Single, discrete, a fanged mouth, thin beast-mouthed
NO! A NIGHTMARE!
Twist out of sight out of shape into a distorted monster
of gleaming eyes, taut limbs, veined and sinuous
the whore of the sick mind.
THE RISING SPIRIT FROM THE WARM TORN LIMBS,
of body torn from the body. No floating
above it hangs. Is beneficent. Emotionless, free of the
lover, the beloved, stretched below.
IS AS I SEE IF FIRST IS THE COLUMN OF BEAUTY FROM
THE RENT SHAPE
BEAUTY IS WARMTH THE FLASH WE MAKE UPON ALL
in one case.
And I who stand apart am not aloof.
Discrete but not disparate from pain
or sights rising warm from the corpse
Am spotted outwardly ( with marks ) but inwardly draw close.
Respond and twist so. Cry with
what I see.
Even cry with joy at sight of it.
Jack Foley: Wow! One of the things I thought of as you were reading that magnificent poem was the extent to which Olson himself talks about the Elizabethans and the Jacobeans and that as a kind of high-water mark of English language possibilities. He wants to get that sense back, and if you don't have it back in that poem I don't what it is. There's a tremendous strength of a kind of language one would not have heard very often in 1957. You might have read it in John Webster or Shakespeare.
Michael McClure: Mine was John Webster. I love Webster and I love Shakespeare, but I was in love with John Webster's Duchess of Malfi (1623) and White Devil (1612).
Jack Foley: You were probably one of the only American poets of that time who would have even been aware of Webster, as you were one of the few aware of Antonin Artaud, both of whom are extraordinarily rhetorical people.
Michael McClure: I didn't hear the rhetoric in Webster. What I felt was eletricity of lines.
Jack Foley: Rhetoric in the good sense.
Michael McClure: What I saw in Webster's verse was a tensility, an electro-chemical energy of line that was so fine, so intense, so in tune with the self-experience that he was imagining of the characters as they spoke the lines that he dreamed for them. It deeply moved me, and still does today. I still am mad about John Webster's work.
Here's a very recent haiku for Jack Kerouac:
a plum petal
Here's a fairly recent haiku, the title poem of Rain Mirror. It's for you and Adelle Foley, and I like this as much as the one for Kerouac because it has a rhyme in it. There's an academic opinion going around these days that you can't have iambs and rhymes in projective verse because projective verse is a cut-and-dried, taxidermized thing that Charles Olson thesis-ed and so we must do that or it isn't projective verse. This is one of my favorite recent projective poems, and it happens to be a haiku:
and an old dog
A moment ago you reminded me of the haiku on my answering machine and I realized how Olsonian it is. It's like early Olson. It's concerned with polis and city.
Jack Foley: Olson wrote, "The men of the matter of this city...are never / doctrinaires" ("Letter 7," The Maximus Poems, Volume One). I think he would probably welcome your variation. But it is a variation, I think.
Michael McClure: I don't believe it's a variation on his version of projective verse because his version of projective verse is his version of projective verse: it's the beginning. He didn't say, "This is my thesis, this is my doctrine." He said, "This is my proposal. Take it and go with it. Look at the way Creeley's going with it. Look at the way Levertov is going with it." Clyfford Still said that he had managed a fusion of image and space. Look at the way Eigner manages to fuse self-experience and verse into projectivity. That's certainly not "Olsonian," but it is certainly projective verse. You agree?
Jack Foley: Completely!
Michael McClure: I think in Eigner's case it can't be anything else, even if Larry said it wasn't projective verse. I wouldn't argue with him, but--
Jack Foley: Larry frequently said it was. Olson was one of the great influences on Larry. But I think that one of the things that's true of all modes of projective verse--and you could tell it in the way you attacked your poem, the way you read it--is that the verse is alive, the page is alive, no matter what form you're using.
Michael McClure: First you have to be inspired. The first line has to have energy or power. Then it has to lead to another perception which must be equally energetic.
Jack Foley: "Instanter," as Olson says in the essay: "ONE PERCEPTION MUST IMMEDIATELY AND DIRECTLY LEAD TO A FURTHER PERCEPTION...[I]f you...set up as a poet, USE USE USE the process at all points, in any given poem always, always one perception must must must MOVE, INSTANTER, ON ANOTHER!"
