thought in whose wincing retreat one felt elation well up and right away subside. Fear of being caught out, knowing no way not to be caught out, factored in as well.

“Things are that way sometimes,” Djamilaa said, laconic, blasé, unperturbed.

“I know,” I said. “Things are always that way.”

It had to do with angles. The piano’s legs buckled for an instant and rebounded, then they buckled and rebounded again. The right side of the keyboard crumpled. The hand that played it crumpled as well. Had they been glass they’d have shattered, besetting one’s ears, by turns bodily and cerebral, with sharp, intersecting planes rolling Duchamps’ descending nude and Picasso’s weeper into one. But they were not glass, however much the keyboard’s keening ping made it seem so.

Dressed in a light cotton shift whose hem touched her ankles, Djamilaa stood caught between bouts and volleys of agitation and arrest, her lank beauty all the more lank finding itself so caught but unavailable all the same, it struck me, not to be lastingly caught. A lack of lasting hold or lasting capture pertained to the music plaguing our heads, mine maybe more than hers but hers as well, a music it seemed we each heard with a distinct incorporeal ear or perhaps together with a shared incorporeal ear.

Djamilaa again offered generic solace, oblique as to what was at issue still, so compellingly we both felt it. “Not always,” she said. “But their effect when they are is to make it seem that way.”

“Yes, I guess so,” I said.

The music itself seemed an oblique telepathic dispatch, however much it appeared woven into textile and skin tone, the music of Djamilaa’s bare arms and bare neck emerging from her cotton shift. It obtained in her skin’s lack of lasting hold and in the wrinkles and folds of her shift. Had she said, “Fret not thyself,” I’d have said, “Amen,” but we were beyond that now, the music insinuating itself, issueless issue, the nothing it let it be known it will have come to, the nothing that had never been. It wanted to keep convergence at bay.

It plied an odd, contrarian wish but it was moving and emotive all the same, anti-intimate while inviting intimacy, anti-contact while acknowledging touch. It plied an aloof tactility, love’s lank tangency, verging on emotional breakdown but brusque, pullaway catch or caress.

It was an actual music we heard and let have its way with us, Paul Bley’s “Touching” on the Mr. Joy album. No way could we say title told all.

As ever,


___________________ 14.X1.83

Dear Angel of Dust,

Yes, that one has “Nothing Ever Was, Anyway” on it, as do several others. It does appear, as you say, we let “Nothing Ever Was, Anyway” infiltrate “Touching,” title not telling all notwithstanding, title not telling all all the more. But there’s an asceticism to Bley’s playing that comes across no matter what the title. Djamilaa’s been thinking about that, wondering about that, drawn to it a lot of late. It’s not that less is more, she likes to say, nor that nothing is all, nor that nothing, as Ra says, is. All those ways of putting it only let sensation in thru the backdoor, she likes to say. No, it’s not about that. It’s not as recuperative as that, not as categorical. It’s an angled attrition, banked extenuation, she likes to say.

It’s as if, when she speaks this way, she’d come to me in a dream and vice versa, each of us the other’s wished-for rescue, each the other’s wariness as well. It’s not unlike what sometimes happens when we play. One becomes the extenuation of oneself and the emanation of something else, someone else, ghost and guest arrivant rolled into one. What is it or who is it steps in at such moments? It could be anything, anyone, one senses, but the hollow one’s evacuation puts in one’s place appears to afford strangeness a friendly disguise. One’s fellow band members pass thru that hollow, step into it, relieving the brunt of an attenuation one might otherwise be unable to bear. It’s something like what Roy Haynes must have meant by saying that playing with Trane was “like a beautiful nightmare.”

Come to as in a dream, yes, a dream dreamt on a rickety bed, springs creaking, home like as not an illusion of home. To speak was to bank one’s breath within angular precincts, wall intersecting wall’s proprioceptive recess one’s being there had become. Stereotactic as well, one touched upon aspect, facet, crater, protuberance, grade finessing grade, tangency’s wont.

