The Undercommons Remembers Michael McClure

The Undercommons is a literary salon that was founded a few months ago, happened in person once a month a few times and has moved to Zoom for the time-being. We’ve studied Denise Levertov and The Objectivists, among others and had a chance on Memorial Day to honor the memory of Michael McClure. We were blessed to have Michael’s partner for 34 years, Amy, join us and read unpublished work from Michael’s Mule Kick Blues as well as a poem Diane di Prima wrote for Michael the night he died. Other friends and fans of Michael chimed in from as far as Victoria, BC and Morocco. Matt Trease and Saundra Fleming are two of the other folks involved in running the Undercommons and Matt handles the announcements. Ping us if you’d like more information on the monthly literary discussion, but meanwhile, enjoy:

My talk’s outline:

The Undercommons on Michael McClure
May 25, 2020 Memorial Day via Zoom

Michael McClure (October 20, 1932 – May 4, 2020) was an American poet, playwright, songwriter, and novelist. After moving to San Francisco as a young man, he found fame as one of the 5 poets (including Allen Ginsberg) who read at the famous San Francisco Six Gallery reading in 1955, which was 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.

He attended the Municipal University of Wichita (1951–1953), the University of Arizona (1953-1954) & San Francisco State College (B.A., 1955)[1][2] His first book of poetry, Passage, was published in 1956 by small press publisher Jonathan Williams.[3]… Stan Brakhage, friend of McClure, stated in the Chicago Review that:

“McClure always, and more and more as he grows older, gives his reader access to the verbal impulses of his whole body’s thought (as distinct from simply and only brain-think, as it is with most who write). He invents a form for the cellular messages of his, a form which will feel as if it were organic on the page; and he sticks with it across his life …” (Wikipedia)

How I met Michael…

Touching the Edge (back cover)

Read two Dharma Devotions.

Playwright: The Beard, Josephine the Mouse Singer. (JtMS is a treatise on Projective Verse.)

Ghost Tantras

Meat Science Essays (See also an essay on McClure’s use of Reason as pertains to Latihan Kejiwaan)

Dolphin Skull (see essay Inside Dolphin Skull )

Projective Verse: The Spiritual Legacy of the Beat Generation

(as a pdf)



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Rattle Magazine Interview

I’m delighted to have a poem and an interview in the latest Rattle Magazine. This interview is not one I conducted but one that was done with ME! And it was the best one anyone has ever done with me. Thank you Tim Green for taking the time to ask some good questions and for featuring me in Rattle.

I love that the edition has a feature on POstcard POetry and also delighted to see some friends and POPO people represented. Laura! Rhonda!

Here is a snippet of the conversation about my American Sentence practice/project:

TIM GREEN: I always think of poetry as a secular religion, a spiritual practice of meditating and reflecting on life. You have a book called American Sentences, and you’ve been writing an American Sentence every day—you still do that, I assume, after the book came out, right? So, it’s about like sixteen or seventeen years now…

NELSON: Twenty.

GREEN: Twenty, okay, so you’ve been writing an American sentence every day, without fail, for twenty years?

NELSON: Yeah, I fill up a lot of these little notebooks. I write the sentence, and I circle them and date them. I haven’t harvested last year’s, and I started at the beginning of 2001, on January 1, 2001, to get a head start on a SPLAB workshop on short forms that Ginsberg espoused for our Allen Ginsberg Memorial Poetry Marathon. Anne Waldman and Andrew Schelling were the facilitators of that, and then I didn’t get to take the workshop because I had to work at the NPR station that day. [laughs] But I didn’t stop, and got the book out, as you alluded to, American Sentences, and still write one every day. I pretty much do it for myself. They may be short journal entries or other things that other people wouldn’t get. If you know the background of a poem, you’re going to get more out of it. I have a seven-year-old daughter and she said yesterday, “When Bhakti and I are dead, our adjacent tombstones will say, ‘They loved tacos.’ [both laugh] Why a seven-year-old would think that’s an appropriate epitaph, I don’t know! But you know it’s something I’m going to write down. It’s not up there on the level of Basho or Issa, but it’s a little slice into my life. It’s like Ginsberg describing his photography—his photographs “captured the shadow of the moment.” I think the best short poems in this form do that for me.

GREEN: I love that phrase, “the shadow of the moment.” I haven’t heard it put that way, but that’s exactly it. Do you find that it enhances your experience of your own life? It seems like it would. If you’re always looking for something to appreciate or looking for something to notice that must fundamentally change your mental processes as you got throughout the day, right?

NELSON: It heightens your perception. You find that a lot of these lines end up in the longer poems. Lately I’ve been writing prose sonnets, and these images stick with you. And then they mark things in your consciousness, like remembering the person I was married to in the situation of a dirty refrigerator, how it took from Thanksgiving ’til January 9th, I think it was—the American Sentence goes something like, “Would her Thanksgiving stuffing have been this hard to flush had we eaten it” [both laugh]. It was frustration with a partner who was not interested in eating the leftovers or cleaning them up, so there’s a little bit of charge to it, and the charge I think lent itself well to poetry. That person, the mother of my youngest child, at first she’s like, “don’t be bringing THAT up,” and then I would read it in public and people would just break out laughing, so now she’s like, “Read the Thanksgiving one!” [both laugh]



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BIPF Virtual Poetry Fest/Zoomuse

One of the big joys of poetry is to go to festivals, maybe have a chance to read, but certainly have a chance to be in the company of other living poets and talking shop, craft and opportunities. But COVID-19 has had its way with poetry festivals like our Cascadia Poetry Festival, postponed from May 2020 to May 2021 and the Bridgewater International Poetry Festival, which happened in a virtual way this year. The good news is that I was able to participate from the comfort of my own home, Casa del Colibrí on the edge of Lake Washington, SPLAB World Headquarters.

Here is my virtual contribution:

And my spiritual community’s own Zoom poetry series, Zoomuse, featured me last Friday and it is one of the best readings I have ever given, despite the virtual nature of it. When someone is initiated into Subud they are “opened” and I have a penchant for Open Form and even an open batting stance in baseball/softball, so there are a lot of affinities with the open. Here is my May 22, 2020, Zoomuse reading:

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