Michael McClure reads poems collected in The Beards (Coyote, 1967), Star (Grove Press, 1970), Ghost Tantras (Four Seasons, 1969), and Dark Brown (Dave Haselwood Books, 1967). McClure also performs songs accompanied by George Montana on autoharp and piano.



Ladies and gentlemen, Michael McClure, George Montana. [Applause.]


Michael McClure


That was [inaudible.] Star is a four letter word, s-t-a-r. Now, in case I read, I- is this on right? In case I read something here tonight with a four letter word in it, which I'm liable to cause I might start off be reading part of "The Beards", um, [inaudible] if anyone would be offended, it would be a good thing if they got their money back, right now. Is it all right if I do so? [Applause.] "The Beard" is a poem of mine in the form of a play that's just been arrested fifteen nights in a row by Los Angeles police and a state law has been passed against it being performed in the state colleges in California, among its other trials and tribulations. And right now we're waiting for a panel of three federal judges to come and see it and decide if it has redeeming social significance. [Laughter.] And if they don't think it is, we'll take it to the Supreme Court and see what they think. And, the play has two characters in it, Billy the Kid and Jean Harlow. And they're together in a blue velvet eternity, they both are wearing little beards made out of torn white tissue paper. They're-they only thing on the set with them is a table and two chairs covered with furs and Harlow is wearing a blue gown and she has a purse with her and a mirror and the Kid is dressed in a costume appropriate to his costume-I mean appropriate to his career. And when the curtain opens, there's an orange light shining on him which goes up after the first, about the first thirty seconds. And being that this is a poem in the form of a play, I can only read it, I can't read it properly, I can't be two people, I can't be Billy the Kid and Jean Harlow I can only be the author so I'll have to read it that way where it's actually meant to be a poem and acted by me on a stage, on a shelf with lights. We have a shelf with lights, but that's the best I can do.




Reads "The Beards". [applause]


Michael McClure


Um, I'm going to read two more tonight. I want to read for a while and then have an intermission and then I'd like to come back on and play some musical pieces that my music guru George Montana has been working on with me and we've been writing some songs together, but I'd like to read poems for maybe half an hour or so first. I want to read some poems called "Mad Sonnets" and I imagine a lot of you know what sons are, what known as sons are, fourteen lines with a legitimate rhyme scheme, and these are not quite exactly like that. [silence] Does this microphone sound right? If I stand right here is that okay so that I don't have to lean into it?




Reads poem "Mad Sonnet 1" first line "The plumes of love are black..."


Michael McClure


Another "Mad Sonnet" kind of ecological.




Reads "Mad Sonnet 3" first line "Tiny mamals walk on white between the yellow..."


Michael McClure


Here's a-I live in San Francisco, but here's a "Mad Sonnet" that I started in New York, I went to Wall Street on a Saturday morning, I guess you can imagine what it's like during the week days, it's a narrow street, buildings stretching up like cliffs on each side of them and on Saturday morning it's cold and empty and you can feel the crush and vibrations from the previous part of the week.




Reads "Mad Sonnet 13" first line "On cold Saturday I walked in the empty valley of Wall Street..."


Michael McClure


I never thought of those signs-they told me I can't smoke up here. It's my life I'll do what I want, [inaudible.] [Laughter.] The work-I think-are we all, I think I'm waiting for, this technology with which we live in, which is wonderful enough in it's own way, is also costly and [inaudible], eating up the planet, and I think I'm waiting for an all-chemical science, by means in which we can manifest ourselves through the universe and I guess we'll have to tinker toys like rocket ships and space ships to begin it, but I don't think that's how we'll really do it. And it's become kind of tradition to write songs to science, so I guess I had to do one too.




Reads "To Science" or “Mad Sonnet 5”.