As ever,





p.s. Hey. Since a whole bunch of you asked me what my Bûche pick(s) are, I’ll list them here. I have narrowed the candidates down to the finalists, from which I will probably buy two, I think. My finalists: Peninsula Paris (the faux bento box), Boutique Loiseau (the faux planter kind of one), Hôtel Ritz (the Santa Claus hat with the insides pulled out), Plaza Athénée (the cut logs). ** Chaim Hender, Hi. Yep, the Plaza Athénée is a very likely finalist for me. How curious and desirable, those holiday donuts. Paris is bad for donuts. The French always want to do something to them, which is admirable, but they lose the essence. Donald is a wonderful poet. I published his only book through my old Little Caesar Press. Now there’s a new, fantastic Collected Poems out, and people are catching up to his work, which is a glorious thing. How was the Melies + presumed techno? Interesting question about the person-like place. There are probably a bunch. Off the top of my head, a music venue in Amsterdam called Paradiso where I practically lived when I lived in the big A, and a now-defunct hustler bar in NYC called The Ninth Circle where my friends and I semi-lived part time in the early-mid 80s. Yours? ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Sadly, I had a look at the Pouchkine buche in person this weekend, and, as is frequently the case, it looks pretty chintzy outside the photo studio. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Yes, of course, about your Warhol piece, but since it’s framed as a review, I thought it was interesting to partly think of it as such. Whoa, score and treasure on you posting Bill’s thing. I’m way there. Everyone, This is pretty fucking cool, i.e. Mr. Ehrenstein has posted a video on youtube of the fine writer (and other things including being David’s husband) Bill Reed telling a no doubt legendary story about Charles Manson titled CHARLES MANSON: HAD ME HOLDIN’ ON FOR DEAR LIFE, and here it is.** Steve Erickson, Hi. Curious to read that review. When I saw the trailer for ‘The Shape of Water’, it made me want to run a thousand miles in the opposite direction. Everyone, Mr. Erickson has reviewed Guillermo del Toro’s new film ‘The Shape of Water’ right here. If you read it, ‘clap’ for at the bottom because the number claps determines what he gets paid for writing it. I like the guitar one, but I wish it was more like a guitar and less like the guitar-shaped controller of that play-along rock star video game. It’s also the size of a ukulele, which is disappointing. ‘Rome’ and the new Huoratron are as yet unheard but are absolute gets in the next day or so for me. ** Sypha, I want to check out the Chapiteau in person to see if it really looks that amazingly as though it’s made of metal. Cool about the book. I just have no interest in that era of Fleetwood Mac or her or Buckingham for some reason. ** Bill, Hi. Perhaps. I think that one is very likely going to be broken down by my digestive juices. And the Ritz one possibly as well. IOW, I’m mostly with you. How was the weekend all in all? ** Adrienne B White, Hi, Moose, if it’s still okay to call you that! ** Alistair, Hi, A! Happy holidays! Thanks about the Metcalf post. Yeah, that post very surprisingly has gone sort of viral. Never would have imagined. But it’s great because Metcalf is incredible, and it’s a big thrill to see that, as I and other admirers of his suspected, the only thing standing between him and a great readership is ongoing obscurity. Me too about the snow. It sure is cold enough. Have a swell day! ** Chris Cochrane, Hi, Chris. Shit, what happened with the Skyping? That sucks. Okay, I see, stuff was sent. I did see an email that I haven’t cracked. Yes, I’ll look through what was sent, and I’ll get to you and Ish with my thoughts in the next couple of days. ** Bernard, Hi. Your two ‘mosts’ are in the/my finals, so, yes, nice. I do actually really like the ones that try too hard. I guess I like that quality in general. Interest in Halloween Home Haunts, for instance, is largely about an having appreciation of people trying really hard to make people think their molehills are mountains. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Yeah, I’m down with the Athenee one. The Picard one is ice cream, which I really like in theory, but I’ve never seen an ice cream buche that actually really works or is sufficiently exciting in person. But I do intend to peek at the Mini. My finalists are up at the top of the p.s. Yes, I’m trying to work as hard as possible on the film script right now because, starting tomorrow or the next day, Zac and I will be dragged pretty much full-time into writing a new and very overwhelming project that will really, really eat into our ability to work on the film script. I finished some stuff that I’ll give to Zac today, and hopefully he and I can go over it and make improvements before we have to back-burner the script for a while. No, I strangely don’t get nervous about interviews, which is odd because I don’t like readings or other things where I’m forced to be the center of attention, but, for some reason I like interviews maybe they’re one-on-one and so organised. No snow but, yeah, it’s quite cold. Your weekend sounds especially inspiring! Great! My weekend was okay. Script work. Gisele, Zac, and I went out to Le Bourget where the big Gagosian gallery space there is showing this robotic sculpture work by William Forsythe called ‘Choreographic Objects’ that was really beautiful. Here’s a snippet. Saw friends. It was cool. You’re back to work today? Was it quiet enough? ** Nicholas Jason Rhoades, Hi, man! I saw about you needing to move on FB. Moving, ugh, yeah, bleah. I don’t know enough to know what to suggest. Hamtramck? That idea has a good vibe? Thanks about my back. It’s just fragile, but it hasn’t gone haywire, and I’m trying to treat it like it’s my boss in hopes it pities me. ** Jeff J, Hi, Jeff. Oh, so, there, up there. is the Mackey post I managed to make. My buche leans are listed at the top of this. I don’t know ‘The Girl with Golden Eyes’. I know the name. I know Albicocco’s work a little, and, you’re right, I’ll will see if there’s enough out there to make a post. That’s a very good idea. Thank you! That film sounds pretty amazing, yeah. ** Misanthrope, Hey. Yeah, your earlier comment disappeared on my end too. Huh. Thanks! Check out that bakery! Eat something pretty! Okay, err, good to … know, I guess, about your, err, errant butthole. Or that it’s, err, returning to whatever its natural form is. Goodness (gracious). No, its good to know. If one likes buttholes, one must try at least to be a realist about them. So thank you. Your doctor sounds like she was worth all of it. ** H, Hi. Uh, I’ve narrowed my choices down to four possibles. They’re laid out up where the p.s. begins. Thank you greatly about the post. Have a lovely, lovely day. ** Okay. Jeff J had kind of suggested that I do a post about the excellent writer Nathaniel Mackey, and I have done so in the form a spotlight on one of his very fine novels. I hope it is parlayed into something valuable upon coming in touch with your consciousness today. See you tomorrow.


