Mammal patriot (PoemTalk #144)

Michael McClure, 'Ghost Tantras'

From left: Selena Dyer, Jonathan Dick, and Jerome Rothenberg.


Al Filreis convened Selena Dyer, Jonathan Dick, and Jerome Rothenberg to talk about three poems in Michael McClure’s Ghost Tantras. The three poems are 39 (“MARILYN MONROE”), 49 (“SILENCE THE EYES!”), and 51 (“I LOVE TO THINK OF THE RED PURPLE ROSE”). The texts can be found here. Various recordings made over the years by McClure can be heard at his PennSound page. Performing the Marilyn Monroe poem at one point, he offered a contextual introduction. He recited 51 at Birkbeck College, London, in 2005, a recording that was a cut on Rockdrill CD #9. As for 49: there is a complicated history of performances. At Birkbeck McClure offered a brief commentary and then played the famous earlier recording in which he performed the poem (in 1964 and again in 1966) at the San Francisco Zoo in the lions’ house. Each time the lions roared in response. PennSound’s audio- and videographical entry runs as follows:

Video is an excerpt from a 1966 episode of Richard O. Moore’s television series USA Poetry. McClure reads “Tantra 49” from Ghost Tantras (1964). The MP3 here is a 1964 reading of this poem, cut 12 in the Rockdrill CD at the top of this page [linked here above]. This recording was made by Bruce Conner. The MP3 linked here is different dub of this recording (from Robert Creeley’s collection). (4:07): MP3.

PoemTalk listeners are urged to visit the McClure PennSound page to sort through the various recordings. A YouTube copy of an excerpt from Moore’s TV episode is presented here as well.

The group at one point is asked by Al Filreis to respond to compelling if grandiose claims made for McClure’s bellowing with the lions, such as Dennis Hopper’s quip, “Without McClure’s roar there would be no 1960s.” Era-naming hyperbole aside, what are the effects of McClure’s “mammal patriotism,” his effort to make central to poetry the notion of human utterance as archaic, nonsemantic sound? The notion obviously relates to Jerry Rothenberg’s own projects of the same era, as expressed through Technicians of the Sacred and other works, to realign the writing and acts of contemporary poets with respect for the long history of human song as it voices veneration for all forms of planetary life. 

PoemTalk #144 was engineered as well as edited by Zach Carduner. The PoemTalk team extends thanks and praise once again to our partners at the Poetry Foundation and to Nathan and Elizabeth Leight who generously support this and other “digital outreach” projects emanating from the Kelly Writers House in Philadelphia.

HERE is an abridged, 29-minute version of this episode.