Short Reviews by Jake Berry
of Books by Michael McClure

MICHAEL McCLURE: LIGHTING THE CORNERS: On Art, Nature, and the Visionary - University of New Mexico College of Arts and Sciences. 338 pp. $19.95.

"Our sensoriums are spirit mechanisms that light up the cave around them for the experience." McClure states in the opening interview, "Writing One's Body," of this essential and revealing voluume. He has been a traveller through our common space-time, our great mamal vvoice bard, reminding us, as we create ever more indulgent idols to our techno-arrogance, that we are animals, our mind, our soul is animal soul and to attempt to deny that is a kind of self-imposed schizophrenia. In these essays and interviews we begin to understand the poetics behind the poems, or rather the poetics articulated in prose what the poems allow us to live. And we see McClure as he moves among his peers, pieces on Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, Allen Ginsberg, Dennis Hopper, Bob Dylan, Gary Snyder, Julian Beck, etc., and come to realize the connections, the obvious influence his work and his life (the two are surely one) have had on the culture. The pieces cover four decades of radical intelligence, as fresh and important today as they have ever been. Through these essays and interviews we get illuminations of the poet building his soul in the world, and revelations within our own sensoriums as to what we are and how we might act from that knowledge. If McClure had never written a poem this book would be indespenssable, but because he voiced and scribed so much brilliant poetry this book means more than the textual form can relate. "To walk a hundred yards in total freedom is to live forever in eternity -- freedom for an instant is beyond measure and is immortality." This is truth in and as flesh, an invitation impossible to refuse.

First published in Taproot Review, # 6.

MICHAEL McCLURE - THE MAD CUB (Book-of-the-Month Club, New York, $10?, 228 pgs)

On May 13, 1871 Rimbaud wrote a letter to Georges Izambard that has become legend : "The first study of the man who wants to be a poet is the knowledge of himself, complete. He looks for his soul, inspects it, tests it, learns it. As soon as he knows it he must cultivate it!" And later in the same letter, "The Poet makes himself a seer by a long, gigantic and rational derangement of all the senses. All forms of love suffering and madness." (both quotes from Wallace Fowlie's translation) These bold declarations by a young man (a teenager in fact) who would revolutionize poetry before abandoning it have been the code by which so many poets have sought to live. And there are instances, Artaud comes to mind, in which poets actually seemed to live it. But I do not believe I have ever read a clearer accounting of the process as McClure's THE MAD CUB just rereleased from The Book-of-the-Month Club. Beginning in 1950 where his central character, Pete, (who, given McClure's introductory remarks must be based on, if not a direct record of, McClure's own life), still in school moves through a variety of experiences, trying to understand his deeper impulses confronting the world sensually, animal aware. There are flashes of his childhood, days of madness even then, at awe in the sheer power of being alive and knowing it intensely. And we notice, even at these early stages, the intensity of his perception and a willingness to what McClure calls agnosia, the knowing by not knowing, the cloud of unknowing, from which great darkness obscures and great revelations explode into consciousness. The first image of the book informs us, says in effect to sit down and hang on, this is a dark ride.

of the million possible directions forever."

This sets the context for mad love affairs, sexual obsession, mad games of power and illusion between friends and fellow travelers. There is much in this first section to relate to, the insecurity and indulgent energy that is the substance of all youth, desperately clawing for life, meaning, sensation in every moment. But there is something subtle lurking beneath, a lion seeking to appear, a poet waiting to be born. And it is this lion-poet that the second section, called "Captain Nowhere" and set in 1956, so profoundly portrays. By this time McClure had become famous as one of the poets of the 6 Gallery performance in San Francisco, so we are looking at a portrait of a poet in the throes of his work, at war with himself to release what would become one of the most vital bodies of work in this or any other century. Pete (McClure) has experimented with Peyote and other drugs which, combined with his innate spiritual intensity, produced great weighted stages of blanking or blunking out. He moves in multiple worlds simultaneously, (and this is reflected in the design of the book, not a straight narrative, but blocks of memory from all corners of personal spacetime discharged on the page) he sees visions of spirit beings towering over the city buildings, he watches his friends and lovers interact on all levels, psychological, spiritual, and physical, and accordingly suffers the tortures that such knowledge entails. He is "making himself a seer" sometimes despite himself, as if greater forces were driving him toward some unknowable conclusion. Yet, this is no quasi-spiritual voyage of awakening full of light and wonder, this is pain as much as, often more than, pleasure. McClure holds nothing back, he reveals his humanity whole. Obsessions, cruelty, genius, and despondency - in short, a human being, an animal caught in the great expanses of spirit. It is the confrontation we all must suffer if we are to live beyond the illusion projected on us by media hype and consumer delirium. This book is a revelation of what the real work of poetry is, the contortions of body and mind, the agonizing disruption of the life of the poet and those around him, all for some vague necessity that becomes apparent only at the moment of the poem itself, and even then there is doubt. THE MAD CUB is so much more than novel or even biography that it would do a great disservice to call it that. It is the birth and evolution of one of our greatest living poets/seers from the womb of agnosia, and as such is important not only for what it tells us about the poet, but what it tells us about ourselves.


