Strong Readers Reading the Difficult Long Poem

A metronome does not measure the pleasure of reading a long poem. The pleasure exists, outside of time, in a reader’s total aesthetic experience of bringing something to the poem and taking away much more than she or he arrived with. Only strong readers survive, and some of them opt to transform knowledge gained into actions. Others hoard their intellectual wealth. In American time-and-capital-driven cultures of reading, one might argue that becoming a strong reader is often a luxury enjoyed mainly by the incarcerated, for they are condemned to live in “abnormal” time. While they may open their readings to the sufferings of history, they do so without the Kabbalistic gestures Harold Bloom ascribes to strong readers in A Map of Misreading(1975). They employ fierce independence and common sense.

Mackey, Nathaniel. Blue Fasa. New York: New Directions, 2015.

In Discrepant Engagement: Dissonance, Cross-Culturality, and Experimental Writing (1993), Mackey provided theoretical foundations for grasping why his poetic practice diverges from the orthodox frames of referentiality described in Stephen Henderson’s groundbreaking Understanding the New Black Poetry (1973). Nevertheless, attentive readers of this book can detect that Mackey’s practice is not alien in the tension-marked dynamics of modern African American poetry. The relatively uncanonized works of Russell Atkins and the canonized ones of Melvin B. Tolson, for example, are prototypes of what conservative academic critics might judge to be the transgressions of Mackey’s poetics. They provide evidence that difference and difficulty are inherently normal in our poetic tradition, normal to the extent printed poetry can replay music.