Biography of Michael McClure
Michael McClure (born October 20, 1932) is an American poet, playwright, songwriter, and novelist. After moving to San Francisco as a young man, he found fame as one of the five poets (including Allen Ginsberg) who read at the famous San Francisco Six Gallery reading in 1955 rendered in barely fictionalized terms in Jack Kerouac's The Dharma Bums. He soon became a key member of the Beat Generation and is immortalized as "Pat McLear" in Kerouac's Big Sur.
McClure's first book of poetry, Passage, was published in 1956 by small press publisher Jonathan Williams. His poetry is heavily infused with an awareness of nature, especially in the animal consciousness that often lies dormant in mankind. Not only an awareness of nature, but the poems are organized in an organic fashion, continuing with his appreciation of nature's purity.
McClure has since published eight books of plays and four collections of essays, including essays on Bob Dylan and the environment. His fourteen books of poetry include Jaguar Skies, Dark Brown, Huge Dreams, Rebel Lions, Rain Mirror and Plum Stones. McClure famously read selections of his Ghost Tantra poetry series to the caged lions in the San Francisco Zoo. His work as a novelist includes the autobiographical The Mad Cub and The Adept.
On January 14, 1967, McClure read at the epochal Human Be-In event in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and transcended his Beat label to become an important member of the 1960s Hippie counterculture. Barry Miles famously referred to McClure as "the Prince of the San Francisco Scene".
McClure would later court controversy as a playwright with his play The Beard. The play tells of a fictional encounter in the blue velvet of eternity between Billy the Kid and Jean Harlow and is a theatrical exploration of his "Meat Politics" theory, in which all human beings are "bags of meat."
Other plays include Josephine The Mouse Singer and VKTMS. He had an eleven-year run as playwright-in-residence with San Francisco's Magic Theatre where his operetta "Minnie Mouse and the Tap-Dancing Buddha" had an extended run. He has made two television documentaries – The Maze and September Blackberries – and is featured in several films including The Last Waltz (dir. Martin Scorsese) where he reads from The Canterbury Tales; Beyond the Law (dir. Norman Mailer); and, most prominently, The Hired Hand (dir. Peter Fonda).
McClure was a close friend of The Doors lead singer Jim Morrison and is generally acknowledged as having been responsible for promoting Morrison as a poet. McClure performed spoken word poetry concerts with Doors keyboard player Ray Manzarek up until Ray's death and several CDs of their work have been released. McClure is the author of the Afterword in Jerry Hopkins's and Danny Sugerman's seminal Doors biography, No One Here Gets Out Alive. McClure has also released CDs of his work with minimalist composer Terry Riley. McClure’s songs include "Mercedes Benz," popularized by Janis Joplin, and new songs which were performed by Riders on the Storm, a band that consisted of original Doors members Ray Manzarek and Robbie Krieger.
McClure's journalism has been featured in Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, The L.A. Times and The San Francisco Chronicle. He has received numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Obie Award for Best Play, an NEA grant, the Alfred Jarry Award and a Rockefeller grant for playwriting. McClure is still active as a poet, essayist and playwright and lives with his second wife, Amy, in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has one daughter from his first marriage to Joanna McClure.
Michael McClure Poems
Peyote Poem [excerpt]
Clear — the senses bright — sitting in the black chair — Rocker — the white walls reflecting the color of clouds moving over the sun. Intimacies! The rooms not important — but like divisions of all space of all hideousness and beauty. I hear the music of myself and write it down for no one to read. I pass fantasies as they sing to me with Circe-Voices. I visit among the peoples of myself and know all I need to know. I KNOW EVERYTHING! I PASS INTO THE ROOM there is a golden bed radiating all light the air is full of silver hangings and sheathes I smile to myself. I know all that there is to know. I see all there is to feel. I am friendly with the ache in my belly. The answer to love is my voice. There is no Time! No answers. The answer to feeling is my feeling. The answer to joy is joy without feeling. The room is a multicolored cherub of air and bright colors. The pain in my stomach is warm and tender. I am smiling. The pain is many pointed, without anguish. Light changes the room from yellows to violet! The dark brown space behind the door is precious intimate, silent and still. The birthplace of Brahms. I know all that I need to know. There is no hurry. I read the meanings of scratched walls and cracked ceilings. I am separate. I close my eyes in divinity and pain. I blink in solemnity and unsolemn joy. I smile at myself in my movements. Walking I step higher in carefulness. I fill space with myself. I see the secret and distinct patterns of smoke from my mouth I am without care part of all. Distinct. I am separate from gloom and beauty. I see all.
WE HAVE GONE GONE. GONE in the hole where soul swells into nothing leaving solid space where profiles of gods and fairies are carved and finely polished by the clanking of trucks, thunder-shaking waves, and the taste of mangos.
for Jack Kerouac IN LIGHT ROOM IN DARK HELL IN UMBER IN CHROME, I sit feeling the swell of the cloud made about by movement of arm leg and tongue. In reflections of gold light. Tints and flashes of gold and amber spearing and glinting. Blur glass…blue Glass, black telephone. Matchflame of violet and flesh seen in the clear bright light. It is not night and night too. In Hell, there are stars outside. And long sounds of cars. Brown shadows on walls in the light of the room. I sit or stand wanting the huge reality of touch and love. In the turned room. Remember the long-ago dream of stuffed animals (owl, fox) in a dark shop. Wanting only the purity of clean colors and new shapes and feelings. I WOULD CRY FOR THEM USELESSLY I have ten years left to worship my youth Billy the Kid, Rimbaud, Jean Harlow IN DARK HELL IN LIGHT ROOM IN UMBER AND CHROME I feel the swell of smoke the drain and flow of motion of exhaustion, the long sounds of cars the brown shadows on the wall. I sit or stand. Caught in the net of glints from corner table to dull plane from knob to floor, angles of flat light, daggers of beams. Staring at love's face. The telephone in cataleptic light. Marchflames of blue and red seen in the clear grain. I see myself—ourselves—in Hell without radiance. Reflections that we are. The long cars make sounds and brown shadows over the wall. I am real as you are real whom I speak to. I raise my head, see over the edge of my nose. Look up and see that nothing is changed. There is no flash to my eyes. No change to the room. Vita Nuova—No! The dead, dead world. The strain of desire is only a heroic gesture. An agony to be so in pain without release when love is a word or kiss.
