What appeals to me most about [McClure’s] poems is the fury and the imagery of them. I love the vividness of his reactions and the very personal turns and swirls of the lines. The worlds in which I myself live, the private world of personal reactions, the biological world (animals and plants and even bacteria chase each other through the poems), the world of the atom and the molecule, the stars and galaxies, are all there: and in between, above and below, stands man, the howling mammal, contrived out of ‘meat’ by chance and necessity.

Francis Crick

Michael McClure

Michael McClure is one of the major figures of the Beat Generation. Besides reading at the famous San Francisco Six Gallery Reading where Ginsberg first read “Howl,” he was fictionalized in Jack Kerouac’s novel Big Sur. McClure is a captivating reader and performer (he recited from The Canterbury Tales in Martin Scorcese’s The Last Waltz) and his collaboration with The Doors’ keyboardist Ray Manzarek and contemporary composer Terry Riley are now legendary. A native of Kansas who grew up by the “blue-black waters” of Puget Sound, Michael McClure is a poet, playwright, novelist, essayist. He co-wrote the Janis Joplin hit “Mercedes Benz,” and overcame the censorship laws with his Obie winning play The Beard. Another drama based on a Kafka parable, Josephine: The Mouse Singer received the Obie for Best Play. McClure’s passions are biology and the arts. He has travelled in East Africa and Mexico as part of his field studies. McClure writes poetry in Projective Verse as a part of his action philosophy. His essays are primarily on the subjects of biology and studies of his artist friends including Robert Duncan, Jim Morrison, and Isamu Noguchi. He has produced two documentaries, and received awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Rockefeller grant for playwriting, and the Alfred Jarry award.

cover image of the book Mysteriosos


Mysteriosos and Other Poems, Michael McClure’s newest book of poetry, explores the last seven years. These new poems speak of working toward freedom and beauty during a time of interminable war and the destruction of our natural surroundings. In the Introduction, McClure clarifies his playfulness with time, how within the moment of his writing all moments and memories exist. His “willingness of unwearied senses to be what they perceive” as Anne Waldman says, opens our perceptions. Included in this new collection are: a long travel poem to an Indian forest where an enraged elephant charges then recognizes an old human friend and turns back into the trees; “Double Moire” which “reads like a fulfillment of Goethe’s prophesy and Shelley’s: the whole universe seems to be in it, down to the smallest and up to the most vast. It is absolutely what the ultimate nature poem might be” (Jerome Rothenberg). The poems against war are fierce and canny while the “Mysteriosos” and “Cameos” can be as gentle as lullabies inventing love. “Dear Being,” a garland of thirty-seven stanzas, uses the freedoms of Buddhist hwa yen.

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Rain Mirror

Rain Mirror,” writes Michael McClure, “stands as my most bare and forthright book. It contains two long poems, ’Haiku Edge’ and ’Crisis Blossom,’ which are quite disparate from one another.” Together, the poems complement each other as do light and dark. “Haiku Edge” is a poem of linked haiku, often humorous, sometimes harsh, and always elegant. “Crisis Blossom,” in contrast, is a long poem in three parts that records the author’s “state of psyche, capillaries, muscles, fears, boldnesses, and hungers down where they exist without management,” and the months of shock and recovery during a psychophysical meltdown.

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Simple Eyes

The running theme in Michael McClure’s Simple Eyes & Other Poems is: looking at the world directly. The results are often as disquieting as they are illuminating, whether he directs his unblinking gaze on the American cityscape, the landscapes of Mexico and Kenya, or the mind’s own terrain. In the long title poem, “Simple Eyes (Fields),” the stanzas on the Persian Gulf War bloom out of images of all wars the poet has known––“the spiritual wars, the napalm and cordite and nuclear wars, and the war against nature”––and become a kind of spiritual autobiography. At the heart of the poetry is McClure’s return to the ancient concept of agnosia, the idea of knowing through unknowing, as a way of living in desperate times, in which deep human or humane feelings have almost become outlaw. Simple Eyes is an outspoken poet’s statement, unsentimental, yet with mind and eye quickened by love.

