Michael McClure – Interview continued

Michael McClure photographed by Allen Ginsberg,  Hartford Street Zen Center, San Francisco, 1991 – Photo (c). Allen Ginsberg Estate

Michael McClure. Continuing the transcription from yesterday

Interviewer: Can you talk a little about “Meat Science” ?

MM  No, that’s so long ago, David.  No. Do you mean the book of essays?

Interviewer: No, I mean the theory, the idea.

MM: Oh, I don’t know if there was a theory. “Meat Science” is a name that I gave to a book of essays, and it’s a.. it’s the way I’ll appreciate something – I’ll say something is an act of meat science if I like it, if I feel that the totality of the person is in the act of the gestures that he’s making. I mean, if you fulfill the whole sweep from what we call mind to what we call body and do it with the wholeness, so the, like, whole mind-body is in it, then I see that kind of thing as being an act of meat science. If enough of the potentialities of a person fulfill within the possible potentialities of a series of actions, then I really think that looks like an act of meat science to me.

So everything between Kwan Yin and Shiva. It’s everything between the Goddess of Mercy and the God of Destruction, I guess, within ourselves (and including those as the two ends?) – That sounds obscure doesn’t it?

Student: It covers a lot of territory.

MM: Yeah

Interviewer: I get it, it’s like in some ways, it’s the spirit in the body.

MM: I think so

Interviewer: Is that more accurate?

MM: Yeah, yeah

Interviewer: That’s kind of what I wanted to hear you talk about today. That sense of the body, I think you..

MM: Bob Creeleys book Pieces is, I think, a really great act of meat science. You know, Bob who… a lot of Bob’s early poetry is really thought poetry. Then he.. Bob just inhabits his body for that time that he wrote Pieces, and those are like, very great and beautiful organic pieces of a great poem (it seems very natural to me). Then, in another way, I think Francis Crick discovering the molecular, or the atomic structure of the DNA molecule is a great act of meat science (or a great elucidation of another aspect of it) …[Screen goes blank for a moment and the taping continues with Michael reading from his book,  Jaguar Skies]

“¡EL CERRO ES NUESTRO!”” – “THE FLAME IS OURS!/ We are the candle/ that holds itself/ aloft./ We are the Andes/among creatures/ and our hands are soft/ and our cortex/ is a beacon/ as are our toes./You and I/are a river of light/that pours/and gleams/ in/ the/ blue-black/snows./ We are perfect/as the tooth/ of a squirrel!”

“A Breath” – [“A BREATH”]  HOW/ SWEET/ TO/ BE/ A/ ROSE/ BY/ CANDLE/ LIGHT/ or/ a /worm /by/ full /moon.’/ See the hop- /ping flight/ a cricket makes. /Nature loves/ the absence of/ mistakes.

Here’s a sort of medium-long-ish poem. This is six stanzas of six lines and it’s called a… it’s a Medaeval French form called a sestina. It was invented by a Troubadour poet named Bertrand de Born at the time of the Crusades, and probably the formula for the repetition of end-words…  (you’ll hear that it doesn’t rhyme, but there’s a repetition of end-words, and a pattern),  and the formula for that pattern may have its origin in Mohammedan mysticism, the numerical formula for that. Remember the knights from Europe were confronting the knights of .. the Moslem, or Mohammedan knights, in North Africa and the Middle East and there was a lot of communication back and forth. So this is a… this form of poetry was originally a.. was invented by a..a Duke of Southern France who was also a Troubador – this repetition of word, this word-repetition at the end, may be influenced by Mohammedan mysticism, and this is adapted, this..

Well, there’s a story about this too. I’ll tell you what sparked this! – I’d always wanted to write a sestina (this kind of poem is called a sestina) and I was with Allen Ginsberg at John Ashbery’s reading at the San Francisco Museum of Art – (John is a New York poet) and I’d just finished reading a book of John’s poetry, and he read one of the poems [“Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape“}  and it’s a sestina about Popeye and Olive Oyl, and..what was the.(next)? – the Sea-Witch [Sea Hag] and the Goon [Alice the Goon] (remember all those characters from Popeye?). It was a sestina about Popeye characters. And I was sitting next to Allen and I said, “Allen, that’s a sestina!”. And by the time Ashbery had finished reading his sestina, Allen had started his sestina! – And I wanted to write one badly myself after that. I mean, Ashbery had read one, Allen had written one, on the spot, I’d been meaning to write a sestina for years but I’d been trying to write it kind of formally, in some kind of measured line, and I said , ”Oh, I just want to do this. I’m not going to use a measured line”.  So I just used a cadenced line and wrote this (and since I sort of assigned myself the subject of a sestina, at the time I had a chronic headache, and the headache became the subject of the sestina). So it’s a headache sestina. But I was trying also to.. use it a.. a..almost to use it as if it was a tool. I wanted to know what caused that headache, I wanted to experience that headache in any way I could. I thought that maybe in some way this would help me find out about the headache. So I used the sestina that way – for exploration.

