Thing of Beauty: New and Selected Works

Thing of Beauty: New and Selected Works

Thing of Beauty: New and Selected Works

Thing of Beauty: New and Selected Works


This landmark collection brings together poetry, performance pieces, "traditional" verse, prose poems, and other poetical texts from Jackson Mac Low's lifetime in art. The works span the years from 1937, beginning with "Thing of Beauty," his first poem, until his death in 2004 and demonstrate his extraordinary range as well as his unquenchable enthusiasm. Mac Low is widely acknowledged as one of the major figures in twentieth-century American poetry, with much of his work ranging into the spheres of music, dance, theater, performance, and the visual arts. Comparable in stature to such giants as Robert Creeley, John Ashbery, and Allen Ginsberg, Mac Low is often associated with composer John Cage, with whom he shared a delight in work derived from "chance operations." This volume, edited by Anne Tardos, his wife and frequent collaborator, offers a balanced arrangement of early, middle, and late work, designed to convey not just the range but also the progressions and continuities of his writings and "writingways."


I met Jackson in 1975, when mutual friends introduced us. Jackson had just moved from the Bronx to a loft in Washington Market, the part of lower Manhattan now known as Tribeca, the same loft from which I write these words, a few months after his death. This is where Jackson and I spent 26 years together: writing, creating paintings and collages, traveling, participating in festivals, recording radio plays, and performing in our own, each other’s, and our joint works. Jackson was a major influence on my work and on my life, and even during his painful last years, our life was cheerful and happy.

I call this book Thing of Beauty after Jackson’s first antiwar poem and because I consider his work exactly that—a thing of beauty. While the poem of that title he wrote at 15 made clear a reference to Keats, I am not doing so directly, nor am I saying that the most outstanding feature of Jackson’s work was lyrical beauty. I am pointing to his distinct concern with the value of beauty in art, and though he rarely wrote about it, we had innumerable conversations on the subject. It was not until late in his life that he finally spelled out his preoccupation with beauty in art, in the instructions he wrote for the musicians interpreting one of his compositions:

I intend that pieces such as this one should give full scope to the imagina
tion, initiative, and sense of beauty of each of the performers. I ask them
to be co-composers with me in making use of the musical materials I give,
within the loosely defined limits I propose, to make a complexly beautiful
object existing in time.

The beauty of it is “complex” in that it will incorporate the results of de
cisions that may often be “imperfect.” The many forces at work within the
individuals and the community of performers and the environment in which
they make and implement their decisions will only flickeringly bring about
moments of beauty.

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