by John Jacob
Separating word from gesture is a primitive but highly complex act. The books which man has accumulated for centuries have ordered the act, but it has become increasingly more clear as the years pass that such an order-both in the sense of active verb and state of the world-is not necessarily better than the opposite, or its counterpart. It is Western Man who has corrupted even the most pure of the primitive tribes recently "discovered" in the backlands of the world. There is no such separation among the Senoi of Malaysia, and the separation of word/ideogram from word/ action among Digger Indians of this continent is very recent. So we look back and get back at the same time. Our flux and nexus of action becomes just that: active, not passive. Those of us who perceive the world as a complex series of often unrelated instants, moments reflecting nothing more substantial than the passage of time are forced to deal with "problems" - memory, reflection, sleep, dream, and the significance of the printed word, if any. How does the constant speeding way the world is reflect itself in literature? Does it reflect itself? Or, more to the point, does literature have anything to do with the way the world is, or seems to be? When all the debate has raged, what are we to do with Charles Olson's "secret tree/which takes all forms"? It is the response to the questions of the moment which make up the surge, not a movement of acceleration but of speed nevertheless. Dean Phelps' theories concerning American Indian circularity of tradition and response to the world are more m keeping with this surge, a concentric force articulating itself and speeding from the perimeters toward the nucleus of literary and poetic response.
It has taken me years to articulate or even attempt to theorize my responses to McClure's work. I still cannot attempt an examination of Michael's work as all-encompassing as that of Eric Mottram or K.C. Power. But sometime during the summer of 1974 I decided that Michael McClure would be an excellent "subject" for a critical symposium for Margins. Beyond the fact that no magazine has done a definitive critical study of McClure (not to imply at all that this symposium is definitive), it seemed obvious that attention be paid to McClure's work. It has been in the mainstream of poetry and drama since the 1950's. It has developed in the late '60s into extensions of what have been called the novel and the essay, And in spite of Michael's success with The Beard, he has consistently remained receptive to and supportive of small press efforts to publish, edit, and shape new dimensions of literature. He has contributed to a lot of small literary magazines while publishing with City Lights and New Directions and Grove. Incredibly small editions of some of his work come out every year and are swallowed up in the maw of non-response from critical circles. New Directions was somewhat shocked when I informed them of my review of Michael's September Blackberries for the Chicago Sun-Times. Reviews seemed rare. Certainly response from small press review organs of most of Michael's smaller books from lesser-known publishers has been minimal. The time seemed ripe, as they say. Response was both gratifying and disappointing. Many work schedules didn't allow time to work on additional assignments, if you'd like' to call the symposium that. There are some excellent essays and reviews of McClure's work sitting on desks across this country and in other-countries just waiting-waiting for something. I was pleased to receive so much intelligent work so quickly in many cases; I was equally pleased to receive well-thought out, original responses from those who obviously took time out of heavy workloads in order to contribute to this symposium. Allen Van Newkirk is to be thanked for his fine essay. Robert Creeley is to be thanked. And while all contributors are to be thanked, I'd like to express my ap-preciation to those who dealt with unfamiliar modes of expression, and who turned in such magnificent, informed responses to McClure's work. I am thinking particularly of Francis Crick.
The range of response is almost impossible to identify or to classify. It is also probably most difficult to compose in any sort of logical order. Much as the contributions came in as a surge, so the pieces will have to play off of themselves, shift back and forth, and illuminate other pieces. Robert Peters thinks for a few moments of the ideogram, the visual experience, and from moment no. 1 it is clear that everyone concerns himself with visual impact in McClure's work. It is a given to an elucidation of his work. Robert Wilson and Al Aronowitz and Robert Creeley cast Michael in another light, a more personal light further complimented by Stan Brakhage. It is not clear what facets of experience constitute a bad movie; it is not clear just what, was happening in 1967 in Haight-Ashbury. What are the unities in Michael's work through the years? I don't know if that is an appropriate question to ask, given the dynamic of the work itself, which tends to resist classification; but if it can be done and done in integrated fashion I think K.C. Powers' work is the best I've seen yet. It is inclusive. It integrates the work into the harmony which McClure sees in his work, the overview which he hopes to present in a work such as Organism. His success rests in your hands. But his own sense of understanding is also important; his own view of the continuities of his work sheds a good deal of light in itself on the manner in which others are able to perceive the writing. In an essay called "The Poet's Poet" for Rolling Stone (March 14, 1974 issue), McClure quotes Shelley: ". . . poetry is cognate with the origin of man. Man is an instrument over which a series of external and internal impressions are driven, like the alterations of an ever-changing wind over an Aeolian lyre, which move it by their motion to ever-changing melody. But there is a principle within the human being, and perhaps within all sentient beings, which acts otherwise than in the lyre, and produces not melody alone, but harmony, by an internal adjustment of the sounds or motions thus excited to the impressions which excite them. . . ." That statement applies as much to McClure himself as to the man it is written in reference to, Bob Dylan. McClure's work is not always the product of sentient flow. Some of the essays in the volume Meat Science Essays make that plain. Shelley's principle acts and reacts for McClure: a harmony of MAMMAL with MEAT with other physical objects is not forced. McClure's rare impressions are internal, but he considers them not so much adjustments to sensory materials as a turning of consciousness toward the ways in which those materials react with one another.
One certain measure of McClure's work is the degree to which the man is himself, and t hat is measured internally also. McClure is one man unafraid to experience everything, to attempt to apply his writings to his life, and vice versa. His reading to the lions in the San Francisco Zoo, here documented by Gordon Craig, stands as one of the truly revealing private celebrations of art-in-life. It is both egotistical and magnanimous, but it is incredibly powerful in gesture alone, regardless of the outcome of the event. Few poets put their bodies on the line like that. Ed Sanders has done it, as have some of the "Beat" poets (a term I reject with application to McClure). McClure collects pressed flowers and mails them to friends. He is very soft-spoken in spite of the vision you may have of him. He is a friendly man and a. very generous one. At the same time, believe that impression you receive of him in the leather jacket on the big bike because it is equally true. McClure does not worry about the polarities of his personality or his experience; they concern him only as portions of a full life. It is all true, after all, and that fact makes McClure accessible to everyone who care's to read his work.
Poetry is a muscular principle. The life or the vision each one of us experiences carries within it the. germ of poetic expression. How we internalize that expression and then are able to carry it out of our bodies tells us what is effective, why, and how.
I'd like each of these views to speak for itself. Contributions to the symposium are very disparate, and that is good. There are unities, but I don't want to create flow charts for you. That's something which I think you can kick out if you feel like it. Since the fifties something's been happening, and you should find out about it here. Turn toward it if you want to understand the twitch in your hand, throb in vein of your temple, pain of your shoulder. It is more than meat. It is less. It is something like the hallucination we have never felt. It is plain as snow leopard.
An organism bearing name and form: Michael McClure.
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Light and Dust Mobile Anthology of Poetry.