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Michael McClure in 2004. Photo by Gloria Graham. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Michael McClure
Born October 20, 1932(1932-Template:MONTHNUMBER-20)
Marysville, Kansas
Died May 4, 2020
Occupation poet, songwriter, critic, playwright, academic
Nationality United States American

Michael McClure (October 20, 1932 - May 4, 2020) was an American poet, playwright, songwriter, and novelist.


McClure was born in Marysville,Kansas.

After moving to San Francisco as a young man, he found fame as member of the group of 5 poets (including Allen Ginsberg) who read at the famous San Francisco Six Gallery reading in 1955 rendered in barely fictionalized terms in Jack Kerouac's Dharma Bums. McClure's debut book of poetry, Passage, was published in 1956 by small press publisher Jonathan Williams.[1] McClure has since published 8 books of plays and 4 collections of essays, including essays on Bob Dylan and the environment. His 14 books of poetry include Jaguar Skies, Dark Brown, Huge Dreams, Rebel Lions, Rain Mirror and Plum Stones. McClure famously read selections of his Ghost Tantra poetry series to the caged lions in the San Francisco Zoo. His work as a novelist includes the autobiographical The Mad Cub and The Adept.

On January 14, 1967, McClure read at the epochal Human Be-In event in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and transcended his Beat label to become an important member of the 1960s Hippie counterculture. Barry Miles famously referred to McClure as "the Prince of the San Francisco Scene".[2]

McClure would later court controversy as a playwright with his play The Beard. The play tells of a fictional encounter in the blue velvet of eternity between Billy the Kid and Jean Harlow and is a theatrical exploration of his "Meat Politics" theory, in which all human beings are "bags of meat."

Other plays include Josephine The Mouse Singer and VKTMS. He had an eleven-year run as playwright-in-residence with San Francisco's Magic Theatre where his operetta "Minnie Mouse and the Tap-Dancing Buddha" had an extended run. He has made two television documentaries – The Maze and September Blackberries – and is featured in several films including The Last Waltz (dir. Martin Scorsese) where he reads from The Canterbury Tales; Beyond the Law (dir. Norman Mailer); and, most prominently, The Hired Hand (dir. Peter Fonda).

McClure was a close friend of The Doors lead singer Jim Morrison and is generally acknowledged as having been responsible for promoting Morrison as a poet. McClure still performs spoken word poetry concerts with Doors keyboard player Ray Manzarek and they have released several CDs of their work. McClure is the author of the Afterword in Jerry Hopkins's and Danny Sugerman's seminal Doors biography, No One Here Gets Out Alive. McClure has also released CDs of his work with minimalist composer Terry Riley. McClure’s songs include "Mercedes Benz," popularized by Janis Joplin, and new songs which are being performed by Riders on the Storm, a band that consists of original Doors members Ray Manzarek and Robbie Krieger.

McClure's journalism has been featured in Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, The L.A. Times and The San Francisco Chronicle. McClure is still active as a poet, essayist, and playwright, and lives with his 2nd wife, Amy, in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has a daughter from his previous marriage to Joanna McClure.

The Beard[]

McClure's play The Beard premiered at the Actor’s Workshop Theatre in San Francisco on the December 18, 1965. A 2nd performance followed at Bill Graham’s Fillmore Auditorium on the July 24, 1966. With the Fillmore’s high profile, the play attracted an audience of 700. After success at the Fillmore, the following month the play opened at The Committee, a theatre nightclub in the North Beach area of the city, where it was hoped it would enjoy a lengthy run.

Now aware of the play’s subject matter, the San Francisco Police Department secretly tape-recorded the first 2 performances and secretly filmed the 3rd performance. Having failed in their attempts to successfully censor Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, the performances of Lenny Bruce, and the San Francisco Mime Troupe, the police department was intent to succeed this time.

At the end of that 3rd performance on August 8, 1966 — only the 5th time the play had been performed in public — the SFPD raided the venue and arrested actors Billie Dixon (Jean) and Richard Bright (Billy). Under Penal Code Section 647(a) the pair were initially charged with “obscenity”, then “conspiracy to commit a felony” and ultimately with “lewd or dissolute conduct in a public place.”

