by Robert Peters
AIM: McClure's poetry has been better understood by the lions at the San Francisco Zoo at feeding time than by American poetry-lovers.
BLAST: No contemporary poet has
1. Written with more energy than Michael McClure.
2. celebrated a sheer physical existence as a means of spiritual enlightenment so persistently and tellingly.
3. better synthesized the conflicting female-male elements of our natures Jean Harlow and Billy the Kid being archetypal. McClure is a major love poet.
4. moved as deeply into madness: he destroys in order to recreate sanity.
5. employed sheer sound as Mantra: McClure writes a pure Mantric Poetry without any trappings OMwise from the far east or from Jeremiah and ranting Old Testament prophets.
6. been so unabashedly romantic in these cynical days: McClure is a son of Blake, Swedenborg,
Shelley, Whitman, cummings.
7. Etc., etc., etc.
THEREFORE: McClure's writing is like action painting: spontaneous. The reader is to reexperience the excitement McClure felt writing the poems. The energy screaming (streaming at other times) is as important as any traditional poetic statement. McClure fractures the preconditioned poetic response. Communication, obviously, is a tone, an excitement, a fear, a sexual connection, a discharge. The act of the Poem is Mantric. - chanting, caressing, shouting, shitting, or breathing. The poem is cleansing and spiritual. Non-verbal ideas spread like warm honey on the slab surfaces of the mind, zapping from my mind over to yours, from McClure's over to ours.
As mammalian communicator, McClure ennobles Man, since he (man) reachieves or recognizes linguistic Mantric Forces, The Lamb's baa responds lovingly to the graaah of the lion and meshes with it. Jean Harlow responds with lascivious purrs to Billy the Kid's growling and chest-beatings. Declaiming the delicious sound graaah freshens our spirit- nodes; we vibrate with recharged life.
McClure's beast (mammal) language is love- we are to form these animal sounds with abandon and pleasure, with love explosives, love-verbal-fun-ejaculations:
- (Ghost Tantras No. 30)
Like "The Pine Cone Is Perfect," the 99th of the Ghost Tantras must be read according to its individual sounds, without our worrying about whether we understand them or not. Poems are not necessarily always meant to be recollected in tranquillity, rendered into prose equivalents, read in a vicar's tone, or worshipped: they are to be lived as part of one's blood stream. As founts of energy well up within us we luxuriate in pure animal sounds. We are spontaneous and sensuous (sensual). We grow childlike, trusting, innocent, and Blakean. We resonate spirit, body, and mind. Life may be bleared and seared but it is uncontaminated.
McClure's poems are restorative, and as we read, the actor in all of us emerges. This actor is the agent extension of our meatspirit selves. A primal scream releases us into life. McClure would free this agent, thereby enhancing poetry as a sung-shouted-declaimed- primal experience. Here is a portion of Ghost Tantras No. 99, the final one of the long series:
The poem is strangely formalist despite a rampant structure and design.
In his essay "Reason" (in Meat Science Essays) McClure describes his spontaneous man as one who lies in sunlight on the forest floor with his eyes closed. He exercises, stretching as yogis do. He gives himself completely to the sheer pleasure of his muscle-life. "He groans, writhes, twists, denies himself nothing that the sinew and tendons and lung and heart request." His consciousness is a "blank field." He ceases to measure time as an animal play of muscles establishes a rhythm, creating a pattern in space.
(McClure's most avant-garde poems have neoclassic rhythm patterns, echoing Milton, Marvell, and Dryden). He repeats patterns, inducing a delicious animal heat: bright colors play inside his skull, and he growls, raising his arms to the sun. He makes animal-pleasure noises at the sun. "He is mammal! He has touched "a ball of silence" within himself and knows he is Man; but he is also tiger and lion. He knows what his primitive forbears felt. His deep reason is unrelated to the "intellect ... except as it furnishes the notes for a melody of reason. "Reason is "the liberty of human flesh moving in the universe."