  1. Armando


    I’m really looking forward to both ‘Wonder Wheel’ (which I already *KNOW* is excellent without needing to see it first) and ‘Phantom Thread’ (not that I give a flying fuck about tailors and the women they make rags for at all; but Paul can make anything and everything interesting; plus it does sound like it’s indeed great).


    • Steve Erickson

      I’m not sure if I should talk about this publicly, but Gay City News will be running pro/con pieces on PHANTOM THREAD by me and David Ehrenstein.

      I had never heard of Mackey, but his work sounds intriguing, especially the free jazz references. He’s the first writer I’ve ever heard cite Albert Ayler as an inspiration.

      Tonight, I am seeing I, TONYA and writing a rough draft of my review, which will be published in the Nashville Scene in 5 weeks.

      • Armando

        @Steve Erickson,


        How are you doing? Fine, I hope.

        Is there anything in particular you liked the most about ‘Phantom Thread’? Which other Paul movie (if any) does it remind you the most of? How about the pacing? Similar to ‘TWBB’ and ‘The Master’? Slower? Faster?

        I hope you get to see this and please forgive all the pestering and silly questions; I’m just kinda getting quite excited about the movie.

        Best regards,


  2. David Ehrenstein

    “Phantom Thread” is FUCKING AWFUL and I’ve written a piece about it for “Gay City News” which explains why. It will be running when the film is Unleashed Upon an Unsuspecting World at Xmas Time.

    “The Shape of Water” or as I prefer to call it “The Creature From The Black Lagoon, Mon Amour” did surprisingly well at yesterday’s Los Angeles Film Critics Association vote. “Call Me By Your Name” was the big winner with Timothée Chalamet snagging the “Best Teenage Boyfriend” prize. Fellow critic Alonso Duralde says the big complaint he’s heard from other gays about the film is its lack of HOT MAN-TO-MAN ACTION. Good grief, it was directed by Luca Guadagnino, not Chi-Chi Larue! Luca shared the prize with Guillermo Del Toro. “Blade Runner 2049” won production design. We gave the Independent/ Experimental Award to “Purge This Land” — a marvelous little film about John Brown (whose body lies a moldering in the grave but his truth is marching on) putting forth the timely suggesting that a statue be erected to commemorate him. A perfect replacement for all those Robert E. Lee statues.

