Scope and Content of Collection
Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla 92093-0175
Title: Jackson Mac Low Papers
Mac Low, Jackson
Identifier/Call Number: MSS 0180
141 Linear feet
(231 archives boxes, 14 records cartons, 5 card files, 25 audiocassette boxes, 7 flat boxes, 6 oversize folders, and 3 films)
Date (inclusive): 1884-2004, bulk 1938-2004
Abstract: Papers of Jackson Mac Low, a poet, composer and performance artist who frequently used systematic chance operations and other
non-intentional compositional methods in his work. The bulk of the collection dates between 1938 and 2004. The collection
contains notebooks; biographical material; correspondence; manuscripts of poetry, prose, essays, plays, music and performance
instructions; writings of others; interviews with Mac Low; conference and residency documentation; posters and programs; audiovisual
materials; and subject files. Prominent correspondents include Kathy Acker, Julian Beck, Carol Bergé, Paul Blackburn, John
Cage, Robert Creeley, Larry Eigner, Clayton Eshleman, Peter Ganick, Paul Goodman, Allen Ginsberg, Donald Hall, Dick Higgins,
Spencer Holst, Vera Lachmann, Denise Levertov, George Maciunas, Judith Malina, Steve McCaffery, Nam June Paik, Jerome Rothenberg,
Ron Silliman, John Taggart, Diane Wakoski, Anne Waldman, and William Carlos Williams.
Scope and Content of Collection
Papers of Jackson Mac Low, a poet, composer and performance artist who frequently used systematic chance operations and other
non-intentional compositional methods in his work. The papers contain extensive documentation of Mac Low's literary production,
and document his political interests and influence on other artists. The collection contains notebooks; biographical material;
correspondence; manuscripts of poetry, prose, essays, plays, music and performance instructions; writings of others; interviews
with Mac Low; conference and residency documentation; posters and programs; audiovisual materials; and subject files. Prominent
correspondents include Kathy Acker, Julian Beck, Carol Bergé, Paul Blackburn, John Cage, Robert Creeley, Larry Eigner, Clayton
Eshleman, Peter Ganick, Paul Goodman, Allen Ginsberg, Donald Hall, Dick Higgins, Spencer Holst, Vera Lachmann, Denise Levertov,
George Maciunas, Judith Malina, Steve McCaffery, Nam June Paik, Jerome Rothenberg, Ron Silliman, John Taggart, Diane Wakoski,
Anne Waldman, and William Carlos Williams. The collection was processed in two major accessions.
ACCESSION PROCESSED IN 2000
Papers primarily date from the late 1930s to 1995, although there are a few documents from earlier years.
Arranged in ten series: 1) NOTEBOOKS, 2) BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIAL, 3) CORRESPONDENCE, 4) WRITINGS, 5) WRITINGS OF OTHERS, 6)
INTERVIEWS, 7) CONFERENCES, FESTIVALS AND RESIDENCIES, 8) PROGRAMS AND POSTERS, 9) SUBJECT FILES and 10) ORIGINALS OF PRESERVATION
ACCESSION PROCESSED IN 2015
A broad and diverse assortment of papers, manuscripts, and sound recordings primarily dating between 1938 and 2004, which
document how Mac Low's ideology as a writer often intersected with his political beliefs. The correspondence, particularly
outgoing letters by Mac Low, often address the development of his compositions. The WRITINGS series reveals his meticulous
editing habits, often working on the same poem for years at a time.
Arranged in twelve series: 11) BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS, 12) FINANCIAL MATERIALS, 13) CORRESPONDENCE, 14) WRITINGS, 15) WRITINGS
OF OTHERS, 16) INTERVIEWS, 17) PROGRAMS, POSTERS AND FLYERS, 18) SUBJECT FILES, 19) EPHEMERA, 20) PHOTOGRAPHS, 21) DIGITAL
MEDIA, and 22) AUDIOVISUAL MATERIALS
Born in Chicago, Ill. on September 12, 1922, Jackson Mac Low spent his grade school years studying music and poetry. In 1939,
he entered the University of Chicago to study philosophy, leaving there in 1943 with an Associate of Arts Degree and relocating
to New York City. In 1955, Mac Low enrolled in Brooklyn College, where he completed a Bachelors of Arts program in Greek in
1958. The bachelors degree allowed Mac Low to secure a number of better paying and more flexible jobs, thus giving him time
for his artistic career. He worked as reference-book editor and taught courses at New York University.
In February 1962, Mac Low married the painter Iris Lezak. In 1963 they gave birth to a son, Mordecai-Mark and, in 1966, to
a daughter, Clarinda. Mac Low and Iris Lezak divorced in 1978, and twelve years later he married Anne Tardos, a poet, composer,
Mac Low is the author of some thirty books of poetry, four play scripts, and numerous critical statements. His work has been
published by a range of trade and fine presses, and individual pieces have appeared in a great number of poetry journals.
Mac Low is known to most readers as an ardent practitioner of chance operations in poetry composition, which Mac Low first
experienced in the musical work of John Cage, Earle Brown, and Christian Wolff. But the poet Ron Silliman has suggested that
is a smaller part of Mac Low's overall importance. As Silliman explains, "Mac Low was more or less alone in the 1950s in his
explorations of poetic form as system (to my mind a far more important implication of his work than his use of chance operations,
which are merely one type of system)."