The American Civil Liberties Union took the case and represented the actors. 12 days after the arrests, the play was performed at The Florence Schwimley Little Theatre, in Berkeley. The audience included more than a hundred ACLU-invited expert witnesses, including political activists, academics, writers and even members of the clergy. Seven members of the Berkeley Police Department and the District Attorney’s office were also present. Five days later, the city of Berkeley brought its own charges of “lewd or dissolute conduct” against the play. It became a theatrical cause célèbre, until finally, after months of legal deliberation, Judge Joseph Karesh of the San Francisco Superior Court ruled that while the play did contain material of a troublesome nature, it was not appropriate to prosecute such work under the law. All the charges were dropped and the subsequent appeal lost.

Unable to perform in the San Francisco area, the play moved to Los Angeles where the play's attempt at a run was disrupted by the arrest of both Dixon and Bright at curtain down of fourteen consecutive performances. McClure recalls, “The actor and the actress actually got two standing ovations, one at the end of the play and the second when the police hauled them out of the door and into the waiting wagon and took them off to book them.”(Citation needed)

The Beard eventually transferred to New York where in the 1967–1968 Obie Theatre Awards, it won Best Director and Best Actress. It has since played successfully all over the world and is a favorite with American university drama groups. The play has enjoyed particular success in London, having been produced there twice. In 1968, actor Rip Torn directed a notable production at The Royal Court Theatre and it has most recently been revived at a smaller venue, the Old Red Lion Theatre in 2006 under the direction of Nic Saunders with new music by Terry Riley. The play is currently out of print in both the US and UK. Saunders would collaborate with McClure a second time in 2008 on the award-winning short film Curses and Sermons which would mark the 1st time McClure had authorised a filmed adaptation of 1 of his poems.

Michael McClure was a popular, celebrated professor of English at the California College of Arts and Crafts (now renamed California College of the Arts), in Oakland, California, for many years.Template:Cn

McClure died of stroke-related complications on May 4, 2020, in Oakland, aged 87.[3]


McClure's poetry is heavily infused with an awareness of nature, especially in the animal consciousness that often lies dormant in mankind. Not only an awareness of nature, but the poems are organized in an organic fashion, continuing with his appreciation of nature's purity. Stan Brakhage, friend of McClure, stated in Chicago Review that:

"McClure always, and more and more as he grows older, gives his reader access to the verbal impulses of his whole body's thought (as distinct from simply and only brain-think, as it is with most who write). He invents a form for the cellular messages of his, a form which will feel as if it were organic on the page; and he sticks with it across his life..."[4]


He has received numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Obie Award for Best Play, an NEA grant, the Alfred Jarry Award, and a Rockefeller grant for playwriting.

In popular culture[]

McClure is immortalized as "Pat McLear" in Jack Kerouac's novel, Big Sur.