Michael McClure


I've got a book of poems in a language I call Beast Language, they're about half in English and half in this invented language. The book is called Ghost Tantras, ghost like the German word "gist", g-i-s-t, which means spirit, and I just said "ghost". Why can't ghost be a spirit, why can't we use that in English? And tantra, t-a-n-t-r-a, which is a Hindu form of poetry, it's poetry written in an invented language for magical purposes to bring about changes in the universe. I felt these poems, I felt these poems coming on, and I felt like I had a ball of silence within myself, within my body and I heard these sounds within that ball of silence, and I wrote them down phonetically, sort of like Marvel comics, you know where it says "keee-rash", k-e-e-e-r-a-s-h. And I see later that things like this have been done in gnostic Bizantine chants too, which also, is like Marvel comics. "Ka-pow". And some of them were written in San Francisco, some of them were written in airplanes, on the way to Mexico. I was going to Mexico to bring back cultures of psilocybin mexicana, the sacred psilocybin mushroom which were grown by scientists in Brooklyn. And, then upon my return I finished from there. I finished these "Mad Sonnets", there are 99 of them and I don't think you've probably heard anything like them before, and I guess all you can do is just relax. I like to start with one that starts with English because it's not so strange, they're about a third English or half English maybe.




Begins with line in Beast language.


Michael McClure


No, that's not it. [silence] Where'd George go? George? [laughter]




Reads “Ghost Tantra #51”.


Michael McClure


Here's another one that starts in English, it starts in Spanish. Just went to Spanish, [inaudible] George is.




Reads first line "The motion of cool air shudders my shoulders..."


Michael McClure


I just had a lot of microphone trouble in Buffalo too. I don't know what. It's alright?




Reads "Oooor greeeooosssh strato, butterfly, beaks and pants..."


Michael McClure


Here's one, this was written the day after Marilyn Monroe died, August 6, 1962.




Reads "Ghost Tantra #39"


Michael McClure


You've got tourists talking in the background [?.] Is everybody relaxed? Cause I'm not. Eddie, in a print shop, was dismissed recently and I guess this poem had something to do with it. And, the poem is the ending of, it's the sexual ending of a very long poem called "Dark Brown" I see nothing wrong in taking any sexual part of the poem from any other part of the poem, and the sexual writing today will be viewed in fifty years or a hundred years much the way we view nature poetry today in the 19th century, because some [inaudible] classes we kept bringing up the fact that for our nature today if you were to look at the atmosphere or the air we breathe, the primary part of our environment is either other human bodies or concrete and we choose the human bodies rather than the concrete which seems to be a pretty fair choice. And I think that given the changes that are going on today, I don't think we'll be able to say anything. If we can say anything now. If we can say anything anytime. But I mean, I think that this will be looked upon in the same way that we look at nature poetry. Shelley and Keats were called the Cockney School in their day, which of course was balderdash all to Shelley, since he was a baronet and probably stunned Keats a lot worse since he was a cockney. [laughter.] They were exalted for their new nature poetries, in a sense, too. I'd like to read some like, preliminary stanzas of that poem, and then read part of the longer section which seems to have to do with the [inaudible.] In Eddie's defense I'll say that the London Times literary supplement found that this-- I'm not talking about my poems, I'm talking about Eddie. The London Times literary supplement found it a very fine poem and so did a number of other pretty legitimate sources. The poem is written in independent stanzas. I like to think of the stanzas as being independent in the way an organism is, and the totality of the poem being a totality the way an- the way a primitive--and this is a primitive poem-- is comprised of sub-individuals to make up its gestalt and being. The poem is called "Dark Brown" and I've just opened it to the page I wanted to. The stanza I wanted to.




Reads "Dark Brown".




Reads "The black, black, black damned and un-dreamy..."


Michael McClure


Another poem. Okay, have I justified enough? Now's your chance to go home. I'm going to read the tough part.




Reads "The Huge Figures fucking..."






Michael McClure


I'll take a break. George and I are going to play, George Montana and I, and I won't guarantee you anything about it as my fingers are feeling very clumsy tonight. I'll be playing an instrument but I know George will play for us, so if you hear any faults in the playing, it's me not George. I want to take like, at least, I want to take a ten minute break and any body who'd like to stay is welcome to stay, and if you'd like to go, go, and if you want to leave during the music, if you don't like the music, for god's sake go. Okay? Thank you. [Audience breaks.]



Michael McClure


[Whispers] I'm kind of nervous, us going through it again.


George Montana




Michael McClure


Sure, let's see if it picks up.


George Montana


I think it's picking up


Michael McClure




George Montana




Michael McClure


Can you hear us whispering?




[Whispers] Yes.