    • Steve Erickson

      The biggest complaint I’ve heard from other gays about CALL ME BY YOUR NAME is that it glorifies pedophilia, unfortunately. It seems to have become part of a sexual atmosphere that’s becoming more conservative for understandable reasons, as it becomes apparent that unhealthy sexuality has been forced on so many women and, to a lesser extent, so many men. But no one is talking about what healthy sexuality for gay men looks like and the complexities of maturity and power dynamics for older teenagers.

  3. David Ehrenstein

    Books do furnish a SOUL don’t they?

  4. David Ehrenstein

    Here’s the Perfect Xmas Gift: A High-Tech Suicide Machine !

  5. Bill

    Will definitely check out Nathaniel Mackey. I’m a little embarrassed I haven’t, with all the musical connections.

    Steevee, that’s an excellent review of The Shape of Water. On alien sex encounters, I believe you’ve seen The Untamed. Did you read it as negatively as Possession?

    It was a bumper weekend for performances. One of the most interesting local new music ensembles played an intriguing program including Klaus Huber and Vinko Globokar. Then a wacky queer playlet Sunday afternoon, and Radian Sunday evening.

    The Radian gig was probably the best concert I saw this year. I’d always thought a lot of the intricate detailing and precise transitions on their CDs were from editing. But they seem to pull off those off-kilter detailed little grooves on demand. A lot of the tactile sonic gestures with the hairpin turns are actually generated and overlaid on the fly, from Brandlmayr’s drum kit or Siewert’s guitar and effects. I’d totally go see them again.


  6. Steve Erickson

    I completely forgot about THE UNTAMED when I wrote that review! The film does seem to pay homage to POSSESSION, but from my memories, it portrays the human/alien relationship in a more positive light. On the other hand, doesn’t that lead indirectly to someone winding up in a coma or am I completely misremembering the plot? (I can actually go back and edit THE SHAPE OF WATER review on Medium if it’s worth changing it to acknowledge THE UNTAMED.)

    • Bill

      Yeah I think there are definitely nods in The Untamed in the direction of Possession. And I do remember a more positive (more ambiguous anyway) take on the alien interactions. I have to admit I was no fan of Possession, but really enjoyed The Untamed.

      I can’t remember the coma, but I can be very spacey (umm, comatose) when it comes to recalling these details.


  7. Dóra Grőber


    I’ve never actually tried a real ice-cream cake – I mean not some prepackaged one. I trust your tastes. However, if you do take a look at it, let me know what you think!
    Can you talk about the new project you and Zac will work on? Or is it in the “mystery” phase for now? Anyhow, I do hope you at least feel passionate about it. Otherwise it’s a huge hardship to push the film script aside for its sake, I’d imagine. Did you manage to make nice progress today?
    That’s very lucky! I mean that you don’t get nervous about interviews. I think I’d be shitting my pants every time, haha.
    Thank you so much for the little video! It’s strange because it gave me peaceful and somehow disturbing feelings at the same time. It’s very “clean”. It must be fascinating in person.
    Yeah, I was back to work today. I spent a few hours tidying up the gallery as much as I could, then I had a pretty quiet afternoon. All okay.
    How was the day on your end? What happened? How’s your back?

  8. Nicholas Jason Rhoades

    I’ve only very recently become aware of Nathaniel Mackey. I get a broken neck feeling from him, if that makes sense; it’s ameliorative.

    As to the Hamtramck vibe, yeah, it seems to be cool. It’d be living with writers and artists. Very different for me. so I’m feeling it’s due. Cadillac Suare seems cool, but also seems like it’d be a fridge.

    Great that you can handle your back, D. All sympathy. Syringomyelia is so random. Crazy shit. But I will stand as up as this bullshit allows

  9. _Black_Acrylic

    I was unfamiliar with Mackey but am intrigued by his project. My dad’s very into jazz and I wonder if a few of his friends might be interested in this too. Back in the 80s they had a thing called Leeds Jazz and they would feature some big names – John Zorn, Arto Lindsay etc – in those times. This could be their way into experimental fiction.

    Tomorrow I start the first of 3 days’ work at the bank and then that’s it forever. I’ve been at that place since 2003 and the end can’t come soon enough. The whole Yuck ‘n Yum thing is very much up in the air but still, this redundancy is a positive thing as far as I’m concerned.

