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Poet Michael McClure On The Senses And The Natural World

David Port

Michael McClure is a poet, and more.

In the 1950s, McClure was a key figure in the San Francisco poetry renaissance and one of the original Beat poets.

McClure is also a novelist, playwright, and writer of song lyrics, including the Janis Joplin tune, “Mercedes Benz.”

McClure will be reading his poetry Saturday, April 30 at 7 p.m. at the Winchester Cultural Center. On Sunday, May 1 at 2 p.m., he'll be conducting a writer's workshop at the Flamingo branch of the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District.

Michael McClure’s reading is part of the Poets of National Stature reading series founded by Clark County Poet Laureate Bruce Isaacson, and supported by Nevada State College, Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchiliani, NV Energy, the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District, and Clark County Parks and Recreation.


When did the welfare of living things and the care of the natural environment become a concern of yours?

I began to move into a deeper appreciation of natural life after returning to the Pacific Ocean and moving into San Francisco. And, I'd previously had that experience and been awakened to nature by growing up part of my life in Seattle. It was a great joy to be here and to see all these living things and to be aware of them. And it was a pretty terrible thing to realize the whales are being caught in the bay that I could see from my front window and out to the Farallon Islands. And out there, there were boats catching whales and chopping them up and turning them into dog and cat food. I also saw the return of some of the first sea otters from Nepenthe in Big Sur.

How the words are arranged on the page is important. Your indentation is important, your capitalization. How do you decide when you’re writing a poem how it should look, how it should be formed on the page?

I practice a style called Projective Verse. And, if I am properly in contact with my inspiration, the poem will speak itself and take its own shape. And these shapes represent the passage of energy through consciousness, and from an inspiration to the heart, to the mind, to the voice, to the syllable whereupon the inspiration bounces back out onto the field of composition.

You were at that very famous event in San Francisco’s Six Gallery in 1955. Allen Ginsberg read his poem, “Howl,” there for the first time. And you read at the event. You were 22 years old. Did you have a sense that this was a very momentous thing that you were a part of?

I knew that we all putting our toes to a line and we weren’t stepping back from it, and the people wanted to hear what we had to say. That was what was really gratifying – how much people wanted to hear what we had to say, how glad they were to hear “Howl.” How glad they were to hear Gary Snyder’s “A Berry Feast” or Philip Whalen’s pre-Zen poems –

And what did you read?

One of the things I read was “For the Death of 100 Whales.”

Michael McClure, Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg/Photo: Dale Smith

When you were coming up as a poet, how important was it for you to be around other poets?

It was certainly one of the deepest, and most profound experiences because we not only conscientiously, and without a doubt, supported each other at all times, but we also competed with each other at all times. And in doing so we forced more and more subjects for poetry, more and more kinds of poetry into existence, a lot more persons into the realm of poetry. It was very important to be around others.

You have a poem called, “The Mystery of the Hunt.” The word “hunt” suggests killing, but your poem evokes something entirely different. It's a different sort of hunt.

You’re right.

What should people hunt for in their lives?

Experience. Experience of their senses and nature and each other. And beauty. Yes.

Michael McClure, Poet 

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Since June 2015, Fred has been a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada.