At the age of 22 Michael McClure gave his first poetry reading at the legendary Six Gallery event in San Francisco, where Allen Ginsberg first read Howl. Today McClure is more active than ever, writing and performing his poetry at festivals, and colleges and clubs across the country.
“The role model for Jim Morrison,” as the Los Angeles Times characterized Michael McClure, has found sources in music from Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis to the composer Terry Riley with whom his poetry performances frequently share a bill.
Recently McClure joined with composer Terry Riley to create a CD titled I Like Your Eyes Liberty. The CD explores spontaneous music and voice (working together) expressing the outrageous and mystical in both artists.
McClure has worked extensively with his old friend Ray Manzarek, the Doors’ keyboardist, at festivals and colleges and clubs. They appeared with saxophonist David Sanborn on NBC-TV performing a jazz version of McClure’s “Love Lion Blues.” Mystic Fire released a 70-minute video of the duo and a compact disk, Love Lion, followed. McClure and Manzarek’s second CD carries on their explorations. Third Mind, a film of Michael and Ray’s conversations and performances, was premiered by the Sundance Channel. A last CD, Piano Poems, recorded in San Francisco, was released in 2012.
McClure reads with an actor’s command and a singer’s timing, his impact “transports audiences to a very different and intriguing place.” He has given hundreds of reading in venues as varied as the Fillmore Ballroom, Yale University, Stanford, The National Biodiversity Conference at the Smithsonian, and the Library of Congress. His audiences have ranged from an intimate dozen at a tiny Maui bookstore, to tens of thousands at San Francisco’s Human Be-in in San Francisco, and to multitudes at Airlift Africa. One of the poet’s readings was to, and with, four lions at the San Francisco Zoo — a film of it is is sometimes shown on TV. McClure’s world-wide performances include Rome; Paris; Tokyo; Lawrence, Kansas, London, a bull ring in Mexico City, The Whitney Museum, and a steam room in Nairobi for a group of African businessmen.
A reviewer of a recent London reading wrote, “McClure’s West Coast delivery was deliberate, cool, spacious…” The Journal-World in Lawrence Kansas offered these observations of McClure at the William Burroughs celebration, “McClure looked cool. Yet he grew warm, wending lyrical words around the air and across the hall, The coolness fell away with his simple elegance in word and presentation… McClure was controlled and read with steady jazz rhythms, a perfect, minimal chart of spoken words.”
He has received numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Obie Award for Best Play, an NEA grant, the Alfred Jarry Award, and a Rockefeller grant for playwriting. McClure has written twenty plays and musicals which are performed in the U.S. and abroad. His play The Beard provoked numerous censorship battles, in Los Angeles, the cast was arrested after each performance for fourteen nights in a row. Later The Beard received two Obies in N.Y.C. and was warmly embraced in both London and Paris. The play has played a role in U.S. censorship and free speech battles since 1966 when it won the first lawsuit.
The poet is featured in Scorcese’s Last Waltz, in which his reading of a poem by Chaucer “lilted, rolled, and seduced the audience into the lyric tonality of Middle English” (Atlanta Poetry Review). McClure played a Hell’s Angel in Norman Mailer’s film Beyond the Law. He has a cameo in Peter Fonda’s Hired Hand.
McClure has made two television documentaries — The Maze and September Blackberries. His many books of poetry include Jaguar Skies, Dark Brown, Huge Dreams, Rebel Lions, Rain Mirror and Plum Stones. His most recent collections are Mysteriosos and other Poems (New Directions) and Of Indigo and Saffron: Selected and New Poems (University of California Press).
McClure’s songs include “Mercedes Benz,” popularized by Janis Joplin and new songs which have been performed by The Twenty-first Century Doors.
His journalism has been featured in The Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, the L.A. Times and San Francisco Chronicle.
Michael McClure’s travels include Africa, Mexico, South America, India, Thailand and Japan. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area hills with his wife the sculptor Amy Evans McClure.
“McClure’s advantage is Sheer Scope…”
— The Rolling Stone
“One of our best and wisest bard/scholars. McClure’s thinking is brave, obdurate, passionate
— Anne Waldman
“McClure’s poetry is a blob of protoplasmic energy.”
— Allen Ginsberg
“A flashpoint at the intersection of the spiritual and the real.”
— Lewis Mac Adams, L.A. Weekly
“Michael McClure shares a place with the great William Blake, with the visionary Shelley, with the passionate D.H. Lawrence…”
— Robert Creeley
“What appeals to me most about Michael’s poems is the fury and imagery of them…”
— Francis Crick, discoverer of the DNA double helix
“This poetry is soulful freedom at play in the Desire-realm…”
— Gary Snyder
“Without McClure’s roar there would have been no Sixties.”
— Dennis Hopper
“Michael McClure’s poetry and prose is one of the more remarkable achievements in recent American literature.”
— The London Times Literary Supplement
“There is no one like Michael McClure.”
— Diane di Prima
“McClure is grounded in an informed Zen mode of perception, focused at ease within the moment.”
— Robert Hunter
“As the vocabulary of freedom becomes day by day more thickly encrusted with the shit of American foreign policy, it’s salutary to hear the voice of Michael McClure, a poet who (for fifty years in print) has explored states of freedom with candor and athletic intelligence. He writes poetry with acute eyes and ears, translating critical observation into precisely tempered verbal notations, celebrating the animal body and human consciousness growing out from it. He’s an expert reader too, with an actor’s voice, sensual and attuned finely to cadence and energies of enunciation. And he’s learned from musicians. As his Beat associate Jack Kerouac might have noted, McClure knows time…”
— WIRE magazine, from a review of the CD I Like your Eyes Liberty
“The most fantastic poem in America…”
— Jack Kerouac (writing about McClure’s long poem Dark Brown)