Double Trio: Tej Bet, So’s Notice, Nerve Church

New Directions. Apr. 2021. 976p. ISBN 9780811230629. $65. POETRY
This massive three-volume serial poem by National Book Award winner Mackey (Splay Anthem) aspires to the “long song” aural aesthetic of Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, and Sun Ra—a continuous movement of free thought, one “Self’s ensemble sound” that reverberates though a synesthetic Afrocentric space (“From Dogon to doggone”) between singing and saying, between saying and seeing. As much a narrative as it is metaphysical tract, this work recounts the collective bildungsroman of the poet’s “philosophical posse” in their quest for “what soul would accrue to.” In poems composed of cascading tercets and quatrains hinged together by outlying single syllables (“the world dressed / up on its way somewhere. We / wanted to know where and were / a- / fraid to know”), Mackey offers “an expanse of glimpses,” a flow of themes and variations pursued to their farthest extent, a “treatise on the arc of / time.”
VERDICT At nearly one thousand pages, this work demands no small investment of time, attention, and, frankly, endurance, but immediate sonic amenities abound (“Inchworm, intaglio, tangency’s / regress”), and Mackey’s gift for deep aphorism (“We were / each only our lone apocalypse”) will reward even brief encounters with this ambitious text.
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