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Michael McClure turns 80 today, October 20, 2012. A leading USAmerican poet, playwright, essayist and novelist, he was born in Kansas, but spent some of his formative years in Seattle and is considered a Black Mountain poet, a Beat poet and a poet of the San Francisco Renaissance. 

Three Poems Michael McClure

It was not long after I moved to Auburn, Washington, that a new book of his appeared in the mailbox. It was Three Poems. I had no idea at the time that the book would radically affect my life, but I did know that he was someone I wanted to interview. The book was sent to me because I was an interviewer and was on the media lists of publishers. I had interviewed Allen Ginsberg the previous year, 1994, and it might have been the Ray Manzarek connection or the Ginsberg/Beat poet connection that made me say yes to the interview opportunity, but it was set for October 1995.

After agreeing to the interview I went to work on reading it and taking notes. I had just started getting interested in the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead and seeing mentions of Whitehead in Three Poems was a bit of synchronicity. I saw references to Loki, sexuality, memory, regret, drugs, anti-war sentiment, remarkable images from nature, especially the African references, but a very lucid imagery. There was a lot for me to relate to.

1. He discussed his first awareness of spirituality, or a sense of it, as a young boy in Seattle.
2. He talked about this particular time in history.
3. When he first realized he was a poet.
4. Meat Science.
5. The historic 6 Gallery reading.
6. On what Projective Verse is.
7. Not writing, Typewriting.
8. On the poem Dolphin Skull.
9. On his preferences in contemporary poetry.
10. Reads from Dolphin Skull. If you only listen to one soundbite, it should be this one.

We met at the KZOK studios which were on Queen Anne Hill. I did not know much about poetry, but having held my ground with Ginsberg the previous year, I was willing to continue to to take chances with poets. Afterward, we went to have Vietnamese food at a restaurant at 12th & Jackson and he said it was “on Penguin.” He specifically wanted spring rolls, but not the fried kind. After lunch he told me that if I like what he does it was because I like Projective Verse, his method, and he suggested I get the essay by Charles Olson and read it out loud. (I actually recorded it onto a cassette during my overnight shift at the KPLU studios during jazz records and, when off air, listened to it over and over.)

I helped bring Michael to Auburn in 1996 and again in 2003 and to the new SPLAB in Columbia City in 2010. I was his escort during the Seattle Poetry Festival in (I think) 2000 and we toured one of his boyhood homes in Greenwood. I also set up a reading for him at Doe Bay in October 2010 and heard him tell of a deer eating popcorn out of a bag he was holding while sitting in a car on Orcas Island.

Oct 2010 Mt. Constitution, Orcas Island (photo by Meredith Nelson)

I have written about his work on several occasions. Inside Dolphin Skull is one essay. I have certainly gotten inside of this poem, have memorized large swaths of it, used it to seduce women and feel as if it has become a part of me. I wrote a response to his series of poems called Mysteriosos for the Golden Handcuffs Review. The similarities of McClure’s approach to that of alchemy. The introduction to the second edition of Specks, published by Vancouver’s Talon Books. Another piece is to be published by the Pacific Rim Review of Books in honor of McClure’s 80th.

I have also had the pleasure of helping him edit an upcoming book, driving down to the Bay Area in May 2011 and hanging out for three days in his beautiful home in the Oakland hills.

A sound poetry troupe that I helped start this year performs one of his Ghost Tantras, a sound poem made from his “beast language.” (Hear McClure doing it here.) Other McClure sound is on the wonderful Penn Sound site. Steven Fama a couple of years ago wrote a brilliant and extensive blog post on why he loves McClure. John Olson wrote a fine piece on Mysteriosos as well. I could go on, but let me just say that no single writer has influenced me more than Michael McClure. Knowing him and his work has forever changed who I am as a human, helped me dedicate my life to poetry and consciousness and I will be forever grateful for his work and for the friendship I have with him and his wife Amy. I think his latest poems are some of the best he has ever written and that achievement is a testament to his remarkable and vibrant consciousness. Pretend this is not blackness. This is not blackness. This is a bell ring.

Happy birthday Michael.


Michael McClure read at Simon Fraser University on February 11, 2011, and read from Of Indigo & Saffron: New and Selected Poems. He was introduced by George Stanley. The whole reading is here:

1. George Stanley Introduction.
2. Michael explains Beat classification.
3. Of Indigo and Saffron, Dedication, preface.
4. The Mystery of the Hunt.
5. From Dark Brown.
6. Intro and Hummingbird Ode.
7. Intro and Ghost Tantra 39 (Marilyn Monroe).
8. Ode to Jackson Pollack (says 1961 not 1951).
9. Captives.
10. From Hail Thee Who Play!
11. From Hail Thee Who Play read again with Olson reference.
12. Intro to Swirls (with Blake and Dogen mottos).
13. Swirls 3 (I polished the stars off my boots).
14. Swirls 5.
15. Swirls 13 with Brakhage reference, intro.
16. Swirls 32.
17. Haiku.
18. Swirls 37.
19. Swirls 38 (with false start).
20. Swirls 48.
21. Swirls 63.
22. Swirls 60.
23. Final Haiku.