On Thursday, poet and author Nathaniel Mackey performed a reading of his main works at the Binghamton University Art Museum. The reading commemorated a new exhibition, “Some Bodies: Gober, Ligon, Prince,” in the Main Gallery.
Mackey, a Reynolds Price professor of creative writing in the English department at Duke University, is the author of six books of poetry, the most recent being “Blue Fasa” in 2015. Born in Miami, Florida, he obtained a Bachelor of Arts in English from Princeton University in 1969 and a Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1975. In 2006, he won the National Book Award for Poetry for his book “Splay Anthem.” Mackey’s poetry mainly deals with African mythology, rituals and music. Mackey has also been editor of Hambone, a literary magazine, since 1982.
At the event, Mackey read several poems from a variety of his books while presenting the works of art that inspired each one. The works were predominantly from African American artists, including a sculpture by animator Ed Love, a jazz recording by saxophonist Archie Shepp and a painting by Bob Thompson.
“Different forms of art form different inspiration for others,” Mackey said. “Don’t passively consume it — take on its energy and let it mean something to you.”
Several of the poems Mackey read were long-form, taking about five minutes to read with different emotions emphasized in each line.
“My love for long-form poetry came from a wish that a poem never ends,” he said. “My teachers throughout school taught me about the importance of poetry and how it should become a practice to read and learn as much as you can.”
Alhaji Bah, a junior majoring in film, attended the event as a requirement for his African American literature class, but said he enjoyed the message Mackey sent through his reading and the inspirations he had.
“I noticed that the paintings he took inspiration from were mostly from the ’60s and ’70s and you could tell how psychedelic some of them looked,” Bah said. “But they dealt with African American struggles and spirituality, which are aspects rarely put together in art.”
Alan Warwick, a Binghamton resident, attended the event to learn more about Mackey’s work.
“Mackey seemed so knowledgeable about everything he talked about,” Warwick said. “Hearing the passion in his voice drew me more into the topics of spirituality and music.”
The exhibition, which is on view until May 18, features works of art donated by Art Bridges, a foundation dedicated to sharing works of American art with audiences across the country that engage viewers and make them question how social and personal forces shape us.
The exhibition was put together in part with the help of Tom McDonough, an associate professor of art history at BU.
“In each of the works on view, the artist takes up and transforms a pre-existing structure — whether object, text or image — in order to reflect on aspects of contemporary American identity,” McDonough said in a press release for the exhibition. “Class, race, gender and sexuality are all put into play in these works.”