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Rebel Lions

Rebel Lions, Michael McClure’s first book of poetry since the retrospective Selected Poems (1985), spans a decade of profound personal change and poetic evolution for the author. In an introductory note, he provides a backdrop for the collection, which moves from old life to new. McClure’s work bursts forth from the matrix of the physical and spiritual. “Poetry is one of the edges of consciousness,” he asserts. “And consciousness is a real thing like the hoof of a deer or the smell of a bush of blackberries at the roadside in the sun.” In the first section of Rebel Lions, “Old Flames,” the poems range from the realistic (“Awakening and Recalling a Summer Hike”) to the metaphorical (“The Silken Stitching”), as the poet addresses a life on the verge of transformation. The second section, “Rose Rain,” exults in a life transformed through love’s alchemy. Rebel Lions closes with “New Brain,” poems affirming the freedom of all humankind and matter in the eternal now.

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cover image of the book Selected Poems of Michael McClure

Selected Poems of Michael McClure

“Poetry,” Michael McClure has said, “is not a system but is real events spoken of, or happening, in sounds.” And for thirty years, whether in his early “Dionysian” lyrics or his evolving “bio-alchemical” wisdom, his work has shown a ferocious energy and driving physicality. A poet of and for our time, his own formal structures—the shape of his poems and his highly charged breath-line—nevertheless look back to the classics, to the Provençal troubadours, and to the Romantic verse of Blake, Keats, and Shelley. McClure’s Selected Poems is the first major retrospective collection of a poet and Obie-winning playwright associated with the San Francisco Renaissance from its start as well as the early Beat movement. The poems in the book, chosen by McClure himself, hold the undiminished force of three decades’ work distilled. Included in Selected Poems are poems and long passages from nine of the author’s earlier collections.

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Fragments Of Perseus

“NOW IT IS TIME FOR A NATION,/ a spiritual Nation/based/and formed on open freedom,/on flesh and biology…” The antipolitical activism, biologically based aesthetics, and exuberantly sensuous spirituality that have won Michael McClure acclaim since the birth of the San Francisco poetry renaissance in 1955 are affirmed with new range and eloquence in Fragments of Perseus. The title poem presents fragments of an imaginary journal by Perseus, son of Zeus and Danae, slayer of the snake-haired Medusa, and husband of Andromeda. With “The Death of Kim Chuen Louie,” we move from myth to reportage, ancient Greece to modern San Francisco’s Chinatown, where the poet has come upon a murder. Following are “Baja Bundle,” six poems composed under the spell of travel through Baja California, Mexico, as well as invocations, proclamations, love poems, and dream narratives. Radiating symmetrically from a central axis, McClure’s poems spiral across the page with the grace of organisms. As Aram Saroyan has noted, “he sees poetry itself as a ’muscular principle––an athletic song or whisper of fleshly thought,’ and in his poems he is able to make his vision compelling.”

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Josephine: The Mouse Singer

Michael McClure’s Josephine: The Mouse Singer, a play in verse, is based on a story of Franz Kafka’s, “Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse Folk.” Kafka and McClure? And yet the combination is bound to work, for in essence both writers in their different ways ponder the trials of the artist in an arbitrary universe. McClure’s exuberant, inspired adaptation, in fact, reminds us of the bizarre whimseys Kafka’s tales were originally intended to be. The first New York production of Josephine: The Mouse Singer, in November 1978 at the WPA Theatre, received The Village Voice’s prestigious Obie award for the Best Play of the Year. “As so often happens Off-Off-Broadway,” the Voice’s citation reads. “it is a play that was performed for only three weekends, but it is a play of extraordinary wit and grace and wisdom, at once utterly charming and almost unbearably painful, a play which tells us that the relationship between artists and their society is often intolerable, but which also tells us that for a society to endure without its artists is impossible.”