To McClure, poetry "comes straight in through the senses and combines imagination with distortion." McClure's equation is: the greater the joy, and pleasure one experiences, the greater the life one feels. He hates moderation. The human stretching his muscles and snarling mammal sounds acknowledges that there have always been "secret hopes and desires." The notion of "levels of existence" McClure rejects as a "kind of modern psychological folklore." The mammal-man portrays his belief "that matter is spirit and the meat is the container." We are so conditioned to think of meat as something sold in supermarkets or fed to animals that we have almost lost the positive overtones these McClure seeks to restore. His aware, vibrant man requires no logic to comprehend his destiny; "stretching his leg and twisting the muscles of his arm in pleasure creates reason. The pearl gleaming on flesh in the light is an act of reason!"
This statement is central to McClure's work. Until we are spontaneous, and reject conventionalities, we shall miss a unique experience. Poetry is Action. Poetry is Explosion.
Of course, there are earlier models for McC]ure's élan: Shelley's romantic exclamations and his willingness to risk overstatement for a fervid personal truth. Whitman's unabashed energ: his "urge, urge, urge" is reflected in McClure's "The Surge" (Star). McClure's own note below suggests his fascination with the poetic act as engendering protein organisms. The poem, he implies, must fall short of an absolute beauty-it remains a step towards a "fully achieved" or perfect life:
This is the failure of an attempt to write a beautiful poem. I would like to have it looked at as the mindless coiling of a protein that has not fully achieved life -but one that is, or might be, a step towards livingbeing.
"The Surge" begins
In "Under The Black Trees" he dares to declare pain and joy without apology:
And "White Bread Gleams upon Heavy Table-s"humorously imitates Whitman's fondness for French words to convey an emotion an English word wouldn't quite convey: the puns on "ass' and "massage' are choice:
McClure's perpetual use of OH OH OH OH reflects a Romantic poet's fondness for self- declamation. This example appears in Dark Brown: "OH BRAIN OH LOVE OH GOD SHIT PAIN OH HEAT FIRE OF CONFUSIONS." Such explosions (with their attendant humor) are a "BUILDING," McClure writes, "TO A HUGE GLORIA ROMANTIC CRY, NEW BA- ROQUE SHAPE / halls of graciousness and beauty unseen before." McClure's cries move towards that "baroque shape." Their frequency, and their sequential juxtapositions with crude words deny a full return to a Romantic sentimentality. Yes. But how are we to respond to such unrestrained writing? Is he putting us on? should we proceed to a far corner of the cocktail-party room? Pass Go and go home? Gossip about McClure behind his back as a super-romantic slob and lousy poet? McClure insists that we FREAK OUT:
If these poems were merely one long personal wail we'd avoid them; but the love and humor attract us. We relish the mammalian joy. His blocked capitals McClure obviously borrows from pop culture: movies, comics, newspapers, television commercials, and posters. Life is perpetual verbal circus of headlines, mottos, and hyped messages: The poet as barker.
We laugh as we enjoy McClure's giantism as well as his mousiness. Lion and Mouse romp together in Eden; as do Devil and Angel. Jean Harlow and Billy the Kid. Eden is in the here and now in the sense that in the world's nooks and crannies contain Paradise; and that lost echelon of senses Blake insisted we shucked at the time of the Fall may return in full measure.
At the Fall, Adam put away his cock and persuaded Eve to cover her cunt with a fig leaf. From that moment man denied muscle-knowledge, musclegrandeur, and mammalianjoy. Superb orgasms simply happen: jert, jert, jert. You needn't pump, bump, jump, grind, and sweat. You don't even require another body. You don't feel the pool of honey on your belly until you return to the human (from the mammal) state. Stir the honey with your fingers. Smell it. Taste it. A gift from God. Poems are sperm and maiden juice meant to besavored! Your vesicles runneth over! REJOICE!