Student: Did you..did you find out about your headache?

MM: Not through that sestina! – maybe a little bit, maybe it put me on the right track.

“The lines of flame..” – No, “the beautiful lines of flames”, that’s it. You ever feel those lines of flame inside of your head when you have a headache? – “THE BEAUTIFUL LINES OF FLAMES IDENTIFY MY HEADACHE./ The fires are blue and gold and orange and turquoise./They ring like one beat of a drum within my skull./My being is overwhelmed by experience./Wings grow out of my skull to fly me away to soft moss/where there is a cliff I would lie on among blossoms./ Those things that are the world are white blossoms./They fall on the dark floor in the patterns of headache/creating a carpet in our being like moss./From a distance the face becomes a mask of turquoise,/or jade, and it begins to reject the experience/of anything, even gentleness, that touches the skull./ I would speak with my body but my skull/is there like a crab shell decked with blossoms/
and I wish to resist all but the drabbest experience/ for I am lost and pounding the walls of my headache./It is a pleasure to run fingers over turquoise./The veins and striations may be felt as moss./  The elegance of stones is like green moss/growing on a jawbone dropped from a sheep skull/ on a cliffbank in Iceland where Indian turquoise/is more exotic than these strange blossoms/that make up a constellation I call my headache./The substrate suffers an overdose of experience/ . I take notes on the body of experience/which grows as obsidian boulders and moss/and becomes, at last, the statement of headache/that vibrates minute beacons in my skull./Each being grows unique among blossoms/of emanated gods and katydids in a field of turquoise./ My house is electric blue not turquoise/but I will imagine the bulks of all experience,/for, imagined or real, they are brother blossoms. /I will not regret either needles or moss./Regardless of the noise in my skull/I will fall divinely in love with my headache./. The night might be turquoise or a pale moss/but it is all experience to be stored in the skull./This body is made of blossoms—even my headache.”

I don’t know if you could hear the repetitions in there or not, but the interweavings of word repetitions at the end of lines – As a matter of fact,I don’ t even believe you can hear me back there. Can you hear me?

Student: Did you ever study biology?

[tape breaks again but returns with McClure reading]

“EACH/MAMMAL/.  does/ a/ small perfect/ thing/ like/ to be himself/ or herself/ and to hold a new creation/ on a shining platter/ as he/ (or she)/ steps toward/the waiting car. ”

MM:  I’d better do that again. The trouble with poems, you know..(oh.. I have to do it anyway again so that it’ll be recorded for posterity) – The trouble with poems is they go by pretty fast, you know. A lot of times it’s good to hear a poem a second time. When you have the book in your hand then you can keep going back to it and also you can read them in any order you want.

.”EACH/MAMMAL/.  does/ a/ small perfect/ thing/ like/ to be himself/ or herself/ and to hold a new creation/ on a shining platter/ as he/ (or she)/ steps toward/the waiting car. ” – It’s that area that Bob has so perfectly, you know – of – an area of grace that we move through, a kind of dimension – “EACH/MAMMAL/ does/ a/ small perfect/ thing/ like/ to be himself/ or herself/ and to hold a new creation/ on a shining platter/ as he/ (or she)/ steps toward/the waiting car.”

Interviewer: Is that dedicated to Bob?

MM: Yeah, that’s called “For Robert Creeley” – There’s a lot of poems in here for people. Let’s see…   Here’s a poem for a friend of mine’s wife who makes stained-glass windows, incredibly beautiful naturalistic representations of things in nature, of little waters, of little streams with a snake swimming across them, or seals floating through the water, or…   This one was the chrysalis of an oak moth the… – actually the cocoon of an oak moth which, you know is only this big, but she made a stained glass window of it in which it was this big. It was this enormous representation of an oak moth cocoon in all of its beauty with, like, the sky behind it. and the twig that it hangs from is the size of a branch. And I saw. (I already had two or three of her pieces), and I had to have it, so I bought that one from her too, and then couldn’t stop there, even had to write a poem about it , for her  (which is kind of an occasional poem, because..) – [“Stained Glass Window Portraying and Oak Moth Cocoon”] – “NOW I SEE WHY I BOUGHT THAT CHRYSALIS WINDOW!!/ I am gonna be somebody else, and free, with big, beautiful wings slowly beating on my brows./ I am gonna dive right out into all those colors, tastes, and smells./ Nobody drag me back! /EVERYTHING LIKE A MOSSY FLAG, ALL DEWY DAYS AND OGRES KISSING (weird) at the lips of caves! /Fairy tales of new transitions flashing by!”

