Michael McClure hasn’t seen Howl. To be clear, he’s seen Allen Ginsberg read the famed work — he was one of the poets on the bill for the inaugural performance at Six Galleries in October, 1955 — but when it comes to the James-Franco-starring Ginsberg biopic of the same name, he says he’s not rushing.
“I think I’m really tired of seeing movies about dead friends,” McClure says over the phone from his home in Oakland. “I don’t plan on not seeing it, but I don’t plan on seeing it, either. There’s so much commoditization of dead friends that it concerns me.”
Indeed, it does seem that there’s a romanticization of the Beat Era, whether it be via films being made or young writers picking up their first copy of Kerouac’s On the Road and falling in love with a movement. It’s a romance McClure says isn’t restricted to young folks just discovering the era’s literature.
“I think there’s a lot of recognition on the part of many people, young and old — not just young people, but also on the part of middle-aged and young people — that the Beat Movement seems like our last meaningful revolution of individual consciousness before the media captured individual consciousness and began directing it in lightweight directions,” he says.
Not that McClure is all gloom and doom about the current state of literature; he lists people like Denise Enck, Paul Nelson and Diane di Prima as writers at the forefront of poetry today.
“I think these people have a great deal of affection for their art and their undercurrent is not largely known,” he says. “I remember Francesco Clemente, the painter, talking to us one day and saying, ‘Well, I’m an amateur.’ We said, ‘Well, you sure paint a lot of great and beautiful paintings for an amateur’ and he said, ‘Amateur means I love what I’m doing.’”
It seems McClure, now in his 70s, is just as busy now as he was during the 1950s, when he was at the forefront of the Beat Movement — nor has he been resting on his laurels the past 50 years. The last five decades have seen him act as mentor to legends such as Jim Morrison and Bob Dylan, pen numerous articles — many of which focussed on environmental issues — publications like Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair and win several prestigious awards, including an Obie Award for Best New Play (The Beard, 1967-68) and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He’s just published his 32nd book — Of Indigo and Saffron: New and Selected Poems — recently completed Abstract Alchemist of Flesh, a documentary film about his ideas and philosophy, and is making plans to tour to Poland with former Doors keyboardist and frequent collaborator Ray Manzarek in May to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Nobel Prize-winning poet Czelaw Milosz. (“It’s a collaboration neither of us thought of when we were travelling around the country, reading in any place that would have us, from beer bars to mafia night clubs, from colleges to museums,” he says.) He still performs and reads frequently and will be in Victoria for two events this week: a screening of Abstract Alchemist as well as a documentary on Haight-Ashbury on Tuesday and a reading at Hermann’s on Wednesday. McClure says he enjoys visiting Victoria, and is particularly looking forward to meeting Marilyn Brakhage, the wife of the late experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage.
“Stan died there in Victoria,” says McClure. “He was one of my dearest friends over many, many years. I just finished working on shaping … the correspondence we had with one another, so it will be online, about 150 or 200 pages of it, on Big Bridge [webzine] soon. I look forward to that, because it tells a lot about what life was like then. Stan and I were filled with ego and presumption … but we weren’t stuffy.”
As for his busy schedule, McClure says, “I’m not sure if I like it or not … When it gets like this, it’s a bit much, but it will be slowed down and then I’ll say, ‘Oh, when is something going to happen?’ Then it’s time to write.”
An Evening of Film happens at 7:30pm Tuesday, Feb. 8 at Merlin’s Sun Theatre (1983 Fairfield). An Evening of Poetry starts at 7:30pm Wednesday, Feb. 9 at Hermanns’ (753 View). Tickets are $15 advance at 250-385-3378 or extasiseditions.com.