The Operating System

3rd ANNUAL NAPOMO 30/30/30 :: DAY 10 :: CONOR MESSINGER on MICHAEL McCLURE

Clive Barker’s Hellraiser comes to mind when I try to reexamine Michael McClure. The box, the film’s main plot element, establishes an alluring promise to the observer based on curiosity, the glow of technology, intrigue, craft, only to show us the immediate, inescapable contract that is established. McClure’s contract is his machine-like organization of his poems. On the one hand it is expansive; on the reverse, it seems limiting, a sort of form to end all forms. The box that traps and creates the poem at the same time.

What keeps me coming back to McClure are the little moments of beauty under this overwhelming system. The space of McClure’s poetry sits in a contradictory space, between agency and the universal.

I picked up his book, Jaguar Skiessome time ago at Mercer Books, a great old 1975 New Directions copy. The cover is a photograph, some old pyramid, or it could be in Peru, shot either from its base or from someone ascending it. Yet what makes the picture is a metal chain that divides the steps in two, the chain going through iron loops drilled into the Pyramid. The cover could perhaps help in understanding McClure (and maybe vindicate my earlier reference to Hellraiser), to understand the Universal to which McClure formally tethers his poems, yet the content, especially that of Jaguar Skies also contains an alluring simplicity, little pieces of beauty swallowed up by civilization.

The poem “THE CLOUD” gets close to this:

WHAT I KNOW IS LIKE
A CLOUD.
I am rushing into
it
as it swells out
behind me
in expanding billows of information
like a green sweater
embroidered with red roses
floating
on blue waves
lapping
in the surf
from
reflected
star
to star
while motorcycles roar
and I smell
the leather bindings
of old books.

The move here, which I love in McClure, is the sort of disintegration of his own structure, he starts with the booming almost maxim-like opening, which dissipates into the little parts that make up this cloud. We see precise gestures that give his work a refreshing individuality. There are only two “I”’s, after the two opening capitalized lines, that seem to show first the dream of poetry as energy and second its exhaustion, “I am rushing into” ends with “and I smell / the leather bindings / of old books.” This is real poet’s trap, but also this pointing at phenomena amidst the incessant “rushing” that overwhelms us.

Poems like “MOVIES” might do this as well, whose second stanza is especially odd but tantalizing:

Look
there
is
a
BABY
QUAIL.

I’m nine years old!
This is living gold!

These “softer” moments in McClure I especially love. They come as the antidote, in a certain way to his own poetic system, the kind of small discoveries that counteract the overwhelming aggression of his work. The final couplet works because it stands as a whole. The exclamations are too perfect for the universal.

Artaud, who was an important influence for McClure, writes in The Theater and its Double:

“Then we might even come to see that it is our veneration for what has already been created, however beautiful and valid it may be, that petrifies us, deadens our responses, and prevents us from making contact with that underlying power, call it thought-energy, the life force, the determinism of change, lunar menses, or anything you like. Beneath the poetry of the texts, there is the actual poetry, without form and without text.”

This is not an old idea, we could compare it to Lorca’s Duende or any of these all-encompassing ideas of what a Poetics is. Yet Artaud’s is especially destructive. The easy comparison to Artaud is McClure’s new creation of form, the middle orientation on the page as a denial of form, an attempt to bring the poem closer to the energy of real action, the closure of the space between the object and its representation, in some sort of Benjaminian manner. I could cite here as well his readings to Lions — yet, the lion reading is caged, the animals are caged and the poet as well.

There is something much more difficult and ambivalent going on in McClure, passages such as this one in

“THE CORNER OF POST AND POWELL”:

I WOULD KNOW WHAT THESE
MYSTERIES ARE
AND RAISE MY MIND
to another kind
of being
that
is
fit
to chase
the fleetest
act of seeing.
All
these
Spirit
Things
are loops
to rub against
as a foxy cat goes purring.
Angel. Skyscraper. Blue carnation.

Here we see a sort of rupture in McClure’s “loop.” They become only things to “rub against.” We can only end, again, in these observations that break up the solidity of the universal and convert it into something human, “a foxy cat goes purring. / Angel. Skyscraper. Blue carnation.”

Conor Messinger was born in 1990. His poetry, reviews and translations have appeared in New Pinky,  RamonaWeb and Chronos Loves Kairos. He lives in Brooklyn and curates the Hero Systems reading series at Molasses Books. He tweets at @spirallabyrinth, and tumbls here : http://templeofunderdevelopment.tumblr.com

No Comments Yet

Comments are closed.