McClure’s Mephistos

In his latest book, Mephistos, Michael McClure shows how poetry is energy and how he, at age 84, continues to have the vital energy necessary for creating remarkably vibrant, touching and perceptive poems spontaneously in the hardest way to write, Projective Verse. Am reminded of how another New American Poet deeply familiar with this stance-toward-poem-making, in fact who helped shape it – Robert Creeley – near the end of his life did not have the energy to write projectively and reverted back to formalism. McClure approaching is 85 years of age and shows us poetry as cosmology in action; as “soul-science” as he writes in the poem Mount Tamalpais for Etel Adnan:

Torments dream us as we answer with bliss
made of flames and fires and blind tsunamis,
making soul-science and meat spirit
as they fill the coldness and emptiness with glamour.

This is poetry for seekers, those interested in developing their inner lives. This is the essence of “soul-science” and there is no 20th/21st century poet more adept at this than McClure. “If poetry and science cannot change one’s like they’re meaningless” he states in the preface to his book “Three Poems” and his spontaneous technique allows him access to realms that can be seen as outside himself, or as the highest aspects of his self, the noble self, noble human life force.

And once you are exposed to a phrase like “soul-science” or “rose-breaths” and either dwell on each or any of these or similar notions that McClure uses, they can become a window into a deeper consciousness, a more satisfying way of engaging reality in all its “glamours” to use a word he copped from his early teacher Robert Duncan. In the case of rose breaths, you get a sense that these are the kind of conscious breaths one takes in meditation. McClure has made a habit of writing after meditation beginning with his book “Touching the Edge: Dharma Devotions from the Hummingbird Sangha.” For years in my own yoga practice I’ve had this understanding that the breaths I take during the last pose, savasana, are likely going to be my best breaths of the day, so might as well make the most of them. Then McClure comes up with this notion of “rose breaths” and the concepts are connected in my mind, deepening the meaning of McClure’s work for me, as if that were possible, given the number of essays I’ve written about it and the hundreds of times I’ve recited from memory his poems, or parts of his poems, to friends, lovers and even near strangers like our Santa Fe Airbnb host who was delighted recently at my recitation of McClure’s Action Philosophy.

And speaking of “Three Poems” the poem Dolphin Skull was the first of three long poems in that 1995 book, and the field of that poem has been fertile for him, as he again uses a “grafting” technique, starting with a couple of lines from a stanza of Dolphin Skull but moving into a new direction with the new poem. Example:

And compare to:

And in the earlier poem, he continued:

The stanza does not end there, but does end with him twisting between humor and classic McClure sensuality. By that I mean not sex (necessarily) but deep appreciation of the input he garners from what he would call his “sensorium.”

Mephisto is derived from Mephistopheles, which McClure describes as: “the soul-thief, [who] returns aged and exhausted Faust to his inspiration, energy and sexuality. Mephistopheles is an active and witty companion for an inspired journey. He scatters treachery and tricks, and is finally foiled.

Mephisto (the same name) is an angel who helps God in constructing the universe and in the creation of orcas and giant sea mammals.”

And in no place in the book is that spiritual seeker quality McClure has called his “hunger for liberation” more evident (in my view) than in the poem:

It is writing like this, the most fully realized spontaneous poetics of anyone associated with the Beat Generation (or anyone else for that matter) that has inspired me to suggest that McClure’s use of Projective Verse will be the spiritual legacy of the Beat Generation. But then McClure has – at his best – been adventurous and prophetic, as a blurb on the back of the new book illustrates. It suggests his reading of “For the Death of 100 Whales” at the mythic Six Gallery reading in 1955 was: “the inaugural moment of American eco-poetics.” To have a master poet peaking in his 80s is an event most countries would savor as a rich cultural occasion, but we live in on a continent plagued by an anti-culture, an corporate/capitalist “culture” where there is no time for waking up. It’s bad for business! Beware, once you start reading the poetry of Michael McClure, you’ll stay woke, but then why else are we here?

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Resist @ Cascadia

A theme developing at Cascadia Poetry Festivals, such as the one planned for Cumberland, BC, in September 2017, is one of the intersection of poetry and resistance. An event happening at Cascadia College April 27th continues this focus. And what better Cascadian to discuss this than Make It True poet Stephen Collis, who – in resisting the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline – had his own writing used against him in a court of law. Dig this:

Collis would be a good example of poetic resistance for ANY region ANYWHERE. My March 2017 interview with him gets into the details of how he turned this event into poetry, as any poet worth their salt would do. He is joined on a panel specifically about the Poetics of Resistance by Sarah Dowling (of nearby UW Bothell) and your humble narrator. Here is the poster for the April 27 event:

Notice the event as part of this series featuring Shin Yu Pai, another Make It True poet. The panel and much of this series is being organized by yet another Make It True poet, Jared Leising.

And what use is poetry in resisting the rampant gangsterism of our time? Good question. It may be true that only poets, and a few other freaks, actually read poetry these days. If few read it, how can it be a force of change; how can it be a serious aspect of resistance? Well, Kinder Morgan sure seemed a little freaked out by Collis and it may be true what Mallarme said: “Poetry is the language of a state of crisis.” While I honor Collis, admire his courage and commitment to a future free of fossil fuels, part of me also resonates with a quote attributed to Buckminster Fuller:

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

Therefore we must ask what is obsolete in our time and the dominoes begin to fall: capitalism, empire, allopathic/for-profit medicine, gender binaries, even the very nation states in which we live, empire or not. And once we, in accordance with whatever higher guidance we act upon in our own lives, we must make choices with huge ramifications for our own lives and the lives of all sentient beings. We are cursed with living in interesting times and the panel at Cascadia College will be bright and memorable.

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Reactions to a Fractured Nation

peN & Jim O’Halloran 12.5.15 (Photo by Faiza Sultan)

I am delighted to be performing with Jim O’Halloran, master flute player, composer and band leader, as part of the Columbia City Gallery’s upcoming exhibit Reactions to a Fractured Nation. It is clear the United States have not been united for a while. Here in Seattle the local Transit Riders Union is spearheading an effort to Trump-Proof Seattle. Among other things, they are:

Proposing a “local tax of 1.5% on income in excess of $250,000 per year. If upheld by the State Supreme Court, this could raise over $125 million/year in Seattle, set an example for other cities, and forge a path to tax justice in Washington State!..” Funds would go to public housing, transportation and environmental projects.

Meanwhile here in Columbia City, artists led by Saundra Fleming, are responding to the SCROTUS in their own way, with visual art. Jim O’Halloran and I will perform a poetry-music collaboration that will include some direct responses to 45, SCROTUS, El Caudillo Analfabetico (in the spirit of the recent Resist Much/Obey Little anthology) for the occasion and hope you will attend. Details:

Reactions to a Fractured Nation
Columbia City Gallery
4864 Rainier Ave S.
Seattle WA 98118

5pm, Saturday, April 22.

The work of a 20 year bioregional cultural investigation of Cascadia operates under the assumption that the “United States” is an experiment that had a good run, but whose “Pax Americana” has led to the creation of an empire whose maintenance is in direct conflict with the needs of human beings living within (& outside) the “United States.” It is a salient part of the background of civil disobedience with which these poems are created. Viva Cascadia!

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