Michael McClure - 3 POEMS - Dolphin Skull, Rare Angel, Dark Brown (Penguin Books, 375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014) $14.95

Though long associated (and appropriately so) with the San Francisco Renaissance and Beat literature, Michael McClure has always spoken with a voice unique to himself and as such defies the limitations that a conventional understanding of of either of those joined movements. And unlike almost any other poet in any time his work does not seemed fashioned by the strong influence of any antecedent. Instead, what he gives us is direct phenomena that reflects, is in wholeness with, the world through his concept of myriad mindedness and from that, through an alchemy that is more biological than abstraction, brings to us fresh living creatures writing, dancing on the page and growling, cooing in our ears as they merge with out own being. Or to quote the dedication page, "Once this was all Black Plasma and imagination." And from that proceeding to, in the author's preface, "Each is a living being with eyes and ears and fingers, and each is as different from one another as living creatures are unique."

It is in precisely such a context this new volume 3 POEMS is best received. Consisting of long spontaneous works - Dolphin Skull (1995), Rare Angel (1975), Dark Brown (1961) - we witness that through a period of over 30 years McClure has borne the muse and brought forth her creatures in full flower timelessness. And as Robert Hunter (poet, lyricist for the Grateful Dead) points out in his excellent introduction, McClure is not speculating, but reporting directly and not removing himself from the drama, "recognizing the viewer to be as much a part of the sky as the clouds." Hunter also paces these Projective Verses in the line of William Carlos Williams and Charles Olson, an accurate assessment (and one thinks also of Artaud's deep experience of his work), but this in in approach and not so much the poem-creatures themselves. In the end, the only way to grasp them is to grapple with the realities they embody. In what follows I will quote from the poems and follow each quote with a spontaneous response, somewhat in keeping with the spirit of the work and in an attempt to avoid the narrow conclusions that analysis often yields.

From "Dolphin Skull - Stanzas In Memory"

Now I smell my Grandma as she looks
at me through her thick glasses
Now I understand the sexual addiction
of my young manhood
glittering and lovely
an ostrich boa and smashed mirrors

seen on acid.

To perceive the past as an exotic body. Something fleshy to be turned and examined. It is the oracle of one's progress through the infinitude of sensorial possibility.

and red cars
cruise by while the world
is making itself with my senses.

Precisely accurate, and the holy luminosity of this poem.

Memory is naked bodies
in a battle. The war is sensuous
as a little boy's penis.
Fighter planes are guns.
I am the river god
in love with my dreams.
Not dreams but ongoing presences
spewed from the bang
through a nervous system.
At the edge of things but reaching
way back inside.

No one sees and relates as clearly the neural depths that tie us to all the universes. The body is not a prison for the spirit but "the body is the soul" , its space-time form. A theater like an eddy in the vast field of being through which the sparks of self-luminescence fly.
Big clear laughs are the best
and deep seeing eyes
looking back through the muscles
of mastadon hunters
the edge of the solar system
and a wall of surprising stars.
All of this through the background
of one-dimensionality,
psyche projections,
and vibrancies of the substrate
as it turns
itself inside-out like a protein.

What exquisite poetry this is. The poets body is the universe, through projection. But who is projecting? Identity is called into question, and not just the human psyche, but the nature of the universe as we have come to understand it through dead terminology. This is a kind of divine madness. As Robert Duncan said, " The shaman and the inspired poet, who take the universe to be alive, are brothers germane of the mystic and paranoic." These lines are perfect examples of why this is McClure's canticle of ecstacy.

