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Two poems by Michael McClure


Michael McClure

Strongly identified with the Beat movement — he's been fictionalized in two Jack Kerouac novels — Michael McClure is an acclaimed poet, novelist and songwriter (he wrote "Mercedes Benz" for Janis Joplin). 

He will give a free reading Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Winchester Cultural Center (3130 S. McLeod), and a writing workshop Sunday at 2 p.m. in the Clark County Library (1401 E. Flamingo).

Below are two selections from his book Of Indigo and Saffron: New and Selected Poems (University of California Press, 2011; reprinted with permission of the author).

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To hear an interview with McClure from KNPR's "State of Nevada" program, and to listen to him read his work, click here.


For the Death of 100 Whales

…Killer whales…Savage sea cannibals up to 30 feet long with teeth like bayonets…one was caught with 14 seals and 13 porpoises in its belly…often tear at boats and nets…destroyed thousands of dollars worth of fishing tackle…Icelandic government appealed to the U.S., which has thousands of men stationed at a lonely NATO airbase on the subarctic island. Seventy-nine bored G.I.’s responded with enthusiasm. Armed with rifles and machine guns one posse of Americans climbed into four small boats and in one morning wiped out a pack of 100 killers…

…First the killers were rounded up into a tight formation with concentrated machine gun fire, then moved out again one by one, for the final blast which would kill them…as one was wounded, the others would set upon it and tear it to pieces with their jagged teeth…

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Time, April 1954



Hung midsea 
Like a boat mid-air 
The Liners boiled their pastures: 
The Liners of flesh, 
The Arctic steamers

Brains the size of a football 
Mouths the size of a door

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The sleek wolves 
Mowers and reapers of sea kine. 
(Meat their algae) 
Like sheep or children. 
Shot from the sea's bore.
Turned and twisted 
Flung blood and sperm. 
Gnashed at their tails and brothers, 
Cursed Christ of mammals, 
Snapped at the sun, 
Ran for the Sea's floor.

Goya! Goya! 
Oh Lawrence 
No angels dance those bridges. 
There are no churches in the waves, 
No holiness, 
No passages or crossings 
From the beasts' wet shore.



The Mystery of the Hunt


                    It’s the mystery of the hunt that intrigues me,

                   That drives us like lemmings, but cautiously—

The search for a bright square cloud—the scent of lemon verbena—

                    Or to learn rules for the game the sea otters

                                      Play in the surf.


                  It is these small things—and the secret behind them

                                    That fill the heart.

                        The pattern, the spirit, the fiery demon

                                That link them together

                      And pull their freedom into our senses, 


             The smell of a shrub, a cloud, the action of animals


         —The rising, the exuberance, when the mystery is unveiled.

                                 It is these small things


                   That when brought into vision become an inferno.