I guess it’s the challenge in something like that to change, to open up like a..

Here’s some more poems that I wrote in Peru . This was written… The first one I wrote was about – the first one I read you – “the flame is ours we are the candle that holds itself aloft – that was written in that pass..   This was written in a little Indian town way up in the mountains, called the town of Huancayowritten the next day

“STUDY MIND-BODY to be beauty/ To cancel misdirections is thy duty/The orange papaya heart is a law from which follows stars and planets galaxies and moles/ the goat kid on the banquet table gravity waves and black holes/. The bones are there and moved by muscles/ the universe is where our spirit rustles.”

This was written after coming back to..out of a..few days in the Amazon jungle and coming into Bogota, and the difference of, like, being back in a modern city, and looking back on what we’d seen And I found a physics text, a Russian physics text translated into English full of quotes by Lenin, and I used a couple of lines, I used a line of Lenin to start this poem – (“The world consists of nothing but moving matter”)

“MODELS OF COMPLEXITY beginning with lines by Lenin ‘THE WORLD CONSISTS OF NOTHING but moving matter./When lives spread into the universe they shatter rock and drink the juice as nutriment. The histories of being whorl around..”….”and molecules again imagine that they are boudoirs high above the river chasm where crests of new-hatched birds are trembling in the mountain breeze…”

I was looking back remembering places like Machu Picchu and the jungle and the animals that we’d seen – written in Bogota the next day (or the same day, I guess, I can’t remember). I went into a restaurant and had that feeling of.. what.. Remember when you were in high school? , when you had to walk across the cafeteria and “oh god, everybody’s looking at me”?   – I had, like, a total..and, you know, self-involvement with self-consciousness in this perfectly wonderful restaurant. It was a great place to eat, and I just felt thrown back to that high school cafeteria, that whole experience again,. (A) grown man, in control of my own ship of destiny, back up out of a long, exciting trip, and then suddenly back into the high school cafeteria again! – Why?  you know..

“ TO BE SO SENSITIVE/ to want to run forward/ and even fear to dash/ with head thrown back/ and everything a-tremble/ while desires climb around/ like ogres in our chests..”  .. “….that holds us to this surface / cliffs in the dawn/ and shouts of laughter from the street/your jeweled hand upon the sheet.”

Yeah, these are very recent poems. It must be difficult to . Usually… (I didn’t know I was going to give a poetry reading, I thought it was a discussion). Usually, when I give a poetry readiing, I try and make myself more three-dimensional for the people I’m reading to by reading poems from different eras in my life, so that somebody can look at what I’m telling them and understand the direction that I’m coming from. It would make me..  My work would be much more three-dimensional for you, if you could get some sense that… For instance, here’s a poem that I wrote whe I was seventeen, back in the Middle Ages, Before this I’d written free verse too. This is like… .this is when I discovered met…. I discovered William Blake and I discovered metrics, and I wanted to write in meter. I wanted to write poems like Blake’s, little youthful visionary song lyric poems, and, although I’d already written free verse, I wrote – “My mother said to me tonight

“My mother said to me tonight/That I am dead ten years/And bending o’er my crib she bled/A multitude of tears.  And yet I think that isn’t right/Oh mother you are wrong/Or ‘round about my bed would stand/Four angels deep in song./ For when the ground is white with frost/The angels fly and sing/But when the ground is wet with tears/The empty forests ring./ Oh mother, mother laugh for me/The earth is black and damp/And sing a final song for me/And light the final lamp.”

I recollect another one I wrote round around about that time, only I had a little… I’d been reading a little Baudelaire too. I wrote another little set of quatrains

“What strange odors in this room/Of spices, thyme or bay?/A roll of lace with the womb/It is the heart’s decay./ Deal the angels in this hand/The marguerittes are dry/And at our side the Seasons stand/To stare with glassy eye.” – (I don’t think I recited that for anybody before. I’m not even sure that’s right)

Interviewer:  (And what age) were you were on that one?

