SCOPE AND CONTENT
Title: Jackson Mac Low Papers,
Date (inclusive): 1923-1995
Collection number: MSS 0180
Mac Low, Jackson
33.15 linear feet
(79 archives boxes, 1 records carton
and 1 oversize folder)
Mandeville Special Collections Library, UCSD
Abstract: Papers of Jackson Mac Low, a poet, composer and performance artist who has frequently
used systematic chance operations and other non-intentional compositional methods in his
work. The bulk of the collection dates between 1937 and 1995. The collection contains
notebooks (1948-1990); biographical material; correspondence (1943-1995); manuscripts of
poetry, prose, essays, plays, music and performance instructions; writings of others;
interviews with Mac Low; conference and residency documentation; posters and programs;
and subject files. Prominent correspondents include Kathy Acker, Julian Beck, Carol Berge, Paul Blackburn,
John Cage, Robert Creeley, Larry Eigner, Clayton Eshleman, Peter Ganick, Paul Goodman,
Allen Ginsberg, Donald Hall, 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 is 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 PHOTOCOPIES.
Physical location: For current information on the location of these
materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
Poems in Box 52, Folder 28 are restricted by the donor until 2020.
Jackson Mac Low Papers, MSS 0180. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UCSD.
Born in Chicago, Ill. on Sept. 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, multimedia
Mac Low is the author of some thirty books of poetry, four playscripts, 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 practioneer 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, whaich 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 writers 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 acheived 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
From a formal point of view, 1954 marks a rupture in Mac Low's career, as conventional
intentional strageties 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 politcal 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).
Mac Low continues to reside in New York City with his wife Anne Tardos.
SCOPE AND CONTENT
The Jackson Mac Low Papers span the bulk of his career as a poet, composer and multimedia
performance artist, combining extensive documentation of his literary production with
record of his political activities and influence on other artists. The collection is
largely comprised of materials from the late 1930s to 1995, although there are a few
documents from earlier years. The collection is 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 PHOTOCOPIES.
SERIES 1: NOTEBOOKS
The notebooks (1948-1990) are arranged chronologically and contain drafts of poems,
quotations from literature read by Mac Low and reflections made at poetry readings and
SERIES 2: BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIAL
This series provides a chronological overview of Mac Low's artistic production and
includes biographies of various lengths, bibliographies, resumes, and lists of readings,
performances, recordings, and publications. Also included are photographs of Mac Low and
his family, calendars from the 1970s and 1980s that document his daily activities and tax
SERIES 3: CORRESPONDENCE
The CORRESPONDENCE series documents Mac Low's relationships with other writers, artists,
editors, publishers, and scholars and the collaborative nature of many of his
compositions. A lesser portion of the correspondence is from family, primarily Mac Low's
parents, his children and his wives.
Often the most interesting letters in this series come from Mac Low himself, as they tend
to be typed, several pages long and treat both professional and personal topics with
great earnestness and candor. Insight into his creative impulses and compositional
methods is available throughout his correspondence, as well as glimpses into the private
and/or political events that influenced his writing.
Prominent correspondents include Kathy Acker, Julian Beck, Carol Berge, Paul Blackburn,
Charles Alexander, David and Eleanor Antin, Bruce Andrews, Carol Berge, John Cage, Robert
Creeley, Merce Cunningham, Alan Davies, Larry Eigner, Clayton Eshleman, Peter Ganick,
Allen Ginsberg, Paul Goodman, Donald Hall, Dick Higgins, Spencer Holst, Robert Kelly,
Alison Knowles, Vera Lachmann, Denise Levertov, Iris Lezak, George Maciunas, Judith
Malina, Bernadette Mayer, Steve McCaffery, Pauline Oliveros, Nam June Paik, Toby Olson,
George Quasha, Joan Retallack, Jerome Rothenberg, Armand Schwerner, Ron Silliman, Mary
Ellen Solt, John Taggart, Anne Tardos, Robert Vas Dias, Diane Wakoski, Anne Waldman,
Rosmarie Waldrop, Keith Waldrop, Karl Young, La Monte Young, and Ellen Zweig. SERIES 4:
The WRITINGS series is arranged in five subseries: A) Poetry, Performances, Plays, and
Music, B) Prose and Essays, C) Reviews, D) Talks and Lectures, and E) Notes.
