October 4, 2015

Olson Lecture: Michael McClure, October 3

This reading was part of an annual series held at the Cape Ann Museum, a series that started with the Charles Olson celebration in 2010. Poet & performer Michael McClure was today’s guest lecturer to a full house of Gloucesterites, visitors & a poetic luminaries.

James Cook, Gloucester poet & teacher introduced Michael McClure with a tale of his discovery of McClure’s work, & a litany of other San Francisco Renaissance writers.

Backed by projected slides of black & white images of Song dynasty landscape paintings, McClure titled his lecture “Greatness of Olson,” ranging from his personal connections to Charles Olson, to his own poems, from his earliest work, to new work. He talked about heading West in his youth with the intent to study with the abstract painters Mark Rothko & Clyfford Still, but missed them & ended up connecting with the poet Robert Duncan & his partner the painter Jess Collins, & from them into the 1950s poetry/art scene in San Francisco. He read his early work (“my first projective poem”) “For the Death of 100 Whales,” that he read at the (in)famous 6 Gallery reading in San Francisco in 1955, his first reading. It is an early example of what is now being called "eco-poetry."  He continues to write in this vein & read a poem from Ghost Tantras which he once read to a lion in a zoo; at one point he said, “biology is politics”. He included a number of poems from this book, written in a mix of English & sounds/syllables in made up languages, which had some heads in the audience shaking. He didn’t give titles for of his poems that he read throughout his hour lecture, which is fine, except for an archivist/note-taker like myself.

As for Olson, McClure read his own early poem “For Charles,” talked of his correspondence with Olson, publishing Olson’s “The Librarian” in 1956 in an early zine, & walking thru Dogtown with him, described by Olson in Maximus II, 37.

At the end he looked for some haiku in his new volume, couldn’t find them & ended with a marvelous poem, what he called “a plum song,” a descriptive piece beginning with fog, to the colors of plums, a mudra, circling back through the images again to fog.

Michael McClure has a new book out of new & selected poems, City Lights has reprinted his early book Dark Brown; also currently available are the above-mentioned Ghost Tantras, & one of my favorites, Scratching the Beat Surface.

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