McClure, Michael.

Alternative names
Birth 1932-10-20

Biographical notes:

Michael McClure was an American poet, playwright, songwriter, and novelist, and part of the Beat Generation of poetry. He was one of five authors who read at the famous San Francisco Six Gallery reading, and became close with Jack Kerouac, being immortalized as Pat McLean in Big Sur. He is known as the Prince of the Frisco Scene.

From the guide to the Michael McClure letter to Diane di Prima, September 1968, (Ohio University)

San Francisco-based Beat poet and playwright Michael McClure was born in Marysville, Kansas, in 1932. His collections of poetry include Star (1970), September Blackberries (1974), Jaguar Skies (1975) and Antechamber (1978). McClure’s plays are in the avant-garde tradition and include The Beard (1965), Gargoyle Cartoons (1971), Gorf (1971) and Josephine: The Mouse Singer (1980). McClure received several honors and awards, including an Obie for Josephine: The Mouse Singer , the Pushcart Prize for Poetry (1991), and an award for lifetime achievement in poetry from the National Poetry Association (1993).

"Michael (Thomas) McClure." Contemporary Authors Online (reproduced in Biography Resource Center). (accessed October 2005).

From the guide to the Michael McClure correspondence with Arthur and Kit Knight, 1973–1981, (University of Delaware Library - Special Collections)

Biographical Information

Poet, playwright, novelist, and essayist Michael McClure has spread his literary net wide, but is best known as one of the leading poets of the Beat generation. Born in Marysville, Kansas on October 20, 1932, McClure became intimately associated with the counter-culture of the West coast. His childhood was initially spent in the environs of Seattle, Washington, but McClure and family were to return to Kansas where he finished high school and attended college, first at the University of Wichita, Kansas and then the University of Arizona. He finished his studies in San Francisco, receiving his Bachelor of Arts from San Francisco State College in June of 1955. During this time he studied with poet Robert Duncan.

On October 7, 1955, at the Six Gallery in San Francisco, McClure, along with Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen and Philip Lamantia, shared the bohemian literary spotlight in what became the most famous poetry reading event of the Beat generation. The reading was followed by the publication of McClure's books of poems, Passages (1956), For Artaud, Hymns to St. Geryon (1959), Dark Brown, The New Book/A Book of Torture (1961), and Ghost Tantras (1964) and his first book of essays, Meat Science Essays (1963). But it was McClure's controversial play, The Beard (1965), an imaginary erotic encounter in a blue velvet eternity between 30s Hollywood star, Jean Harlow and Wild West outlaw, Billy the Kid, which catapulted him into the national spotlight while highlighting the debate of artistic expression versus obscenity.

The late 1960s saw McClure expand his notoriety by befriending Jim Morrison of The Doors (they co-authored a film script based on McClure's novel, The Adept (1971) in which Morrison was to star). He became an intimate with Hell's Angels' secretary, Frank Reynolds (co-authoring his memoirs) and even co-wrote the chart-topping rock/pop song, "Mercedes Benz", made famous by singer Janis Joplin.

McClure's creative collaborations often bore fruitful and inspired aesthetic results. His long relationship, from the 50s through the 80s, with artist and filmmaker Bruce Conner resulted in several enigmatic poetry/image publications, a early video project made for public television entitled, Liberty Crown (1967), and a sound recording of McClure reading Ghost Tantras outside the lion's cages at the San Francisco Zoo. During the 70s, McClure worked intensively with John Lion, General Director of the Magic Theater in San Francisco, producing numerous McClure plays. Since the late 1980s, his partnership with former Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek has allowed McClure to expand upon the intersection of music and the spoken word. Most recently, composer Terry Riley wrote the musical score for the revival of McClure's play, Josephine: The Mouse Singer .

McClure's emphasis as a writer has been the attempt to heal, if not subvert, the Cartesian mind/body split. Man is "meat" not mentality. Influenced by Blake and Whitman, McClure's poetry developed quite early into a highly visual, ecstatic, and spontaneous form that reflected his deeply felt belief that humanity is not separate from the fabric and often coarse function of nature, that there is a deep connection between biology and mysticism, flesh and spirit. As McClure explained in his foreword to Jaguar Skies (1975): Poetry is a muscular principle- an athletic song or whisper of flashy thought. We can be as serious as blue-black gloom or bright as a buttercup in the dawn. The spirit of poetry is loops we send out from the expanding helix of our lives. With poetry we can meet an old perception on a mountain top or in a subway, or view a new perception loping in the distance like a wolf- or glimmering like an opal in the twilight.