And these concluding lines from "Dolphin Skull - Portrait of the Moment", a poem of direct presence and the moment aware:

Where there is no imagination
but the madman calling
through the corridors
of his lost teeth.
The young man's sly smile
of passion and courage
and hopeful fear.
and the final lines:
The chunky fingers slide
up the sleeve
as the room fills with feathers
and blood and purring
The central nervous system is shaped
like the Milky Way.
And the odor almost like

From these lines flows an entire metaphysics. Neither a universe of separate creator and creation, nor hierarchal emanation, but something beyond our grandest speculation, yet as near as the taste on our tongues, the odor in our noses. The prima materia has been revealved.

From "Rare Angel" for William Jahrmarkt:

we know we're love gods
in pain.

The beautiful agony of our species, and all of matter's paradox. Paradise lost and regained in passion.


Smiles returned by beautiful faces.
Sunbeam gleaming in a dusty room.
Skulls lined side by side upon a table:
man, dolphin, raccoon.
Flying lemures eating coconut flowers in moonlight.
?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ??
Flaming horses in the surf.

Phenomena bloom/explode organically, like ripples in reality fabric. To impose judgement is an abstract moralization that has nothing to do with the pure beauty of whatever may be happening, from any perspective. This is genuine clarity, stunning mystical science.

"The beast screams wheezingly
with fear and alarm. He raises one clawed
arm?half-turns?shit pours
from him into the pond.
One man rips him open
with the flint.
Blood pours like a little waterfall
from a fur mountain.

distorting stripes
of ochre and green
upon their faces.

The baby raven listens from his nest
on a nearby cliff.
Vultures think about it overhead.
Two things grow together in darkness.

What a haunting closing line! What "two things"? The mystery of hunger become murder become this dark magic. And here so obvious why these texts are holy writ. A scripture born in our age for all ages ? and all dimensions. McClure seems to understand reality as whirlpools of consciousness that coil into matter and loop through these transdimensional worlds, playing then merging again with the mystery, silent, dark, unfathomable, a pregnant, boiling void.

The theater we know
is the edges
of our organs,
and our
are actors.

? Falling through the walls.

As in Tibetan Book of the Dead where even the most fantastic images are our own projections. Our bodies are the spiritual reality of this world, our form and fundamental strata. But our bodies are more than we imagine them to be. From "Dark Brown", which Jack Kerouac called, "The most fantastic poem in America."
be real, show organs, show blood, OH let me
be as a flower. Let ugliness arise without care
grow side by side with beauty. Oh twist
be real to me. Fly smoke! Meat-real, as nerves
Ion, FLAME, Muscle, not banners but bulks as
we are all "deer"
and move as beasts, stalking in our forest
as these are

It is important to notice that "these are speech-words" not text words. The pure physicality, matter is itself spirit. The transformation, the alchemic great work, lies in our relinquishing of the divisions we project on the world from the fears of liberation we harbor. "We are all 'deer'". McClure is begging this realization, smashing the gates!
All a web from the black gene to the black

Strands of living connection, to the very core of being. He makes himself the consciousness of dark matter ? lightning in the cloud of unknowing.

Oh sorrow that I live forever. Or
joy that I die. Each motion / make it strong /
inflexible. Psalm. Psalm. Oh pain
of redemption.
Not redemption but liberty

Mortal longing at one with spirit's inifinty. Throughout "dark Brown" the pain of being is a physical strophe ? a chant ringing through the senses the clear ache of meat reality from which he extracts awe like a magical potion that ignites human being like a stay bleeding its soul into living space. Star debris, the dust of our very presence.
((Pride, liberty, love, have one meaning ? Invention.))
I, my body, I, I, I, I, I, buckle!
The instant test.

"Dark Brown" concludes 3 POEMS with two strong sexual poems. McClure asks, in the preface, "How can a young man search for his body and not come to speak of sexuality?" These are pieces in which we are brought to realize out animal nature, to see the beauty of bodies, any two bodies, mating/loving. The origination dance, the poem returning to the moment of creation, the poet his inception, there being no distinction between bodies, between self and other.


Part of McClure's enormous importance lies in his insistence that these relevatory beings, his poems, are as alive, as organically charged, as any other creature and in allowing them that life on the page, in the ear ? and finally as aspects of our own myriad souls. 3 POEMS is yet another volume of a vast body of work that includes poems, plays, novels, essays and songs that bear testimony that he is among the first rank of American individualist poets. He remains instinctively true to his vision, a sensory field in constant discovery, the work of liberation made manifest in the cells.



Copyright © 1998 by Jake Berry

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