My appetite for poetry began when I listened to Jim Morrison and The Doors. I read Nobody Gets Out Here Alive by Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugerman. That was the first place I heard of Michael McClure and his influence on Jim Morrison and other musicians of the 60s. Unfortunately, Michael passed away in 2020. Mule Kick Blues is his last prose testament. This collection collects the last poems that he put down on paper. He remained one of the last true beat writers.
Mule Kick Blues is the final book of poems by Beat Generation legend Michael McClure. A powerful collection of new work written during the last years of McClure’s life, Mule Kick Blues was readied for publication before the poet’s death in May 2020. Its opening section gives us a rare view into his thoughts about his own mortality, particularly in the moving sequence “Death Poems.” The book takes its title from an innovative series of homages to blues musicians like Leadbelly and Howlin’ Wolf and evoking Kerouac’s concept of “blues” poems. Featuring shout-outs to lifelong friends like Philip Whalen, Diane di Prima, and Gary Snyder, the long poem “Fragments of Narcissus,” and the ecological and zen-infused themes for which he is known, Mule Kick Blues is a definitive statement by one of the most significant American poets of the last sixty years. Introduction by poet Garrett Caples, McClure’s editor at City Lights.
Michael McClure (1932-2020) was an award-winning American poet, playwright, songwriter, and novelist. After moving San Francisco as a young man, he was one of the five poets who participated in the Six Gallery reading that featured the public debut of Allen Ginsberg’s landmark poem “Howl.” A key figure of the Beat Generation, McClure is immortalized as Pat McLear in Jack Kerouac’s novels The Dharma Bums and Big Sur. He also participated in the 60s counterculture alongside musicians like Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison. He taught for many years at California College of the Arts and lived with his wife, Amy, in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Garrett Caples is a poet who lives in San Francisco and is an editor at City Lights, where he curates the Spotlight Poetry Series. He is the author of several books of poetry, most recently Power Ballads (2016), and a book of essays, Retrievals (2014). His editorial projects include Poems from the Greenberg Manuscripts (2019), Arcana: A Stephen Jonas Reader (2019), Preserving Fire: Selected Prose by Philip Lamantia (2018), Incidents of Travel in Poetry: New & Selected Poems by Frank Lima (2016), and The Collected Poems of Philip Lamantia (2013).
Praise for Mule Kick Blues:
“What a beautiful book. He’s Blake-huge and gets away with it, possibly because he’s always in motion. ‘Should I put a hairy tail where my head is?’ He revels in the unstable. The famous all caps that explode in his poems show the bounce of his desire at the micro and macro, a wish to experience, to understand the scale of existence. I’ve never read such a disarming approach to mortality and death, he’s young in it and absolutely with it, most felicitously when he shares it with a friend: “AROUND / THE / EARS / a puff / of / cherry blossom smell” which he repeats to Diane because poets always speak to each other in rhythm. I can’t think of any contemporary artist who explores the interior, the inside-out of the dharma as magically and freely as McClure except maybe for David Lynch. Were they friends? He talks to a shark before crossing to ‘the other side’. The radicality of Michael McClure might be that he’s all on the surface, but rarely alone, like a new kind of depth: ‘To the sensual fly buzzing in my ear / I am a warm good tasting stone.'”—Eileen Myles
“Like Zen poets of yore, Michael McClure’s tender satori consciousness cuts though the Dark Age with friendship, desire, psalms of the meat-wheel, pond-plants physics, and animal cries in spines of symmetry. It’s a pulsing maelstrom. And others chime in: Sung Tung-P’o, Dōgen, Mallarmé, and Blake flex biceps in mutual co-arising. Mule Kick Blues is claps of thunder bringing the mind back to a luminous level of particulars. ‘I’m coming from my hormones with nothing left to tease.’ A cat’s face is ‘like a basket of pine cones in a dream.’ Recently departed, this legendary rockstar eco-poet’s gemlike modal structures will keep humming while ‘black ants circle a bubble of honey.’ A final performance from a master poet.”—Anne Waldman
“A searing offering of Dharma gongs forged from raw speech and spirited struggle with mortality rather than the usual arch-translation instruction manual. These pyramids and lozenges of crystal and light point in all directions and pierce you with the sobbing foghorn lobs of the ever-morphing ripples of the San Andreas Fault Ensemble. Long live McClure and the Libratonic Scales of Interspecies Justice!”—Filip Marinovich
“The primordial, the modern, and the postmodern collide in Michael McClure’s intriguing poetry. His art is a masterful mosaic of experiential and visionary transformation. His dedication to the pursuit of liberation in craft and subject matter reveals him to be a powerhouse of wisdom, love, joy. In this book, his ferocity and tenderness intertwine. Here are poems of improvisational intensity. And they are great gifts to us.”—Uche Nduka