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McClure keeps pushing for change

In 48 years, Michael McClure has written more than 20 plays and musicals, two novels, thousands of poems and three books of essays.

McClure’s play “The Beard” provoked a censorship battle in Los Angeles when the cast was arrested after each performance on 19 consecutive nights in 1968. McClure’s anti-Vietnam War play, “Spider Rabbit,” written in 1967, is on “off-off Broadway” in New York and was named by Village Voice as the “Critics Choice” of the week this month.



McClure has won a slew of awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, Obie Award for Best Play (“Josephine the Mouse Singer”) and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and Rockefeller Foundation for playwriting. The National Poetry Association honored him with a Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award in Poetry 10 years ago.




But McClure doesn’t think he’s done enough for the world at large.

“I don’t like the war on nature; I don’t like wars on poor nations,” McClure said Wednesday on the phone from his Bay Area home. “I’m inseparable from those feelings.”

He almost apologizes for not being able to personally stop the wars of the past several decades.

“There’s people out there doing a lot to stop the war like Amy Goodman and Peter Coyote,” McClure said. “At least we helped start the powers of imagination; it was the kickoff. We gave a voice to what a lot of people were thinking.”

McClure is referring to the major role he played in helping shape the Beat period. On a day in 1955, McClure read poetry with Allen Ginsberg, Philip Lamantia, Philip Whalen and Gary Snyder at Six Gallery in San Francisco. The Beat movement was set in motion.

Push the calendar forward 47 years and McClure is still writing about political and social concerns, among other subjects. He’s also a professor at California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. This semester, he teaches “Doorways to Poetry,” which introduces students to a wide range of poetry, from Chinese to surrealism to the Beats to environmentalism to feminism. Students are encouraged to follow their passions.

McClure performs around the country and will be featured at the Nevada County Poetry Series’ annual fund-raiser Friday in Grass Valley. After being introduced by Snyder, McClure will read some of the poems first heard at Six Gallery in 1955, along with Zen-oriented poems and contemporary political poems.

He is at an age – 69 – at which many others have slowed down. Not McClure, though.

“I’ve never felt driven, but I’ve always had more than I can do and want to do,” McClure said with a laugh. “In the morning, I write things I want to fulfill that day. Every so often, I realize I might not get to some things on my list.”

WHAT: Michael McClure at Nevada County Poetry Series’ annual fund-raiser

WHEN: Friday at 8 p.m.

WHERE: Center for the Arts, 314 W. Main St., Grass Valley

ADMISSION: $10 in advance and $12 at the door. Tickets at Herb Shop Records, The Book Seller, Odyssey Books, Natural Selection, BriarPatch and Mother Truckers.

INFORMATION: 432-8196, 477-4724 or 274-8384 for more information.


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