Musical instrument strum.


Michael McClure


Let's see what it sounds like.


Michael McClure


[Piano, autoharp] Is it picking up? Can you hear in the back? Can you hear in the back row? Yeah, I think I lost that pic already. Christ.




Music begins. [Song #1.]




Audience applause.


Michael McClure


Um, I don't think I can sing. Do you want to do that one?


George Montana


Ah, okay.


Michael McClure


Shall we tell them it's a new song? Why don't you tell them?


George Montana


This is a song that Michael and I just have done, so I don't know the words by heart yet. So here it is.


Michael McClure


And I haven't learned the melody very well yet. Let's get co-ordinated together. You set the [inaudible.] You wanna sing it through three times? [Inaudible discussion between Michael and George.]


Michael McClure


Is this picking up alright? Can you hear it clear, loud enough? No? [Laughter] Get out. [Laughter]




Song #2 begins. George Montana sings.




Audience applause.




Michael and George discuss the next song with each other, inaudible to mic. Adjustments made to mic.


Michael McClure


These are called technical difficulties. By the way we can smoke on the stage now because the lights are off in the auditorium. That's the fire alarm. [Laughter.]


Michael McClure


Want to play the “Bells of Moscow”?


George Montana


How about the other...[inaudible discussion.]


Michael McClure


I don't think I'm up to...


George Montana


We're going to try to do the Allen Ginsberg "For President Walt".


Michael McClure


I think I'm too scared to. We'll try it. I might be too-can you hear alright? I might be too scared. This isn't very complicated, isn't it a two chord one?




Play song "For President Walt" by Allen Ginsberg.


Michael McClure


I can't remember the words.




Sings "Allen Ginsberg for President".




Audience applause.


Michael McClure


[George Montana and Michael McClure discuss next song] I was just thinking you'd play it your way fast. No, let's do a non-vocal.


George Montana


Okay, which one.


Michael McClure


What about "The Bells of Moscow"?


George Montana


That one?


George Montana


[inaudible discussion.] We'll play for you a little instrumental one it's called "The Bells of Moscow".


Michael McClure


Named today.




Play song "The Bells of Moscow".




Audience applause.


Michael McClure


I don't think that was picking up here. Alright. Or I was too close. More music lovers are leaving. I don't know, we could try the [inaudible] thing. [Inaudible discussion between George Montana and Michael McClure.]


Michael McClure


George and I usually do this in my front room. With no light but a candle and the incense, but we can smoke there of course. This is a song by William Blake.




Play song by William Blake. First line "How sweet I roam, from field to field..."




Audience applause. [Inaudible talk under mic.]


Michael McClure


How about, um, the Vorshack's 43 auto-harp duet. Which one is that?




Play song "Takes a hundred" [First line is cut short, Michael McClure laughs and begins again.]




Plays song "Takes a hundred sixty five thousand chicks to lay a railway from here to Chicago..."




Audience applause. [Michael McClure and George Montanta discuss away from the micropohone.]


Michael McClure


Good night.




Audience applause. Recording plays out.






Works Cited

Camlot, Jason. “Mammals and Machines: Michael McClure’s Embodying Poetics”. Atenea, 23, no.1; June 2003.

King, William R. “Michael (Thomas) McClure”. The Beats: Literary Bohemians in Postwar America. Ann Charters (ed). Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 16. Detroit: Gale Research, 1983. Concordia University Library, Montreal July 7, 2010. <Link>.

McClure, Michael. Dark Brown. San Francisco, California: Dave Haselwood Books, 1967.

---. Ghost Tantras. San Francisco, California: Four Seasons Foundation, 1969.

---. The Beard. San Francisco, California: Coyote Books, 1967.

---. The New Book / A Book of Torture. New York City, New York: Grove Press, 1967.

---. Selected Poems. New York City, New York: New Directions Books, 1986.

---. Star. New York City, New York: Grove Press, 1970.

“Michael McClure” Literature Online Biography. Literature Online, 2008. Concordia University Library, Montreal. July 7, 2010. <http://0-gateway.proquest.com.mercury.concordia.ca/openurl?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2003&xri:pqil:res_ver=0.2&res_id=xri:lion-us&rft_id=xri:lion:ft:ref:BIO003736:0>.

