A Tribute to Michael McClure

Michael McClure Bio

Articles about McClure
Books by McClure
McClure in Victoria

Pacific Rim Review
Ekstasis Editions
Persian Pony

An Introduction to Persian Pony

Essay by Paul Nelson

Out less than a year after his last book Mephistos, poet Michael McClure at once gives us a sense of the radical vision he’s utilized for over sixty years as a projective poet, radical playwright and essayist. Persian Pony is a summing up of all he stands for since he began writing projectively in the mid-50s. As vital as any collection he has ever released, this publication is an occasion of experience the likes of which we’re not likely to see for a while.
Start with the dedication:


This has been a theme of McClure’s work (and life) as well as the title of a radical journal he co-edited in the early 60s that was part anarchism, part Buddhism, and a strike against censorship. His environmental awareness was taking shape in the 50s, when he read at the Six Gallery in 1955, the event credited as the inaugural moment of American eco-poetics.

Then the return of Otter. McClure readers may be familiar with his poem “Action Philosophy” in which he displayed his “mammal patriotism” by writing that to prevent himself from being shaped as anything “less than spirit,” he could choose to be “an otter / sailing on the silver water / beneath the rosy sky.” Otter is back here as Lutra and depicted as a “twin sister” swimming “beneath the surface.” Students of mythology may recognize that Lutra also happens to be the sister of Narcissus. Otter has been a creature with significant personal mythological import for McClure, whose interest in classical mythology goes back to before 1957 with his Hymns to St. Geryon.

McClure is a projective poet. So when we read the phrase “athlete of openness” we get a sense of the foundation of the foundation of his quest. It is his method. It is to use the act of being a poet, via the most open of literary methods — projectivism — to satisfy the “hunger for liberation” at the core of his being. McClure’s poetic “ancestors” include the Romantic poet John Keats whose concepts of “negative capability” and “soul-building” are relevant to understand McClure’s work. An oeuvre filled with curiosity, love of life and deep experience. These are helpful qualities to possess in fully appreciating McClure, but none are more important than courage. To vault one’s self into the unknown of the spontaneous poetic act takes courage. Projective Verse is the hardest way to write and woefully misunderstood by literary taste-makers and the academy, but McClure is the living master of Projective Verse. Reading (out loud) the 1950 Charles Olson essay is a good start to understand what McClure has been after and how he has done it. Others have used different names for a method that Denise Levertov called Organic and of which said: “…Such po¬etry is exploratory… form is never more than a revelation of content.” What gifts/insights does any given moment have for us? How does this relate to my effort to build a soul? One can train themselves to find out, but this method of composition takes decades of time and practice to master. McClure is the world’s foremost practitioner of Projective Verse and reading his work can spoil you for other poets because of the depth of perception, the precision of his luminous details, the striking originality and range of expression. The range in this book alone is from the cosmic to the microscopic. From the Hua-yen Buddhism of FA T’SANG to the “fart jokes from classic antiquity” and the “pig-eyed blond billionaires wanting to be Caligula.” Jeff Beck and neurons. Von Humboldt and “smoke in a hailstorm.” “The inner life of a microbe,” Phidias, baby plum blossoms, Arthur Dove, Bonnie and Clyde, Nezahualcoyotl, “hummingbirds in the oak tree,” wrinkled eye bags, phytoplankton and zooplankton.

The method and its results are stunning, humorous and liberating and these experiences of the poem come in rapid succession with McClure’s deep perception. Readers of this book have a wisdom harvest ahead of them, a rare achievement in these screen-addicted days of national leaders with two minute attention spans. With McClure these moments arrive over and over in lines like:




Paul Nelson is a poet, teacher, broadcaster and founder of the non-profit Global Voices Radio. A professional broadcaster, he has interviewed hundreds of authors, poets, activists and whole-system theorists for a syndicated public affairs radio program.