Michael McClure

And grim intensity–close within myself. No longer
a cloud
but flesh real as a rock. Herakles
of primordial substance and vitality…

from “Peyote Poem”

Born: October 20, 1932, Marysville, Kansas


Photo credit: Larry Keenan

Photo credit: Larry Keenan

Michael McClure was born in Marysville, Kansas and raised in Seattle. Like many other West Coast poets of that time, he was in the San Francisco scene, writing poetry (he moved to SF in 1954). He also worked with Snyder, Whalen, Lamantia, and Ginsberg at his first poetry reading, at the Six Gallery. McClure is well-known for his nature poetry, and for incorporating animal (and other biological) themes into his poetry. Like Gary Snyder, his writing suffuses the natural surroundings and philosophy (Buddhism). His book Touching the Edge, for instance, contains Buddhist devotions about nature, expressed in a poetic style that goes down the page (and plays with capitalization and centering and linebreaks).

In 1956, McClure published his first book, Passage, and later published an autobiography and more poetry. Some of his other books are:

Huge Dreams: San Francisco and Beat Poems
Touching the Edge: Dharma Devotions from the Hummingbird Sangha
3 Poems – Dolphin Skull, Rare Angel and Dark Brown
Fragments of Perseus
Lighting the Corners On Art, Nature and the Visionary

The Mad Club: www.kerouac.com describes this book: “This is a sexual coming-of-age tale illustrating how a ‘puzzled human cub’ turns into a “transcendent lion-being of the universe.”
Rebel Lions
Simple Eyes & Other Poems

He also wrote a play titled “The Beard,” which was considered controversial at the time. This play is currently on tour. You can check the news page for more information. Another play that he wrote, “Josephine the Mouse Singer,” won an Obie Award.

Currently, McClure is well-known for his work with Ray Manzarek (keyboardist from the Doors) on spoken-word/musical recordings. (See my review of their April 2000 performance at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go.) And he has a couple videos out with Ray Manzarak. One is called “Love Lion.” The newest, “The Third Mind,” is a collection of his work with Manzarak and is directed by William Tyler Smith and narrated by Peter Coyote. It includes interviews with Allen Ginsburg, Jim Carroll, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Diane di Prima, Ed Sanders, Anne Waldman, David Amram, and Lee Ranaldo (of the Sonic Youth).

Here’s a weird piece of trivia that I didn’t know until recently: Michael McClure wrote the lyrics to the song “Lord Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedez Benz,” popularized by Janis Joplin. Also, he shares the same birthday (years later, of course) as Rimbaud.

Michael has been described this way: “If Kerouac was the Beat Generation’s first priest, then McClure was the Beat Generation’s first biologist.” The Beats’ attempted synthesis of science and spirit was initially undertaken in Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues, written in 1955, just before McClure and Kerouac met. McClure was greatly influenced by Mexico City Blues. He calls it Kerouac’s masterpiece, “a religious poem startling in its majesty and comedy and gentleness and vision.” (Scratching the Beat Surface, page 71)”

Michael McClure’s characters in Kerouac books were Ike O’Shay in Dharma Bums, and Patrick McLear in Desolation Angels and Big Sur.

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