To these ends, McClure combined ideas from Antonin Artaud and the projective verse tradition of Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, and Robert Duncan for creating his "body language," the use of animal noises, growls, and cries most explicitly given voice in his book of poems, Ghost Tantras . Throughout his career McClure, like friend and poet, Gary Snyder, has championed environmental awareness and holistic living by making impassioned pleas toward the defense of nature through the vehicle of his poetry and essays, for example, Wolf Net . McClure's deep and sensitive understanding of Eastern philosophy and religion, namely Buddhism, has also been a steady underpinning of his work and thought as has his lifelong interest in biology.

The late 60s and 1970s were a fertile period in McClure's development as a playwright. During this period he wrote numerous works of often satirical, humorous bent that bordered on the Dadaistic, including, Gorf, whose hero is a flying purple phallus, and a series of small plays under the rubric of Gargoyle Cartoons . His plays often premiered at the Bay Area's Magic Theater, and many were produced in venues nationally and internationally. McClure received a Rockefeller Grant in playwriting in 1974 and in 1978 was awarded an Obie Award for best play for the Off-Broadway production of Josephine: The Mouse Singer . Despite his success in theater and its concomitant demands, McClure never ceased writing poetry. He published books of collected poems, Star (1970) and September Blackberries (1974), and the long single poem, Rare Angel (1974). These were followed by the publications of the books of poems, Jaguar Skies (1975) and Antechamber, & other poems (1978). McClure was even able to find the time to publish his first novel, the autobiographical The Mad Cub (1970) and quickly followed one year later with The Adept , whose anti-hero is a handsome, narcissistic drug dealer.

The following decade was no less busy for McClure. He was to compile and publish a new series of essays, Scratching the Beat Surface (1982) and three books of poems, Fragments of Perseus (1983), Fleas (1985), and Specks (1985). By the mid-80s his long marriage to Joanna McClure (herself a poet) began unraveling and the couple divorced in 1986. At this time McClure met the artist, Amy Evans, whom he married in 1997. In 1988, McClure began working collaboratively with longtime friend, Ray Manzarek, after both were billed at an event at McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, California where McClure was headlining and Manzarek played piano with poet Michael C. Ford. Since then, McClure and Manzarek have performed nationally in a variety of venues ranging from cafes to college campuses, and television, and have produced several videos of their performance events.

The 1990s saw McClure's energy pour forth into ever more published work, including the book of poems, Rebel Lions (1991) and another collection of essays, which included interviews, Lighting the Corners: on Art, Nature, and the Visionary (1993). Most recently McClure has been focusing his poetic concerns on Buddhist themes and ideas in the two books of poems, Touching the Edge: Dharma Devotions from the Hummingbird Sangha (1999) and Plum Stones: Cartoons of No Heaven (2002). Michael McClure continues to give poetry readings, as he has done regularly throughout his career, and currently (2006) lives in Oakland, California with his wife, Amy Evans McClure.

From the guide to the Michael McClure papers : additions, 1874-2003, bulk 1949-2002, (The Bancroft Library)

Michael McClure was an American poet, playwright, essayist, and novelist. Born in 1932 in Marysville, Kansas, McClure attended Wichita State University (1951-1953) and the University of Arizona (1953-1954) but received his B.A. from San Francisco State College in 1955.

McClure taught at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, first as assistant professor (1962-1977) and then as associate professor (1977) and finally professor of humanities. He spent a year as lecturer at the State University of New York at Buffalo (1979) before accepting a position as associate fellow at Pierson College, Yale University (1982). He also served on the board of directors of the Drylands Institute, an environmental research organization in Tucson, Arizona.

He is the author of more than forty collections of poetry, with translations of his work into has been translated into German, French, and Yugoslavian.

From the guide to the Michael McClure Papers, 1956-1964, (Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries)


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  • Literature--American Fiction
  • Radicalism
  • Dramatists, American--20th century
  • Poets, American
  • American poetry--20th century
  • Bohemianism--United States
  • American literature--20th century
  • Beat generation--History--Sources
  • Poets
  • Literature--American Poetry
  • Literature, experimental
  • Beat generation


  • Poets
  • Editors
  • Dramatists


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