Jackson Mac Low

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Jackson Mac Low, photographed by Gloria Graham during the video taping of Add-Verse, 2003

Jackson Mac Low (September 12, 1922 – December 8, 2004) was an American poet, performance artist, composer and playwright, known to most readers of poetry as a practioneer of systematic chance operations and other non-intentional compositional methods in his work, which Mac Low first experienced in the musical work of John Cage, Earle Brown, and Christian Wolff. He was married to the artist Iris Lezak from 1962 to 1978, and to the poet Anne Tardos from 1990 until his death.

An early affiliate of Fluxus[1] (he co-published An Anthology of Chance Operations) and stylistic progenitor[2] of the Language poets, Mac Low cultivated ties with an eclectic array of notable figures in the postwar American avant-garde, including Nam June Paik, Kathy Acker, Allen Ginsberg, and Arthur Russell.[3] His work has been published in more than 90 anthologies and periodicals and read publicly, exhibited, performed, and broadcast in North and South America, Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. He read, performed, and lectured in New York and throughout North America, Europe, and New Zealand, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Asnières, Paris, Bouliac (near Bordeaux), Marseilles, Buffalo, Philadelphia, and New York.


Mac Low received his associate's degree from the University of Chicago in 1941—where he continued to take graduate courses in philosophy and literature into 1943—and his bachelor's degree in ancient Greek from the evening division of Brooklyn College in 1958.[4] The higher degree allowed Mac Low to support his artistic career as an instructor of English as a second language at New York University from 1966-1973 and as a reference book editor for many publishers, including Knopf, Funk & Wagnalls, Pantheon, Bantam, and Macmillan.[5]

In 1965, Mac Low gave lectures on mousike for the newly founded Free University of New York.[6]

From 1964 through 1980, Mac Low participated as a visual artist, composer, poet, and performer in the Annual Festivals of the Avant-Garde in New York. In 1968, he signed the "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.[7] In 1969 he produced computer-assisted poetry for the Art and Technology Program of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Beginning in 1981, Mac Low and Anne Tardos wrote, directed, and performed in seven radioworks.

In 1986 he received a Fulbright travel grant for New Zealand, where he was the keynote speaker at the Australia and New Zealand American Studies Association conference at the University of Auckland. He also participated in a composers' conference and led a workshop in Nelson, New Zealand. He read, performed, was interviewed, and led workshops in Wellington, Dunedin, and Auckland as well.

In 1989 Mac Low participated in the Fine Arts Festival at the University of North Carolina. From 1990 to 1991, Mac Low served on the poetry panel of the New York Foundation for the Arts. In 1993, Mac Low and Anne Tardos gave a joint concert of their works for voices with prerecorded tapes at Experimental Intermedia, New York City. In January 1996 he presented readings and performances at Cowell College of the University of California, Santa Cruz.

In 2000, Mac Low performed two readings of his poetry at the Bjørnson Festival 2000 in Molde, Norway. He also unveiled a monument to Kurt Schwitters on an island off Molde.

Posthumously published work[edit]

In 2008, 'Thing of Beauty: New and Selected Works' was published; edited by Anne Tardos[8]

In 2012, Counterpath Press released 154 Forties, a collection of poems written and revised by Mac Low between 1990 and 2001, edited by Anne Tardos [9] Counterpath also began a project of shooting videos of contemporary poets and artists reading the Forties.[10]

In 2015, Chax Press released THE COMPLETE LIGHT POEMS: 1-60 [1], edited by Anne Tardos and Michael O'Driscoll.


One type of non-intentional composition that he used relied on an algorithm he dubbed "diastic", by analogy to acrostic.[11] He used words or phrases drawn from source material to spell out a source word or phrase, with the first word having the first letter of the source, the second word having the second letter, and so forth, reading through (dia in Greek) the source. During the last 25 years of his life, he often collaborated with Anne Tardos.


In 1985, Mac Low won a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 1988 he was awarded a Fellowship in Poetry by the New York Foundation for the Arts. He shared an America Award with Robert Creeley's Echoes for a book of poetry published in 1994. In 1999, he received a Dorothea Tanning Award from The Academy of American Poets and a Wallace Stevens award.

From "Insect Assassins"[edit]

Injects no survive. Efforts control the
Animal survive. Survive. Animal survive. Survive. Injects no survive.

In nasty spitting eye cost. This
Assassin spitting spitting assassin spitting spitting in nasty spitting

Insectivorous nutriment species encounter Charles to
Are species species are species species insectivorous nutriment species

Selected works[edit]

  • A Piece for Sari Dienes (1960)
  • The Twin Plays (1966)
  • Verdurous Sanguinaria (1967)
  • August Light Poems (1967)
  • 22 Light Poems (Black Sparrow, 1968)
  • 23rd Light Poem (For Larry Eigner, 1969)
  • Stanzas for Iris Lezak (Something Else Press, 1971)
  • 4 trains (1974)
  • 36th Light Poem (Buster Keaton, 1975)
  • 21 Matched Asymmetries (1978)
  • 54th Light Poem: For Ian Tyson (1978)
  • A Dozen Douzains for Eve Rosenthal (1978)
  • phone (1978)
  • The Pronouns—A Collection of 40 Dances—For the Dancers (Station Hill Press, 1979)
  • Asymmetries 1-260 (1980)
  • "Is That Wool Hat My Hat?" (1982)
  • Bloomsday (Station Hill Press,1984)
  • French Sonnets (1984)
  • Eight Drawing-Asymmetries (1985)
  • The Virginia Woolf Poems (Burning Deck, 1985)
  • Representative Works: 1938-1985 (1986)
  • Words nd Ends from Ez (Avenue B, 1989)
  • Twenties: 100 Poems (1991)
  • Pieces o' Six: Thirty-Three Poems in Prose (Sun and Moon Classics, 1991)
  • Twenties (Segue, January 1992)
  • 42 Merzgedichte in memoriam Kurt Schwitters (Station Hill Press, 1994)
  • From Pearl Harbor Day to FDR's Birthday (1995)
  • Barnesbook (1996)
  • 20 Forties (1999)
  • Doings: Assorted Performance Pieces 1955–2002 (Granary Books, 2005)
  • 154 Forties (Counterpath, 2012)


  1. ^ http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88v/maclow-fluxus.html
  2. ^ "Obituary: Jackson MacLow". TheGuardian.com. 20 December 2004.
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-06-14. Retrieved 2012-09-25.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-12-29. Retrieved 2013-01-17.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-06-14. Retrieved 2012-09-25.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ Berke, Joseph (29 October 1965), "The Free University of New York", Peace News: 6–7 as reproduced in Jakobsen, Jakob (2012), Anti-University of Londin–Antihistory Tabloid, London: MayDay Rooms, pp. 6–7, archived from the original on 2012-10-12
  7. ^ "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" January 30, 1968 New York Post
  8. ^ Thing of Beauty.
  9. ^ "154 FortiesJackson Mac Low – Counterpath".
  10. ^ "Forties – Counterpath".
  11. ^ Mordecai-Mark Mac Low, "The Role of the Machine in the Experiment of Egoless Poetry" in H. Higgins, & D. Kahn (Eds.), Mainframe experimentalism: Early digital computing in the experimental arts, pp.299


External links[edit]