Notes for
"Let Us Throw Out the Word Man":
Michael McClure's Mammalian Poetics
by Rod Phillips

1. Although the Beats have often been wrongly labeled as anti-intellectual and, at times, anti-scientific, McClure is not alone, among Beat poets, in his use of scientific sources; his friend Gary Snyder has also made extensive use of the scientific disciplines of biology, ecology, and anthropology. See James I. McClintock's excellent discussion of Snyder's scientific sources in "Gary Snyder: Posthumanist," collected in Nature's Kindred Spirits: Aldo Leopold, Joseph Wood Krutch, Edward Abbey, Annie Dillard, and Gary Snyder. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1994) 109 - 28. Also, see John Elder's discussion of Snyder's use of science in Imagining the Earth: Poetry and the Vision of Nature (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985) 185-206.

2. See Harald Mesch's interview with McClure "Writing One's Body" Poetry Flash 209 (August 1990): 5.

3. Among his many and diverse publication credits, McClure proudly lists"Mercedes Benz," a humorous critique of America's quest for material goods, which he co-wrote with Joplin, and which Joplin later recorded and made popular.

4. Ferlinghetti's remarks are contained in his introduction to McClure's first book of essays: Meat Science Essays (1963): 3.

5. McClure's poem may have been intended as a response, or a compliment, to Theodore Roethke's poem of the same name (included in his 1941 collection Open House). Both poems utilize images of bone as a means of depicting human limitations and mortality. See: The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke. New York: Anchor Press, 6.

6. The contrast with Emerson's notion of the transcendental "Over-Soul," which he refers to as"the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related: the eternal ONE," is implicit in this passage, yet McClure makes no direct mention of it until his 1985 collection of journal musings, Specks. See McClure's Lighting the Corners: 108, and "The Over-Soul," in Ralph Waldo Emerson: Essays and Lectures. New York: Library of America, 1983. 38- 400.

7. As evidence of this "reaching out from science to poetry," McClure notes that Nobel laureate Francis Crick, one of the scientists who first shed light on the double helix structure of the DNA molecule, quoted from McClure's early "Peyote Poem" in his 1958 study, Of Molecules and Men:

            we smile with it

(Hymns 42)

See Crick's tribute to McClure in "The Poetry of Michael McClure: A Scientist's View." Margins 18 (1975): 23-24, and reprinted in this on-line gathering.

8. "Amphioxus": a primitive chordate organism, also known as the lancet. "Rotifer": a minute, multicellular aquatic organism of the phylum Rotifera, possessing a wheellike ring of cilia - also known as"wheel animalcule." "Arrow-worms": small, slender marine worms of the phylum Chaetognatha, having prehensile bristles on each side of the mouth.

9. Poet Ed Dorn, commenting on the difficulty of making meaning from McClure's poetry, has noted that readers must approach the work using biology as a key:". . . contact, if it is ever made," Dorn writes,"is made with all the biological circuits plugged in" (Views 88).

10. Ornette Coleman: (b. 1930) alto saxophone player and key member of the "Free Jazz" school of the early 1960's.

12. See Allen Ginsberg's poem "Wales Visitation," a meditation on nature inspired by one of the poet's many experiences with LSD, contained in Planet News: 1961 - 1967. See also Clayton Eshleman's"Imagination's Body and Comradely Display," in Gary Snyder: Dimensions of a Life, for an account of an LSD vision which provided the poet "an interchange between inner and outer worlds" (241). The most complete discussion of the use of hallucinogens among Beat writers can be found in Jay Stevens's Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream: 100 - 120. LSD advocate Timothy Leary also recalls his early hallucinogenic drug experiments with Ginsberg, Kerouac, Neal Cassidy, and Peter Orlovsky in his 1983 autobiography, Flashbacks: A Personal and Cultural History of an Era 45 - 70.

13. Always the consummate naturalist, McClure's second sentence is "Peyote is, of course, the cactus Lophophora williamsii -- a small, spineless, flat-topped plant found mainly in the vicinity of Laredo and Northern Sonora" (Surface 5).

14. In the years to come, McClure would continue to make extensive use of "beast language" in his work, including his first play entitled "!The Feast!" (1960) written and performed entirely in this invented idiom. A 1960 stage production of the play at San Francisco's Batman Gallery featured a cast which included, among others, Robert LaVigne, Ron Loewinsohn, David Meltzer, Philip Whalen, Joanna McClure and Kirby Doyle (King 389). McClure's 1964 collection, Ghost Tantras, includes ninety-nine poems written in beast language.

15. A species, according to McClure, of "small flat black worms with triangular heads that live in icy streams." Since they possess simple nervous systems, as well as eyes, and utilize a simple process of digestion, McClure calls them "our farthest close-cousins" (Meat Science Essays 57).

16. Gary Snyder has also acknowledged the influence which H.T. Odum and Margalef had on his developing work.

17. Probably a comment on Allen Ginsberg's dictum "Mind is shapely, art is shapely."

18. Others within the Beat circle also seemed in tune with McClure's view of poetry as energy transfer. Gary Snyder calls a sequence of short poems in Left Out in the Rain "Tiny Energies," a phrase taken from H.T. Odum's Environment, Power and Society. McClure's good friend Richard Brautigan took a less scientific and more whimsical approach to the question of poetry as an organic process of energy transfer with his Please Plant This Book, a collection of poetry broadsides printed on packets of vegetable seeds.

19. McClure notes that the "cool rainforest" he refers to here is Oregon's Olympic Peninsula. Rebel Lions 115.

20. Che Guevara: 1928 - 67. Cuban revolutionary who was killed in South America while taking part in a popular revolt there.

21. Snyder's remarks come in an interview with Peter Chowka in The Real Work: Interviews & Talks 1964 - 79: 124. Snyder mentions McClure as one of a handful of American poets whom he reads with interest.

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