  10. Chaim Hender

    “No matter how precise or sumptuous the prose, Mackey has now written close to one thousand pages of fiction about music that does not exist.” Wow. What it must be like to hear one thousand pages’ worth of music in your head and write about it.

    The Méliès program was a bit of a disappointment. The accompaniment was in a garage band raga style that didn’t seem to match the films, either specifically in the moment-by-moment action or in the general mood. I got to speak more Hebrew with my new friends there and meet some more people so the night was definitely still worth it.

    Probably the most important place for me until now was my college film society. I was on the programming committee and worked in the projection booth. The university forked over a huge amount of money for college kids and some local community members to run a movie theater with a deep commitment to celluloid.

    I’m very curious about Paradiso and The Ninth Circle but I don’t really know what I could ask you about them here.

    Half writing about people writing about “Call Me By Your Name” and half my continued chronicling of my journey of self discovery: I like being 28 and getting to play both sides of the gay male age gap erotic dynamic. The movie hasn’t come here yet, but I wonder if it marks the beginning of a time when there’s a plausible middlebrow way of thinking about a subject that for a very, very long time has been the unstable meeting point between highbrow and lowbrow.

    • David Ehrenstein

      There’s no “plausible middlebrow way” of dealing with gay sexuality — regardless of age.

      I don’t recall “the Ninth Circle” as being a “hustler bar” at all. Just a gay bar. As I believe I’ve mentioned her it was an ordinary Village bar that “went gay all of a sudden.” The husband recalls the week it did when regulars from its pre-gay days would come by, take a look around and flee in terror. This was such a spectacle that he and his pals would stand outside, watch the straights toddle in and then lay bets as to how long they would last.

  11. Armando

    I’m also getting impatient about ‘Call Me By Your Name’. I really want to see it, damn it. It had an extremely limited and short run in my city and the tickets sold out in like 2 seconds, so I wasn’t able to see it. I don’t know if it’ll play again.

    I’ve known about the novel for quite some time now; several years; but to be honest it never interested me. It just seemed to me like a run of the mill “romance between a teenager discovering his homosexuality and preference for slightly older guys and a slightly older handsome stranger over a summer” or something like that, so I just wrote it off completely; but the more I know about the film, the more it sounds to me like it’s (or can/might be) quite, quite good. And you know I’m not one to follow or pay any attention to hypes or trends at all. About the people who complain about the lack of explicit sex scenes and shit, really; who gives a fuck??? Scorsese’s Great ‘The Age Of Innocence’; one of the very greatest “romance/love story” movies (and certainly one of my very favorites) of the past quarter of a Century has like, what, *ONE* kiss between the protagonists and that’s it??? Couldn’t care less. And about the ones who bitch about it celebrating pedophilia or whatever the fuck, they should just get a fucking life…

    I think that ‘lady bird’ thing will win the “best picture” oscar thing. Maybe the latest abominable abortion by nolan could have a chance; but I think the winner will be the former. We’ll see. Or, better said, when the time comes I’ll obviously read about the results somewhere.

  12. Misanthrope

    Dennis! This man’s whole story is tres interesting. I likey. All the way around. I like, too, that he uses “N.” instead of his full name. It opens up a world of possibilities for that character.

    Hmm, I thought you’d like a good butthole story. Seriously, though, it’s a medical thing, nothing romantic or sexual about it. Though I guess it could be for someone. Who knows? But yes, recovery seems to be going well, thanks.

    Got my loose tooth extracted today. Come to find out, it’s a…baby tooth! Seems the adult tooth never formed to push it out. I’ve got little teeth anyway, so it fit right in with the rest. The same one on the other side is also a baby tooth. Weird, no?

    Man, I’m really ending the year on a good note. 😛

  13. Jeff J

    Hey Dennis – So great to see this day on Mackey! Thanks for putting it together. It’s wonderful to read the interview and explore the video clips you selected. His fiction was an inspiration for some of the posts I put together for my late free jazz site Destination: Out. I’ve been diving deeper into his excellent poetry lately.

    New York Tyrant posted a new short story of mine today. It’s a discarded piece from my novel Mira Corpora that I reimagined – a photo gallery about a mysteriously vanished musician. With art by DL Michael Salerno. Here’s the link, in case anyone is interested:

    You watched any films recently (old or new) that you’d recommend? Any particular books been exciting you?

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