Michael McClure: The Olson proposal is that you break the line for breath reasons. I figured out seven reasons why I broke my line where I did. One would be for breath. Two would be because, as Robert Duncan would say, the propositions of energy that were coming through me were too long for a single line so they would shape themselves into a swirl by making themselves of certain related lengths. Gary Snyder talks about the swirl of energies in poetry.
Jack Foley: "Swirl" is a word that shows up in your work a lot.
Michael McClure: Or eddies of energy in your poetry. So the first reason is breath. The second reason would be to make a map of swirls. The third would be to give the poem a spine. Another reason for breaking my line, and centering it, would be so that the poem would be bilaterally symmetrical, as all evolutionary beings are after the evolution of the flatworm. And to show biological energy as an extension of myself moving in a direction--plunging in space--as the other directions are simulated or presented by line lengths and eddies. Another reason would be to make it beautiful, to paint with it, as one makes sumi ideograms--which I didn't know anything about at the time but which I'm studying a little bit now with teacher Kaz Tanahashi. I'm learning more now by holding the brush in my hand.
Jack Foley: Learning about what you were doing forty years ago.
Michael McClure: Yes. It's rich. And another reason to break the line would be because I wanted to, I felt like it. Something stochastic, intuitive, even capricious.
Jack Foley: Had you seen any examples of centering in other people's poetry?
Michael McClure: Only I think in odd art printing of peculiar poetry! Doing it, centering, wasn't an inviting proposal. Usually it was in vanity publishing by elderly persons who had centered their poetry--or somebody had done it because the authors were dead and they couldn't stop them! I read of course the Metaphysical Poets, and I loved them. There are also a number of centered poems by Dylan Thomas. But Dylan Thomas is doing it because the Metaphysicals did it. I think that's his reason.
Jack Foley: And Thomas's poems don't look anything like yours.
Michael McClure on Projective Verse - Part Two
Jack Foley: The theatricality of it is so interesting to me because some of Olson's examples in "Projective Verse" are from Shakespeare. He's partly thinking in terms of theater, though he doesn't say so explicitly.
Michael McClure: And he's including iambs, which we all grew up with. I include rhymes, Creeley included rhymes. If you look back at the early great projective poems of Creeley's there's a lot of rhyme. "If you were going to get a pet / what kind of an animal would you get?" That's the start of Creeley's poem for James Broughton. So I didn't really see any limitations of projective verse. I was a very young man; these people were all older than I. Olson was a generation older, Creeley more like seven or eight years older--an older brother. Like Allen Ginsberg. So I was looking to them with admiration and seeing no limitations coming out of Creeley or Olson on what was possible. But, to get back to my theme: the other extreme in the dramatic usage of projective verse would be in my full-length play, Josephine the Mouse Singer, which is an adaptation of a fable by Franz Kafka. It centers around the plight and joy and horror of being an unappreciated artist. It takes place in the mouse world, and it's written in mouse projective verse. And this was not only written in mouse projective verse; I was also following Kerouac's idea of no change, no revision in the text. In the manuscript it's all centered, it all comes out riding the middle of the page, in ball point pen. The lines are sometimes only one word, two words, three words--seldom more than two or three words to the trope. And it's in mouse voices, mouse projectivity!
Jack Foley: It's kind of the opposite of "Maximus"...
Michael McClure: This is Mousimus! Now, in my non-dramatic poetry I think one other end of projectivity would be my poem, "The Column" or my poem, "Rant Block" in The New Book / The Book of Torture, which has been reprinted in Huge Dreams by Penguin. This poem is from 1958 or 59; it was first published in Yugen, edited by LeRoi Jones before he became Amiri Baraka. Yugen was a magazine that published a lot of projective verse, a great treasure of a magazine. This is "The Column"; I'm going to read it as an example of dramatization in personal affairs.
I AM BEAST O BEAUTEOUS MUSIC GLORIFICATION
the sparkling firelight flashes on us
And what falls torn, disjointed, liberty what
within. The monster of pure Love. Vision,
HEART AND COILED, THE TRACERY GLEAM