The Mystery of the Hunt
It's the mystery of the hunt that intrigues me, That drives us like lemmings, but cautiously— The search for a bright square cloud—the scent of lemon verbena— Or to learn rules for the game the sea otters Play in the surf. It is these small things—and the secret behind them That fill the heart. The pattern, the spirit, the fiery demon That link them together And pull their freedom into our senses, The smell of a shrub, a cloud, the action of animals —The rising, the exuberance, when the mystery is unveiled. It is these small things That when brought into vision become an inferno.
Mexico Seen from the Moving Car
THERE ARE HILLS LIKE SHARKFINS and clods of mud. The mind drifts through in the shape of a museum, in the guise of a museum dreaming dead friends: Jim, Tom, Emmet, Bill. —Like billboards their huge faces droop and stretch on the walls, on the walls of the cliffs out there, where trees with white trunks makes plumes on rock ridges. My mind is fingers holding a pen. Trees with white trunks make plumes on rock ridges. Rivers of sand are memories. Memories make movies on the dust of the desert. Hawks with pale bellies perch on the cactus, their bodies are portholes to other dimensions. This might go on forever. I am a snake and a tiptoe feather at opposite ends of the scales as they balance themselves against each other. This might go on forever.
Dream: The Night of December 23rd
for Jane —ALL HUGE LIKE GIANT FLIGHTLESS KIWIS TWICE THE SIZE OF OSTRICHES, they turned and walked away from us and you were there Jane and you were twenty-two but this was the nineteen-forties, in Wichita, near the edge of town, in a field surrounded by a copse of cottonwoods. It was getting dark and the trees around the bridge almost glowed like a scene by Palmer. The two Giant Birds—Aepyorni—from Madagascar, extincted A.D. one thousand, turned and walked from us across the bridge. Even in the semi-darkness the softness of their brown feathers made curls pliant as a young mother's hair. There was a sweet submission in the power of their enormous legs (giant drumsticks). Their tiny heads (in proportion to their bodies) were bent utterly submerged in their business and sweeping side to side as a salmon does—or as a wolf does— but with a Pleistocene, self-involved gentleness beyond our ken. My heart rose in my chest (as the metaphysical poets say "with purple wings of joy.") to see them back in life again. We both looked, holding hands, and I felt your wide-eyed drinking-in of things. Then I turned and viewed across the darkening field and there was a huge flightless hunting fowl (the kind that ate mammals in the Pliocene). He stood on one leg in the setting sun by the sparkling stream that cut across the meadow to the bridge. He had a hammer head and curled beak, and after my initial surge of fear to see the field was dotted, populated, by his brethren, each standing in the setting sun, I saw their stately nobility and again the self-involvement. We followed the Aepyorni across the old wooden bridge made of huge timbers. The bridge was dark from the shadows of the poplars and the evergreens there. The stream was dimpled with flashing moonlight —and I think it had a little song. Then I found that on the bridge we were among a herd of black Wildebeests—Black Gnus. One was two feet away—turned toward me— looking me eye-into-eye. There was primal wildness in the upstanding coarse (not sleek as it really is in Africa) fur on the knobby, powerful-like-buffalo shoulders. (Remember this is a dream.) I passed by him both afraid and unafraid of wildness as I had passed through the herd of zebras at the top of Ngorongoro Crater in front of the lodge, where from the cliff we could see a herd of elephants like ants, and the soda lake looked pink because of flamingos there. There is an essence in fear overcome and I overcame fright in passing those zebras and this black Wildebeest. Then we passed over the heavy bridge and down a little trail on the far side of the meadow, walking back in the direction we had been. Soon we came to a cottage of white clapboards behind a big white clapboard house and knocked on the door; it was answered by a young man with long hair who was from the Incredible String Band. He took us inside and he played an instrument like a guitar and he danced as he played it. The lyre-guitar was covered with square plastic buttons in rows of given sizes and shapes. The instrument would make any sound, play any blues, make any creature sound, play any melody…I wanted it badly—it was a joy. My chest rose. I figured I'd have to, and would be glad to, give twenty or thirty thousand for it… Then the dream broke and I was standing somewhere with Joanna to the side of a crowd of people by a wall of masonry and I reached into my mouth and took from my jaw (all the other persons vanished and I was the center of everything) a piece which was eight teeth fused together. I stared at them wondering how they could all be one piece. They were white…It was some new fossil. Down on the bone there were indentations like rivulets like the flowing patterns of little rivers.
Dream: The Night of December 23rd
they turned and walked away from us and you were there Jane and you were twenty-two but this was the nineteen-forties, in Wichita, near the edge of town, in a field
The Mystery of the Hunt
It's the mystery of the hunt that intrigues me, That drives us like lemmings, but cautiously— The search for a bright square cloud—the scent of lemon verbena— Or to learn rules for the game the sea otters
WE HAVE GONE
in the hole where
leaving solid space
of gods and fairies
by the clanking of trucks,
and the taste of mangos.