Mac Low's interest in poetry as system dates from 1954, when he used a chance operation to generate the text "5 biblical poems."
The poems he wrote during the previous sixteen years were more conventional expressions of the writer's emotions and reflections.
Most of these early poems have not yet been published (a handful do appear in the collection REPRESENTATIVE WORKS, 1986),
but are present in Mac Low's archive.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Mac Low's writing became prolific and more experimentally daring or reliant on what Mac Low describes
as non-intentional methods. THE MARRING MAIDEN, a theatrical work, was first performed by the Living Theatre in during the
1960-1961 season. A performance piece, action in the play was determined by action cards given to actors at random intervals
and by the director's scenarios. The plays language was determined using the I CHING. In STANZAS FOR IRIS LEZAK, a nearly
400 page work written in 1960 but published twelve years later, was generated from an assortment of religious and scientific
texts, newspapers, and whatever else the poet was reading at the time. A year later, Mac Low composed ASYMMETRIES 1-501, an
investigation of irregular poetic form, unlike the regular forms achieved in STANZAS FOR IRIS LEZAK.
In 1967, Mac Low's VERDUROUS SANGUINARIA was performed in Yoko Ono's loft as part of a series of "happenings" organized by
La Monte Young. This work was generated from chance operations applied to twenty-six dictionaries, and it is the only work
of Mac Low's to have yet been published by a university press. THE PRONOUNS, also written in the 1960s, was composed as a
book of poems and a score for actions. The work, which Jerome Rothenberg describes as taking "hold of those old workhorses
of our language," was conceived as a score for dance. While it has been performed infrequently, the work has become recognized
as Mac Low's most anthologized composition. Other works rendered during this period include 22 LIGHT POEMS (1968), THE VIRIGINIA
WOOLF POEMS (1985), WORDS ND ENDS FROM EZ (1989) and 42 MERZGEDICHTE IN MEMORIAM KURT SCHWITTERS (1994). Collectively they
reveal the various generative methods and source texts Mac Low employed in composing his texts.
From a formal point of view, 1954 marks a rupture in Mac Low's career, as conventional intentional strategies are displaced
by non-intentional strategies. But from a political perspective there is a certain and problematic continuity. Mac Low has
always been a political activist, a self-proclaimed pacifist-anarchist. This political stance is evident in the content of
the verse written before 1954, as it is also in the Mac Low's activity as an editor of anarchist publication. After 1954 and
Mac Low's increasing use of non-intentional strategies, the political stance is shifted to the poem's form and becomes actualized
in the transaction between the text and the reader. As Bruce Campbell has explained, Mac Low has no desire "to be a dictator....Instead
Mac Low wants to 'empower' the reader....The reader is not someone who simply gazes upon the work or arrives at a prefabricated
meaning; the reader helps to make the meaning." In short, using non-intentional strategies allows Mac Low to alter radically
the power relationship of conventional author / reader transactions.
Mac Low's work, because of its experimental and difficult characteristics, has not received a strong general audience; it
has been most enthusiastically read by poets broadly interested in some of the same poetic / aesthetic values Mac Low investigates
in his texts. Nevertheless, Mac Low has been the recipient of several awards: two Creative Artists Public Service Program
fellowships (1973-74 and 1976-77), a National Endowments for the Arts fellowship (1976), a Guggenheim Memorial fellowship
(1985), a Fulbright fellowship (1986) and, more recently, The Fund for Poetry awards (1988-89 and 1991-92).
Jackson Mac Low died on December 8, 2004.
Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.
Jackson Mac Low Papers, MSS 180. Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego.
Original sound recordings and digital media are restricted, though some have been digitized. Researchers may request user
copies be produced in advance.
Poems in Box 52, Folder 28 are restricted by the donor until 2020. Psychological summary in Box 85, Folder 15 is restricted
due to privacy laws until 2054. Notebook in Box 185, Folder 7 is restricted by the donor until 2030.
Sound recordings in Series 22) AUDIOVISUAL MATERIALS, subseries A) Reel to Reel have been digitized and stored in the Library's
digital asset management system. Due to copyright restrictions, access to recordings is limited to the reading room. Researchers
may contact Special Collections & Archives to inquire about access to performances.
Subjects and Indexing Terms
American poetry -- 20th century
Mac Low, Jackson -- Archives
Acker, Kathy -- Correspondence
Antin, David -- Correspondence
Antin, Eleanor -- Correspondence
Andrews, Bruce -- Correspondence
Blackburn, Paul -- Correspondence
Cage, John -- Correspondence
Silliman, Ronald -- Correspondence
Schwerner, Armand -- Correspondence
Rothenberg, Jerome -- Correspondence
Oliveros, Pauline -- Correspondence
McCaffery, Steve -- Correspondence
Maciunas, George -- Correspondence
Knowles, Alison -- Correspondence
Kelly, Robert -- Correspondence
Watten, Barrett -- Correspondence
Young, Karl -- Correspondence
Higgins, Dick -- Correspondence
Holst, Spencer -- Correspondence
Goodman, Paul -- Correspondence
Eshleman, Clayton -- Correspondence
Eigner, Larry -- Correspondence