Jackson Mac Low
One of our great poets -- can hardly believe he's gone.
Knew him only at a distance, though there were a few important connections we made. Jackson published the first poems he ever wrote in high school, in a literary magazine edited by my grandfather, R. Stanley Peterson, at New Trier. I saw him read a number of times in the past three years: once in Tucson for POG, once in New York for a reading celebrating Chax Press, and once here in Boston a few short months ago for John Dooley's Demolicious Series. In Tucson I spent a number of days with him and Jesse Seldess, who now runs the Discrete Series in Chicago, and Jackson gave a talk on "My Writing Ways" in which he admitted rather mischievously that after awhile it became clear that his procedures did not completely remove the ego from the writing process, but that he decided to continue doing them because he "enjoyed the resulting effects." In this sense, I was particularly intrigued by his Forties series, which he wrote in an aleatory fashion but which read as if they had been generated using procedures. It was as if, after years of doing those procedures, he had taught himself how to write differently, in this strange and open way. Yet in looking at the early high school narrative poems of Jackson's, a friend pointed out to me that they "sounded like Jackson" even at that early stage. In any case, he made a lot of important discoveries (which Pierre Joris talks about here and Ron Silliman here) and wrote a lot of important works , among them French Sonnets. This was the first book published in 1984 by an exciting venture into publishing called at the time Black Mesa, a venture which we now know by the name of Chax Press. A wonderfully determined, serious, and sweet man with an eye for detail and a droll, slightly submerged sense of humor (in Tucson I loaned him a kettle because the guest cottage where he was staying had none, and he wrote me a note: "Thanks for the kettle, and the koincidence.") .
(NOTE: An updated version of this post currently appears in issue #2 of EOAGH: In Remembrance of Jackson Mac Low that I edited with John Mercuri Dooley).