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Antechamber And Other Poems

Antechamber and Other Poems, Michael McClure’s latest book with New Directions, joins a growing list of contributions that includes the verse collection September Blackberries (1974) and Jaguar Skies (1975) as well as the musical play Gorf (1976). His writing in recent years is “alchemical” in its intent, yet his twin declarations, “Biology Is Politics” and “I Am A Mammal Patriot,” perhaps express more accurately both the universality of his outlook and its humane particularity. McClure’s mysticism is vigorously scientific. Even the familiar patterned shapes of his poems remind us of the stars in the night sky and those we see when we shut our eyes. In the dancing lines of his newest work––the title poem “Antechamber” most especially––are the whirl of galaxies, the radiance of molecules, the energy lines of the double helix coiling around its core.

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Readers of Michael McClure’s play Gorf may be reminded of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi, even if dancing TV sets and the “Middle American” protagonists Mert and Gert bring the surreal effect down to native ground. On another level Gorf is a ritual of regeneration, or, if you like, a kind of spiritualized Hellzapoppin. The “murdered” Mert and Gert are reborn in the search for their child, the Shitfer, who disintegrated when “hurled through Time and Space" is resurrected as his discrete “pieces” find and recognize their unity. And presiding over all is Gorf himself––the flying purple phallus, the cosmic joke and life principle, “Our fantasies,” McClure explains, “when they are enacted, open infinite doors. A play may help us be what we truly are by showing us the possibilities of action.” And John Lion, who conceived and produced the widely acclaimed 1974 Magic Theater production of Gorf in San Francisco, adds in his introduction that “man’s capacity for renewal and rebirth is tied to his ability to remain in touch with his child self,” With this in mind, Gorf is both a play and play itself––satire and myth, married to frivolity and fable. This edition includes photographs by Ron Scherl from the original stage production.

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Jaguar Skies

“Perhaps the crux of all writing is to find the word that describes what the eye has seen and the mind imagined,” says Josephson Nicholson in Rolling Stone. “Judged on that basis, Michael McClure’s . . . most recent books are as good as anything going. Their advantage is Sheer Scope.” In Jaguar Skies McClure reaffirms the biological intelligence, indeed the active principle, at the heart of his own work. As the book demonstrates so clearly, the exuberant resonances of his verse approach cosmic echoings, while the precise patterns mirror the intricate pulsations of molecules and stars. For McClure, “ecology” is not an ideal but the unalterable fact of all existence: it is how the universe breathes.

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September Blackberries

“Poetry and theatre are organisms and biological extensions of the artist,” says Michael McClure. “My unusual line and shape of poems is a feedback between poems as living beings and knowledge of traditional shapes. I believe in inspiration. I am especially fond of wild flowers, mastodons, and stars.” In September Blackberries, a collection of seventy-five of his recent poems, McClure demonstrates this “bio-alchemical” aesthetic with his usual prodigious verbal energy. Readers familiar with the work of the Beat Generation and the San Francisco Renaissance will recognize at once, in such long sequences as “The Skull,” “Xes,” and “We,” the poet’s characteristic typographic display, the breath-line that verges on the primal scream.

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What appeals to me most about [McClure’s] poems is the fury and the imagery of them. I love the vividness of his reactions and the very personal turns and swirls of the lines. The worlds in which I myself live, the private world of personal reactions, the biological world (animals and plants and even bacteria chase each other through the poems), the world of the atom and the molecule, the stars and galaxies, are all there: and in between, above and below, stands man, the howling mammal, contrived out of ‘meat’ by chance and necessity.

Francis Crick

McClure manages a series of discoveries, and his language strikes with almost flintlike suddenness and brilliance.

Chicago Tribune

McClure’s poetry seems to me among the very best, among the most beautiful and most joyous, being written these days. He has created his own form and his own idiom, and he has gone on to become an absolute master of it.

Aram Saroyan, Village Voice

Michael McClure shares a place with the great William Blake, with the visionary Shelley, with the passionate D.H. Lawrence.

Robert Creeley

McClure’s poetry is a blob of protoplasmic energy.

Allen Ginsberg
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