"McClure, Michael (Thomas)". The Oxford Companion to American Literature. James D. Hart, ed., rev. Phillip W. Leininger. Oxford University Press 1995. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.  Concordia University Library, Montreal. July 7, 2010.  <http://0-www.oxfordreference.com.mercury.concordia.ca/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t123.e2926>.


Transcription, Research, Introduction and Editing by Celyn Harding-Jones

Michael McClure and George Montana at SGWU, 1968

Catalog numberI006-11-160
Sound qualityFair
SpeakersMichael McClure, Unknown Introducer
VenueBasement Theatre
DateMar. 22, 1968

Supplemental Material


00:00- Unknown male introduces Michael McClure and George Montana.

00:29- Michael McClure introduces the reading, and selection from “The Beards”.

03:41- Michael McClure reads selection from “The Beards”.

11:02- Introduces “Mad Sonnet 1” series, first line “The plumes of love are black...”.

12:25- Reads “Mad Sonnet 1” first line “The plumes of love are black...”.

14:08- Introduces “Mad Sonnet 3” first line “Tiny mammals walk on white between the yellow...”

14:23- Reads  “Mad Sonnet 3” first line “Tiny mammals walk on white between the yellow...”

16:03- Introduces “Mad Sonnet 13” first line “On cold Saturday I walked in the empty valley of Wall Street...”.

16:32- Reads “Mad Sonnet 13 ” first line “On cold Saturday I walked in the empty valley of  Wall Street...”.

17:58- Introduces “To Science”, published as “Mad Sonnet 5”.

19:20- Reads “To Science”.

20:48- Introduces poem from Ghost Tantras “#51” first line “I love to think of the red-purple rose...”.

23:15- Begins to read unknown poem in Beast language.

23:19- Stops reading unknown poem.

24:00- Reads poem “Ghost Tantara #51”

25:42- Introduces poem first line “The motion of cool air shudders my shoulders...”.

25:57- Reads first line “The motion of cool air shudders my shoulders...”.

27:45- Talks about prior reading in Buffalo, New York.

27:55- Reads “Ghost Tantra #69” first line Ooor greeeooossshhh strato, butterfly, beaks and pants...”.

29:45- Introduces poem “Ghost Tantra #39 first line “Marilyn Monroe today...”.

30:11- Reads “Ghost Tantra #39”

31:37- Introduces “Dark Brown”. , sexual ending, long poem, fifty years into the future, 19th century, nature poetry, atmosphere, air, environment, human bodies, concrete, changes, Shelley, Keats, cockney, stanzas, London Times literary supplement, independent stanzas, organism; from Dark Brown (Dave Haselwood Books, 1967)]

35:21- Reads “Dark Brown”.

37:48- Reads poem, first line “The black, black, black damned and un-dreamy...”.

40:00- Introduces poem, “(Fuck Ode)” first line “The huge figures fucking...”.

40:23- Reads “(Fuck Ode)”.

50:15- Michael McClure introduces a break and the second part of the reading.

51:09- Michael McClure and George Montana whisper to each other away from the microphone.

51:30- McClure and Montana begin to play unknown instruments, perhaps sitars.

51:42- Play first song.

01:01:56- McClure and Montana discuss which song to play next.

01:02:07- Montana introduces song.

01:02:19- McClure introduces song.

01:03:24- Play second song, George Montana sings.

01:10:59- McClure and Montana discuss playlist, inaudible to microphone.

01:11:39- McClure introduces the next song, “For President Walt” by Allen Ginsberg.

01:13:04- Plays song “For President Walt” by Allen Ginsberg, McClure sings.

01:16:44- McClure and Montana discuss next song, “The Bells of Moscow”.

01:17:55- Play song “The Bells of Moscow”.

01:23:17- McClure and Montana discuss next song, “Song: How sweet I roam’d from field to field” by William Blake

01:24:59- Play “Song: How sweet I roam’d from field to field” by William Blake.

01:30:46- McClure introduces song, first line “Takes a hundred sixty-five-thousand chicks to lay a railway from here to Chicago...”.

01:31:44- Play song, first line “Takes a hundred sixty-five-thousand chicks to lay a railway from here to Chicago...”.