MM: About seventeen – Yeah – But just a few years later, I’d… My awarenesses in poetry were directing themselves many different ways, multiple ways, and biology, interest in organisms, was making itself very strongly apparent to me, and an interest in what was being done by the Abstract Expressionist painters – Jackson Pollock or Clyfford Still or Franz Kline, the work of those men, and it was pretty new in those days, was of a great deal of interest to me and I wanted something like that in poetry. And a little while later I discovered a man named Charles Olson, who had invented a kind of Projective Verse, which was close to what they were doing, but, already, I was experimenting in the direction of those painters, that I considered to be artistic ideals in many ways, were endeavoring in, and I was writing poems like…  This, you’d really need to hear a couple of times, In fact, let me see if I do know it, In fact I… This would sound almost like an abstract poem, but if you look at it on the page (or maybe hear it again, in a couple of days), I think it would be a reasonably clear poem to you

.”Linked part to part, to to knee, eye to thumb/Motile, feral, a blockhouse of sweat/The smell of the hunt’s/A stench,   …my foeter./The eye a bridegroom of torture/Colors are linked by spirit/Euglena, giraffe, frog/Creatures of grace – Rishi/of their own right/. As I walk my legs say to me ‘Run/There is joy in swiftness’./As I speak my tongue says to me ‘Sing/There is joy in thought,/The size of the word/Is its own  flight from crabbedness.’/  And the leaf is an ache/And love an ache in the back./The stone a creature./A PALISADE/. The inside whitewashed./………………………………/………………………………/………………………………/
……………………………..!/ A pale tuft of grass.”

Gives you something to think about, doesn’t it? – I think that was the first time I ‘d seen the word “rishi” used in a poem, as a matter of fact, Now we use the word “roshi” – a Buddhist, a Buddhist abbot, or a Buddhist teacher, or a Buddhist wise man is what we now call a “roshi.” The word I knew in those days for that was “rishi” – and, some of the various elements in that poem are biology, (the) fire-sermon of Buddha, they’re all submerged within the context, the things that I had in mind when I was writing it .That was probably written 1954. So these poems that I’m writing are coming out of a development. David [sic] was saying (that) it would be nice you know, to say where your sense of being comes from. That’s where it comes from.

Michael looks through his book  – [inexplicably a phrase (from a  CB radio?)  is picked up on the sound-track  -“Hey, what kind of car is the skunk driving?

MM: Here’s a poem I’d like to see as a song for Joan Baez (but I think the first line would be wrong for her because the first line would sound mechanical, as a kind of…as.. in the context of the kind of songs that she sings, where it isn’t meant that way at all – “Absorb all the beautiful systems To enhance our perfect freedoms” … “Love the children of dreams, love the children of dreams, absorb the beautiful systems”

Then I was in I, Magnin and I’ve been writing nature poems and I wondered “could someone write a nature poem in I, Magnin’s ? Is  I.Magnin”s nature? Somebody once asked (Friedrich) Nietzsche about what was natural and what was unnatural, or what was nature and what wasn’t nature, and Nietzche’s reply was something to the effect that, “if it exists it must be”. So, I found myself standing in I, Magnin and I thought “Could I write a nature poem about this?  (you know, from the viewpoint one would write a nature poem, not the..not to go in and say “Oh well, this is bad, because it represents the military-industrial society”, o,r “this is foppery, because it’s fashionable clothing”, but, like, “ok, this is nature, I’m going to look at it, the way I look at a cliff, or something. And I don’t know how well I succeeded but this is an attempt to stand in I, Magnin’s, as if you were standing by a waterfall – “YES, TEACH MACHINES/ to whirl out snake skin textiles/ of oil and milk/to sneak/the living…” – I’m going to start this over again – “YES, TEACH MACHINES/ to whirl out snake skin textiles/ of oil and milk/to sneak/the living dollar/ from its slinky/ silken/ resting place”…..”where petals fall onto a floor that shines”

I think I’ll read one last poem, and then, if anybody has any questions that occur to them, I can answer a couple of questions. Then it’s up to David. It’s going to go back to your hands. This is a poem about Thornton Beach, a place that we like to go and body-surf, a mile or so south of San Francisco  –  “HOW SWEET WE MOVE IN ALL/THE FLOWING MELODIES….“. “Our skins turn blue and red.”Awfully good,,,

Yeah it’s a little difficult in here with all this flat light. I think you have to have it for the recording of this for the television… But, you know what the flat light is.? Somebody once said that Pop Art is really a…. [tape cuts out momentarily]  – Close your eyes. I’ll have to have mine open to read it tho’. Well, you know, I might have known it. This is really… this poem.. this is just a little..poem of appreciation of something that happens in my life,of a place where I can body-surf and, you know, the beauty of that place where Indian paintbrush and lupin actually hang out over the cliff over the surf .You can body-surf there and when you come in, roll over in the wave and look up and there’s lupin almost over your head, Lupin, it’s that little blue flower that looks like a wild pea blossom and you know what Indian paintbrush looks like.

[reads poem again]  – “HOW SWEET WE MOVE IN ALL THE FLOWING MELODIES/that shape our bodies/to the icy tide..”….. arthropods….”our skins turn blue and red”  – (arthropods are those little…you call them sand-fleas, only I don’t know what you call the big variety)

Student: Big sand-fleas!

MM: Big sand-fleas. Gotcha!

For the first part of this interview – see here

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