Text: Jackson Mac Low’s ‘The Pronouns’


Poet Jackson Mac Low (1922-2004) was a poet, composer, and painter who was closely involved with the Downtown Manhattan music and performance scene, and is known for his development of ‘non-intentional procedures’ – work that relies on open form, chance and participation. Using what he called the ‘nucleic method’, Mac Low began writing a series of dance instruction poems, titled The Pronouns: A collection of forty dances for the dancers, first published in 1964. The poems exist as an ‘action pack’, a deck of playing cards, each displaying a typewritten word. Though a process of systematic chance, the cards are to be selected by the dancer and, in Mac Low’s words, “find some definite interpretation of the meaning of every line of the dance-poems they choose to realize”. The Pronouns has been performed by Simone Forti, Trisha Brown, Lanny Harrison, Meredith Monk among many others. Monk developed her version of The Pronouns in her performance Blackboard.

56 filing cards, on each of which are typed one to five

actions, denoted by gerunds or gerundial phrases, e.g.

“jumping,” “having a letter over one eye,” & “giving the

neck a knifing or coming to give a parallel meal, beautiful

& shocking.” . . .

This pack of actions was composed in May 1961 . . . ,

with the help of the Rand table of a million random digits,

from the 850-word Basic English Word List.

Jackson Mac Low, The Pronouns
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