  • Passage. Big Sur, CA: Jonathan Williams, 1956.
  • For Artaud. New York: Totem Press (Blue Plate #2), 1959.
  • Hymns to St. Geryon, and other poems. San Francisco, CA: Auerhahn Press, 1959.
  • Oh Christ God Love Cry of Love Stifled Furred (with John Wieners, Philip Lamantia, & Philip Whalen). San Francisco, CA: Auerhahn Press, 1959.
  • The Feast. San Francisco, CA: Batman Gallery, 1960.
  • The New Book / A Book of Torture. New York: Grove Press, 1961.
    • From the New Book / A Book of Torture. Cambridge, MA: Paterson Society, 1961.
  • Pillow. New York: New York Poets Theatre, 1961.
  • Dark Brown. San Francisco, CA: Auerhahn Press, 1961.
  • Poetry is a Muscular Principle. Los Angeles: privately published, 1964.
  • 13 Mad Sonnets. Milano: East 128, 1964.
  • Ghost Tantras. San Francisco, CA: privately published, 1964; San Francisco, CA: Four Seasons Foundation, 1969.
  • Dream Table (sets of printed cards). San Francisco, CA: Dave Haselwood, 1965.
  • The Beard. San Francisco, CA: privately published, 1965; San Francisco, CA: Coyote, 1967; New York: Grove Press, 1967.
  • Poisoned Wheat. San Francisco, CA: privately published, 1965; San Francisco, CA: Coyote, 1966; Vineyard Haven, MA: Not Guilty Press, 1969.
  • Unto Caesar. San Francisco, CA: Dave Haselwood, 1965
  • Mandalas (with Bruce Conner). San Francisco: Dave Haselwood, 1966.
  • Lobe Key Stilled Lionman Laced Winged April Raphael Dance Wiry (with Bruce Conner; printed cards). San Francisco, CA: Dave Haselwood, 1966.
    • also printed as Cards. San Francisco, CA: Bruce Conner, 1970-1971.
  • Video Sutra No. II (mimeographed). n.p, n.p., 1966.
  • Love Lion Book. San Francisco, CA: Four Seasons Foundation, 1966.
  • War is Decor in My Cavern Cave. San Francisco, CA: Communication Company, 1967.
  • The Blossom; or Billy the Kid. Milwaukee, WI: Great Lakes Books, 1967.
  • Freewheelin Frank, Secretary of the Angels (by Frank Reynolds, as told to Michael McClure). New York: Grove Press, 1967.
  • The Sermons of Jean Harlow and the Curses of Billy the Kid. San Francisco, CA: Four Seasons Foundation with Dave Haselwood Books, 1968.
  • Hail Thee Who PlayLos Angeles, CA: Black Sparrow, 1968.
  • Little Odes. New York: Poets Press, 1968.
  • Muscled Apple Swift. Los Angeles: Love Press, 1968.
  • Childhood Memories are Like the Smallness. London: Cape Goliard Press, 1968.
  • Hymns to St. Gervon and Dark Brown. London: Cape Goliard, 1969; . San Francisco, CA: Grey Fox Press, 1980.
  • Little Odes / The Raptors. Los Angeles, CA: Black Sparrow, 1969.
  • The Surge. Columbus, OH: Frontier Press, 1969.
  • Plane Poems. New York: Phoenix Book Shop, 1969.
  • The Shell. London: Cape Goliard, 1969.
  • Muscled Apple Swift. Sacramento, CA: Runcible Spoon, 1969.
  • Rose Muse Rose Amber. San Francisco: The Flash, A Scent Store, 1969.
  • Star. New York: Grove Press, 1970.
  • The Mad Cub. New York: Bantam, 1970; New York: Blue Moon Books, 1995; New York: Book-of-the-Month Club, 1995.
  • The Cherub. . Los Angeles: Black Sparrow, 1970.
  • The Adept. New York: Delacorte, 1971.
  • Gargoyle Cartoons. New York: Delacorte, 1971.
  • The Mammals (includes The Feast, The Blossom; or, Billy the Kid, and Pillow). San Francisco, CA: Cranium Press, 1972.
  • A Spirit of Mt. Tamalpais. San Francisco, CA: Book People, 1972.
  • Wolf Net Part One. London: Bonefold Imprint, [1972
  • Rare Angel (Writ with raven's blood). San Francisco, CA: privately published, 1973.
  • The Book of Joanna. Berkeley, CA: Sand Dollar, 1973.
  • Solstice Blossom. Berkeley, CA: Arif Press, 1973.
  • Transfiguration. Cambridge: Pomegranate Press, 1973
  • Rare AngelLos Angeles: Black Sparrow, 1974.
  • A Fist-Full, 1956–57. Los Angeles, CA: Black Sparrow, 1974.
  • Fleas, 189-195. New York: Aloe Editions, 1974.
  • Mail Thee and Play. Berkeley, CA: Sand Dollar, 1974.
  • On Orgasm. Canton, NY: Institute for Further Studies, 1974.
  • The Derby. San Francisco, CA: privately published, 1974.
  • Mind/Body Split (illustrated by Charles Gill). Oakland, CA: Archer Press, [ca.1974]. .
  • September Blackberries. San Francisco, CA: privately published, 1974; New York: New Directions, 1974.
  • Jaguar Skies. New York: New Directions, 1975.
  • Man of Moderation. New York: Frank Hallman, 1975.
  • Gorf; or, Gorf and the Blind Dyke. New York: New Directions, 1976.
  • Antechamber. . Berkeley, CA: Poythress Press, 1977; New York: New Directions, 1978.
  • The Grabbing of the Fairy. . St. Paul, MN: Truck Press, 1978.
  • Fragments of Perseus. . New York: Jordan Davies, 1978.
  • Fortune ... Breaks the Path of Faith. St. Paul, MN: The Fish in the Sky / Bookslinger, 1979.
  • The Red Snake. San Francisco: privately published, 1979.
  • Josephine the House Singer. . New York: New Directions, 1980.
  • The Velvet Edge. San Francisco: privately published, 1980.
  • Seasons (with Joanna McClure; illustrated by Wesley Tanner). Berkeley, CA: Arif Press, 1981.
  • Scratching the Beat Surface (illustrated by Larry Keenan). San Francisco: North Point Press, 1982; New York: Penguin, 1994.
  • The Book of Benjamin. Berkeley, CA: Arif Press, 1982.
  • Fragments of Perseus. New York: New Directions, 1983.
  • The Daily Vision. San Francisco: privately published, [ca. 1984].
  • The Beard / VKTNS. New York: Grove Press, 1985.
  • Specks. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1985.
  • Fleas. Berkeley, CA: privately published, 1985.
  • Selected Poems. New York: New Directions, 1986.
  • The Stitching. Santa Barbara, CA: Table Top Press, 1986.
  • Rebel Lions. New York: New Directions, 1991.
  • Simple Eyes. New York: New Directions, 1992.
  • Red Cages. San Francisco: Blue Beetle Press, 1992.
  • Lighting the Corners. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 1993.
  • What Crevices. Berkeley, CA: Tangram, 1993.
  • 3 Poems. New York: Penguin Poets, 1995.
  • Lie, Sit, Stand, Be Still (with lithographs by Robert Graham). San Francisco: Arion Press, 1995.
  • The Mad Cub.
  • Soul Cinders. Berkeley, CA: Bancroft Library Press, 1996.
  • Huge Dreams. New York: Penguin Poets, 1999.
  • Rain Mirror. New York: New Directions, 1999.
  • Touching the Edge: Dharma devotions from the Hummingbird Sangha. Boston: Shambhala, 1999.
  • The Masked Choir: A masque in the shape of an enquiry into the Treena an Sheena myth. Kenosha, WI: Full Spectrum Editions / Light and Dust, 2000.
  • Plum Stones: Cartoons of no heaven. Oakland, CA: O Books, 2002.


