WHY DO I LOVE ALLEN?
by Michael McClure
A journalist called me to talk about Allen. Later he phoned back leaving a
message saying he'd forgotten the important questions: "What are your
feelings about Allen? Why do you love Allen?"
Why do I love Allen?
I love Allen because the first time I met him, in 1954 in San Francisco at a
party for W. H. Auden, not only were we the youngest people there, but we
were the wallflowers and we spoke to each other about our visions of Blake
and what Blake meant to each of us.
I love Allen because at our first poetry reading in 1955, with Gary Snyder,
Philip Whalen, Philip Lamantia, and Kenneth Rexroth, Allen read a poem that
set the benchmark for deep political social-consciousness and for speaking
out. In the midst of my personal anarchism, I still return to that
declaration of Allen's as an inspiration.
I love Allen for introducing me to Jack Kerouac: first to Kerouac's
correspondence to him, and the sections of Mexico City Blues in the letters .
. . and then, later, introducing me to Jack personally when they dropped by
my apartment with a $5 matchbox of pot.
I love Allen, and Gary Snyder and Phil Whalen and Jack Kerouac and Diane di
Prima and Anne Waldman, for bringing the mercies of enlightened Buddhism to
poetry and to American artists and philosopher-intellectuals.
I love Allen because when I went to heroic lengths to bring him the greatest
banana cream pie ever made, carrying it from Fort Collins to Boulder for his
birthday, Allen took it to the party and it was gone before he even tasted
I love Allen because of the remarkable generosity with his friends:
introducing them to one another and making a free flow of talent and
genius--from Bob Dylan to Francesco Clemente to the Russian poets.
I love Allen because he nourished some secret grudge against me for 20 years
and never exhibited a photograph of me in his photo shows. I asked him why
last year. He said, "You never let me photograph you naked." You never asked,
I love Allen because when Ray Manzarek and I perform on a double bill with
Allen, Ray imagines that he's looking at the Russian Revolution and
Mayakovsky, and that we are going to go out of the music club and sing and
march in the streets.
I love Allen because all of us, especially Allen, competed so fiercely and
mercilessly with each other that it made room for all of us to be poets. We
had to force new styles and new subject matters for poetry into being. All
through this we supported each other vigorously and single-mindedly.
I love Allen for single-handedly pushing the closet door open and declaring
himself with such candor and tirelessness that it began the liberation of our
gay brothers and sisters.
I love Allen for following the CIA day by day in his files and making known
the dope-running and the brutalities of the spy networks. In the same way I
love Allen for the indefatigability of his leadership in resisting the wars
in Asia, and the nuclear waste, and the hydrogen armament madness. Allen was
well armed with his shining mammal brain, finger cymbals, and a big voice.
I love Allen because I remember us running guard like football players with
Bob Dylan between us, as a mob of threatening-seeming fans began pursuit in
the dim back-passages of the San Jose Civic Auditorium.
I love Allen because he kept badgering me to sing my poetry. I tried hard and
ended up with a musical partner, and do my "singing" as another kind of
I love Allen because he is apparently fearless for his body and went swimming
in the Ganges and took drugs that even I was hesitant to take. Allen believes
that his body is there to use up with whatever diseases, discomforts, and
inflictions. He ignored all of them, endured the suffering, and kept going.
I love Allen because when his spiritual master told him that to be taken
seriously he must dress in suits and ties, Allen went directly to the
Goodwill and bought a wardrobe. Allen followed that counsel of Chogyam
Trungpa's till his last day of tenure on the planet. But he had some handsome
new suits and a Borsalino hat given to him as gifts for readings.
At Allen's last funeral rites, Monday, April 7th at Shambhala Center in New
York, at the end of four hours of Tibetan chanting, members of the sangha
(the congregation) felt Allen's spirit soaring out of his body and through
the pine-wood walls of the box he was lying in a few feet from us. This
happened right after Gelek Rinpoche directed the burning of a photograph of
Allen, I love you for sailing out so clearly, so energetically; energetic
like the love you gave to others: over the years to Peter Orlovsky, to
Gregory Corso, to your stepmother, to so many more.
Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate! Bodhi! Svaha!
Michael McClure (ZYZZYVA 7, 14, 19) lives in Piedmont. His most recent books
are a collection of poems, Simple Eyes (New Directions), and a novel, The Mad
Cub (Blue Moon Books). A documentary on his collaboration with keyboardist
Ray Manzarek, The Third Mind, has recently been completed. This memorial was
given at Congregation Emanu-El Synagogue in San Francisco, April 20, and at
the Wadsworth Theater in Los Angeles, July 21.