Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Michael McClure

Once upon a time poetry was right in the middle of counter culture and coolness – and right in the centre of that was Michael McClure. He was one of the five poets who read at the famous 1955 Six Gallery event that launched the San Francisco Renaissance and introduced the world to the Beat Generation. He read poetry to the caged lions in San Francisco Zoo. He lent his voice to the San Francisco hippy movement. He was close friends with Jim Morrison and performed with Ray Manzarek. He wrote songs which Janis Joplin sung; – and those were only the ‘early’ days of his career. Since then, he has continued to work as a poet as well as publishing multiple plays, essay collections and novels, and even working as a documentary film maker.
His poetry is often concerned with the corporeal and our primate emotions and animal drives. The Poetry Foundation quotes a piece about McClure in Publishers Weekly with the words:
“McClure infuses ecstatic direct address and colloquial diction with an exquisite sensibility, one that reveals the world in its ordinary complex gorgeousness.”
In my own response I was particularly taken in by McClure’s piece in the anthology entitled Hymn to Saint Geryon. It immediately resonated with me as I have recently read Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red (which I can highly recommend – it is an astonishing book!), which is also concerned with the mythological creature Geryon. I found myself considering the strange connections between the different poets who wrote about this character over a time of hundreds of years. In a sense, the below poem is therefore not so much a response to McClure but a response to his reference to Geryon.


~ - ~


It was a difficult interval to be a poet
our fourteen legs and arms scrambled
our red wings tightly knit
subject to the plain
subject to rigorous editing
a little dog and magnificent cattle
a monster and his bloody death
It was Dante
It was Stesichoros (blind with the feeling)
It was Anne Carson
It was Michael McClure

It was a difficult interval to be a poet
they were hunting for red
they were dissecting bodies
putting black lungs and shivering hearts on display
behind plate glass in the hallway
the big air vent was always running
easily digestible chunks of cooked meat
There was Dante
There was Stesichoros (looking at an angle)
There was Anne Carson
There was Michael McClure

It was a difficult interval to be a poet
we kept our hands in the pockets of our
overcoats tightly pulled around our chest
with sleeves too short for grand gestures
with too few sleeves to cover every red limb
like hair raised stiff against the fabric
our wings neatened caringly as they pushed us through the door
So was Dante
So was Stesichoros (hearing not listening)
So was Anne Carson
So was Michael McClure

It was a difficult interval to be a poet
our porous body stood little chance against the photoshop
our scaled hot skin too shiny for the taste
too red with defiance
every word pins and needles for a tailored suit
grey flannel row subduing riots within
As if Dante
As if Stesichoros (singing brave counter)
As if Anne Carson
As if Michael McClure

It was a difficult interval to be a poet
all caps had turned into an insult
each sign restricted in numbers and clicks
a square was the most popular means or 350 pages
not fragments but digits debris virtuality
left without material page without
eyes but not without monsters
It was Dante
It was Stesichoros (raging red)
It was Anne Carson
It was Michael McClure

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