To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Reconfiguring Romanticism (12): Four Poems by Michael McClure, with Commentary

The Charge of Light

author of visionary poetry
Hymns to the Night
and The Blue Flower
(BUT)and now such is outmoded by remembrances of television
but remain in the core of my consciousness
and it’s place as the center of stalagmites of dreams.
Creep Reason, and make me (more) free by letting deep looks
-- with concern for the dharma and compassion
for the meat of myself and all meated creatures.
In this blackness are old hurdles of pain from a child
just breaking from the womb.
-- This darkness is the charge of light
setting off brigades and peace marches of sound sleep
and wholesome breathing. Speak deep from the lungs as far inward
as there is an existence in the outward.

From "Swirls in Asphalt"

of the full moon
through (the) cold
eucalyptus branches
really does purr somewhere
besides in our heads
real as the icy wind over
the garbage bin
and the smell of baked apples
and hot cinnamon.
We love the cold air that enters us
and warm beaches
all wrapped in this moment.
Monteverdi’s voices sing:
“Hawk’s breath on the table
and plums nestled in velvet.”
It is carved on a jewel
with gyrfalcons diving
from their nest on a rocky (splintering) cliff
to kill a lurking raven
with one blow of the beak
to its (her)black cranium.
And I pick up the dead body
from the frozen moraine
and listen uncomprehendingly
to my friend’s voice
shouting in the wind.
And we are always together
which is the now
that we have
in whatever realms
we slip into from sleepiness
to dreams
(that) we remember
of those who come to speak (to us)
or mumble
right before waking.

of the pine
into an ancient sonata
of blue sky.
The city ceaselessly roars
in the mid-distance
and we might be lions
looking for the meaning
of things in themselves.
Secretly knowing this moment
is tentative
we put our feet
down on it
and it is as solid
as everything
We are dressed
in casual elegance
and our minds
together are elegant.
The instant rushes
so rapidly in the citron silver car
that there is almost
as it gives way to mutual
care and support,
to go on living for.
is for itself
and only my chest
longing for you can suppress it.
You are beyond all,
in your laughter
and quietness,
and the way you imitate
the expressions of animals.

abolishes change
as does the smile on your face
in your broad straw hat
in the middle of a
This moment the cat sleeps
on the yard lounge
under a blue towel
the color of corn flowers
and there is no hail falling.
This is a perfect description
of everyone knowing
it is truth and courage
and our mammal warmblood
nature that do nothing.
Nothing will save us
and the appreciation of it
is a necessary disguise
for feeling love or compassion.
Mindfulness is a truck tire
in the middle of the roadway
Dreams curl up to sleep
in the afternoon
and darkness fills the empty room
much as light does
where, like music,
they are shaped by consciousness
and two-by-fours and the smell
of plaster. Plastic
can be used
to shape tiny, gleaming, scarlet
flying horses
that are sewn to children’s hats.

for a reading at D.G. Wills, La Jolla, 15.iv.00
I think that Michael McClure and I first came together when he helped me to see - in 1968 or 1969 - the implications of what I had worked out on my own in Technicians of the Sacred. I had for years before that been gathering materials and texts that involved (specifically) outcroppings of poetry in areas and cultures outside the accepted literary mainstreams. From Michael - and from others like Gary Snyder - I became aware of how many shared interests that involved and of how many transformations had already taken place, beyond the page (so to speak) and into the wide world outside.

I knew Michael McClure's poetry before that and had inserted poems of his into Technicians (the Ghost Tantras that he wrote in "beast language") as parallels to kindred ancient works from aboriginal & mantric sources (& to the sound poems as well of early modernists like Hugo Ball and Kurt Schwitters). His work throughout was electrifying to those of us watching - with great joy in the discovery - the poetry that was arising then among our own contemporaries. The "beat surface" - which he, like others, "scratched" - was an important part of this, but there were other surfaces and other depths as well. In McClure's case there was from the beginning a mix of highly charged language (visceral, sexual, what he would later call mammalian) with an often overriding gentleness of tone and gesture. In the voice of those poems I heard the voice of someone really speaking, but speaking in - what should we say? - a bard's voice, with a touch, a memory of Blake & Shelley: poets who had moved him in the past.

This sense of voice & body (but really body-mind as one) led him also into an amazing series of theatrical works, like the often acclaimed & often banned The Beard, and on its musical side, to interactions with the likes of Bob Dylan and The Doors (and to his later collaborations, still active, with keyboardist Ray Manzarek). Now, all of this might mask, as it too often does with others, the full sweep of McClure's work. He is both a latterday Romantic - in the best sense - & a sharer in an experimental modernism that has produced our greatest poetry - worldwide - over the last hundred & more years. His grasp of poetry - and art as well - goes back to high school days and first discoveries of surrealists and dadaists who came before him, but also to the work of contemporaries who shared with him a front place in the heyday of the San Francisco
Renaissance. And beyond the poetry as such, he is a devoted student of a range of knowledge in both the arts and sciences - the biological and anthropological in particular - which feeds the poetry in turn & brings about a genuine & very unique lyricism of bio-particulars (meat science as he calls it) & the finest celebration that I know of a universe of living forms.

The recognition of this central aspect of his work has nowhere been better explained than by Francis Crick, our fellow San Diegan and a longtime admirer of McClure's, who said about him: "What appeals to me most about Michael'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 molecule, the stars and the galaxies, are all there; and in between, above and below, stands man, the howling mammal, contrived out of 'meat' by chance and necessity. If I were a poet I would write like Michael McClure - if only I had his talent."

18 Jottings from a Notebook, on the Roots of Romanticism
by Michael McClure

Love of the Female
Discovery of nature
Discovery of art
Love of history and mythos
Archetypal modes of thought
Monism, animism, atheism
Asian space
Love of consciousness, the complex and endlessly expanding
Disagreement with measurement
Avoidance of reductionism
Empowering the negative, chthonic
Empowering the beatific
Disbelief in boundaries
Encouraging the intensely sensorial
Enjoyment of metaphor and kenning
Love of science and art

1 comment:

Henry Lawson Poems said...

I love the line "SPONTANEOUSLY PERFECT NOTHING". Still waiting for mine.