No poet writing today is a better love poet than McClure. Foils and poignards? "Valentine's Day Sonnet" is representative of his feelings about women. As a hymn to Woman it is ostensibly conventional, suggests Blake in its language (and not merely because McClure says lambliness), and in its playfulness reminds us of that master love poet e. e. cummings. The poem is tender, intense, and Venusian. Here is how it starts:
This erotic moment is from "Fuck Ode" (that concludes Dark Brown):
I see McClure as the Jim Dine of poetry. "Oh Fucking Lover Roar with joy - I, Lion Man!" incorporates a pop mode with a traditional one. In one passage there is an echo of the popular song "I'd walk a million miles for one of your smiles," The image of the "two meat clouds" is humorous and surreal. The third line is a parody of one of Shelley's in "West Wind." Amusing also is McClure's seeing Oversoul as Undersoul:
Thy face is a strained sheer Heart twisted to fine beauty by thy coming.
It is a million miles from toes to thighs!
(Our bodies beat like the ultimate movie
slowed to blurs of two meat clouds becoming
one - and the Undersoul is joined
by kissing mouths. )
McClure's motifs affect me as Claes Oldenberg's works do: the artist's zest for life triumphs over all absurdities. Both men rejoice in transmuting the threatening, the desiccated, the horrible, the funky, and the ugly into joy.
"Grahar Mantra," a celebration poem, reveals McClure's Concrete-Word Power. Letters of the alphabet are Mantras. Grahhr is a joyous release concretized by the adjectives surrounding or attached to it. Grahhr evokes celestial matters. It is vapor, and it is sexual: a "White Mount." Blood Wisdom particularizes the abstraction, mammalizing it, detaching it from bread-and-butter meanings:
While McClure avoids self-pity, he does experience despair, doubt, and anguish. Dark Brown displays torment, which McClure's Vesalian man triumphs over:
Sickness and guilt must be cast off.
Guilt is a luxury.
Being sickened is meaningless.
( "Poisoned Wheat ")
Each man is a mess and a fuck-up
with hideous ideals
serving his perverted individual
with a twisted smile!
BUT HOW BEAUTIFUL! HOW BEAUTIFUL!
-And what grace!
"Mad Sonnet 3" (there are 13 in the series) reveals a delicate, gentle, and fantasizing McClure. His language moves freely among levels (tits to dew-drop). Skilled rhymes (Both as superb camp and as complex rhymes; sometimes he is archaic; at other times he is experimentally fresh: hollyhock, thought, stalk, not). Tiny mammals hear "the sugar run in the stalk of the lily." Finally, meat is beauty, the very inner source of our spirit-beings:
I am obsessed with the thought
THAT I AM SANE
and men are not
IF BEAUTY IS NOT MEAT THEN WHAT IS ALIVE
is not imagination!
AND IF MEAT IS NOT BEAUTY
then save condemnation
and drop your bombs
spray the rays!
PEEK OUT! PEEK OUT!
Many clues to McClure's aims as poet lie buried in his prose pieces, most of them gathered in Meat Science Essays. These remain one of the crucial documents of the early 'sixties. Here is his conclusion to "Revolt":
Yes, praise to all things that bring the UNIVERSE near! Praise Michael McClure. Praise Us. GAAHHHHHHHHHHR!
- There is no Cynicism that may stand in judgment.
Revolt pushes to life - it is the degree farthest from
death. Stones do not revolt. There are no answers.
Acts and violence with cause are sweet destruction.
And the sadness that there must be any death.
There is no plan to follow. All is liberty. There are
physical voices and the Voice of Meatspirit speaking.
There are physical voices of the dead and the inert
speaking. The dead is the non-vital past that lives within us
and about us. There is liberty of choice, and there is,
or is not, a greater liberty beyond this. But there is
constantly revolt and regimen of freshness.
Copyright © 1994 by Robert Peters.
Go to The Michael McClure Home Page
Go to Light and Dust Poets
Light and Dust Mobile Anthology of Poetry.