A) The Poetry, Performances, Plays, and Music subseries contains manuscripts and drafts
of Mac Low's published works, collected poems, individual poems, performance
instructions, plays, and music. It comprises the bulk of the collection and is arranged
alphabetically by the title of the work. Mac Low's work tends to be progressive and
constantly evolving; so many of his earlier works are accompanied by later revisions,
additional performance instructions, musical scores and collaborative adaptations.
Several texts were later revised using diastic computer-generated programs. Wherever
possible, originals and all subsequent additions and adaptations are foldered together.
Computer-generated poetry produced during Mac Low's participation in the Los Angeles
County Museum of Art's Art and Technology Program is located under "PFR-3 Poems."
B) The Prose and Essays subseries, arranged alphabetically by title, contains drafts of
unpublished fiction, juvenilia and essays.
C) The Reviews subseries contains book reviews by Mac Low.
D) The Talks and Lectures subseries contains poetry reading introductions and conference
E) The fifth subseries, Notes, is comprised mostly of unorganized jottings.
SERIES 5: WRITINGS OF OTHERS
The WRITINGS OF OTHERS series, arranged alphabetically by author, contains mostly written
materials that did not accompany correspondence. Hence, this series is fairly small and
includes such disparate materials as computer research, clippings from journals and
newspapers by or about people who interested Mac Low, and pieces with political themes.
There are also a few poetry manuscripts from other poets.
SERIES 6: INTERVIEWS
This small series contains seven interviews in which Mac Low was the subject or a
participant, in forums ranging from radio to symposia to literary journals. In a few
cases, Mac Low was actively involved in editing the interview for publication. The
interviews are a particularly good source of biographical information, especially
regarding influences and transitions in Mac Low's work.
SERIES 7: CONFERENCES, FESTIVALS AND RESIDENCIES
This series documents Mac Low's extensive work-related travel beginning in the late 1970s
and extending through the early 1990s. The folders are arranged alphabetically by event
title. Many contain materials relating to poetry, art and performance festivals in Europe
where Mac Low read and performed with his wife Anne Tardos. Several entries offer a rich
overview of Mac Low's professional appearances, including correspondence before and after
the event, writing materials, drafts, travel arrangements and various paper memorabilia
from the trip. Other folders document Mac Low's university visits, during which he often
taught workshops on his compositional and performance methods. Also included in most
folders are reviews andpress releases from local print media that covered these events.
SERIES 8: PROGRAMS AND POSTERS
The PROGRAMS AND POSTERS series is arranged in two subseries: A) Jackson Mac Low and B)
Others. The folders are arranged chronologically by year beginning with the late 1950s
and extending to 1995, and chronologically by date within each folder. Wherever apparent,
any poster or program in which Mac Low is listed as a performer or contributor is
aggregated in the first subseries. The Others subseries, however, is nearly as large,
suggesting that Mac Low was very much invested in the work and performances of his
friends and peers.
SERIES 9: SUBJECT FILES
The SUBJECT FILES series is arranged in two subseries: A) General Subjects and B)
A) General Subjects is mostly comprised of miscellaneous items and includes everything
from grocery lists to book orders.
B) Political Subjects consists largely of newspaper and magazine clippings, brochures and
flyers. Many of these materials date to the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, with an emphasis on
anarchist movements of the period.
SERIES 10: ORIGINALS OF PRESERVATION PHOTOCOPIES
The ORIGINALS OF PRESERVATION PHOTOCOPIES series contains the originals of brittle or
high acid content documents that have been photocopied.