  • Adventures of a Novel in Four Chapters (with Bruce Conner). San Francisco: Limetone Press, 1991.


  • General Gorgeous. New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1982.


  • Meat Science EssaysSan Francisco: City Lights Books, 1963
    • revised edition, San Francisco, CA: City Lights Books, 1966.
  • "Noguchi Notes" text to Isami Noguchi at Gemini, 1982-1983. Los Angeles: Gemini G.E.L., 1983.
  • Text to Francesco Clemente: Testa coda. New York: Gagosian Gallery / Rizzoli, 1991.
  • Text to Robert Graham: Eight statues. New York: Gagosian Gallery, 1994.
  • Text to Nathan Oliveira: Recent paintings and works on paper. San Francisco: John Berggman Gallery, 1997.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy Empty Mirror Books.[5].

Audio / video[]


  • Two (1965) – as himself
  • Be In (1967) – as himself
  • Beyond The Law (1968) – as actor
  • The Hired Hand (1971) – as actor
  • The Last Waltz (1978) – as himself
  • The Source (1999) – as himself
  • Love Her Madly (2002) – as himself
  • The Third Mind (2006) – as himself
  • Curses and Sermons (2008) – based on his work



Michael McClure reading poetry to lions

  • Love Lion (CD; with Ray Manzarek). Shanachie, 1993.
  • Love Lion (video; with Ray Manzarek). New York: Mystic Fire Video, 1993.
  • The Third Mind (video; with Ray Manzarek). New York: Mystic Fire Video, 2000.
  • There's a World! (CD; with Ray Manzarek). Oakland, CA: Rare Angel Music, 2001.

Except where noted, discographical information courtesy Empty Mirror Books.[5]

See also[]


Michael McClure Poem 'Beginning with a Line by DiPrima'




  1. Charters, Ann. "Michael McClure." The Portable Beat Reader, 1992. Print.
  2. Miles, Barry. In The Sixties. Jonathan Cape Books, 2002, p. 262.
  3. Michael McClure, famed Beat poet who helped launch the SF Renaissance, dead at 87
  4. Brakhage, Stan. "Chicago Review Article." Chicago Review. 47/48. 1/4 (Winter 2001/Spring 2002): 38-41. Print.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Michael McClure: A Selected Bibliography,, Web, Nov. 6, 2012.

External links[]

  • "Add-Verse" a poetry-photo-video project McClure participated in
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