Alum Michael McClure: The Beat Poetry Muse of Musicians

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

WASHINGTON POST -- Arriving in 1954 to study abstract expressionist art at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute), McClure quickly transferred to San Francisco State to learn from Robert Duncan, a major influence on the area’s poetry renaissance. After the Six Gallery reading, he ascended into a rarefied stratum.

“What the Six Gallery really did was show us that there was an audience out there that really wanted to hear poetry off the page,” McClure continues, surrounded by overstuffed bookshelves and clay kiln-fired statues of spirit guides made by his wife, sculptor Amy Evans McClure. The decor reflects McClure’s own obsessions with Asian, Native American and abstract art. “That night at the Six Gallery greatly inspired us to go ahead.”

Fluidly gliding through worlds, McClure bridged the gap between Beats, hippies and Hell’s Angels. He invented his own “beast language” and growled those poems to the lions at the San Francisco Zoo. It’s right there to watch on YouTube. His early psychedelic experiments and subsequent “Peyote Poem” blew the mind of Francis Crick, who would soon co-discover the structure of our DNA. Among other songs, McClure co-wrote “Mercedes Benz,” which was soon turned into a hit by his close friend Janis Joplin.