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Mephistos & Other Poems Michael McClure City Light Books 156 Pages; Print, $16.95

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Michael McClure rides a spirit wind through meat flower breath. For six decades, he has honed a sentient sensibility that conveys ease, peace and wisdom. Shamanistic riffs and Zen zingers ring out among haiku phrasings and Beat chantings in these gemlike verses.

As the title Mephistos implies, these are the observations and crystallizations of a silver-haired wizard. At 85, McClure is looking back over his life and looking boldly ahead to life's conclusion. This collection is his first to be published in six years and it is a testament to his enduring artistry. His unique voice seamlessly combines the mortal with the moral—the temporal with the cosmic. These poems are the "blossom of a spiritual occasion / shadowlessly clear."

Like other Beat poets, especially Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsberg, McClure expanded his spiritual lexicon by looking to Asia. Samsara and Dharmadatu share the text with western interlocutors like Psyche and Eros. A strain of naturalism is indicated in a manifesto-like foreword: "Poetry is a muscular phenomenon." Drawing on an acute attentiveness to neural impulses, McClure is able to express a sense of deep, still wholeness. Throughout nearly all of his work, he accurately limns the semi-extrasensory "qualia" he experiences inside our spinning, humming world.

Continuing in the foreword, McClure addresses our existential angst with measured prose. "Mephistos celebrates our human-mammal love of nature and abhors the exuberant passion for its destruction. We are in the extreme slow motion explosion." This sad truth is like a challenge McClure throws down for champions to pick up.

The book is divided into five sections: "Mephistos," "Some Fringes," "Rose Breaths," "Being," and "Song Heavy." The opening sequence is like a magician's diary as the narrator fully immerses himself in worldly matters. Subjects suggestive of eternity are incorporated into shifting backgrounds that scintillate with "PEARL moments."

Yet Mephistos simultaneously locates his existence independently from the collective. He maintains his identity while listening to "the unsounding roar / OF GALAXIES."

The stripped down, elegant style is resonant with meaning and presence. Not only is the persona centered and solid, even the lines on the page tend to be fairly centered (typographically speaking). Additionally, lines alternate between upper and lower case, offering more visual clues about how to read/hear the poems.

YOU ARE MY MEMORIES OF YOUholding my handIWANTTOGOeverywhere with you infinite times.

The writer appreciates the body's moments and by extension, the poem fleshes out the rhythms of life. Folding his consciousness into an atmospheric, timeless environment, he finishes up "Mephistos #31" like this:



right on the edge        of breaking through    to nothingness            that is far less than smoke.

Changing gears completely, the second section is a low-key series of untitled "HAIKU-LIKE" poems. Here, in tight snapshots, McClure selects the right details to fulfill the twin requirements of haiku: recognition and surprise.

IN SUMMER SOLSTICEtwilight shine,robins stridealmosttouchingwings

Notice the subtle repetition of the s and i sounds at the end of the first three lines. The last three lines slow the cadence, adding gravitas. To top it off, the poem reverses expectations by having the bird walk instead of fly. And I admit, curmudgeon I can be, that I liked one of the two cat poems.

"ROSE BREATHS" starts with this evocative epigraph: after sitting on the black cushion. Shades of ancient Chinese poets! Greek demi-gods! Victorian dandies! Golden hippies! Arise! In this celebratory cycle marking the arc of the book, the phrase "ROSE BREATH" is repeated in variants throughout the numbered sequence of 17 poems.

MONKEY MIND AND ROSE-BREATHINGare a face of consciousnessstruggling to be plain meatlyand perfectas a bouquet of rosemary,chrysanthemums, and a daisy—in hell worlds strivingto be heavens

There is an earthy, corporeal joi de vie here—an intuitive optimism that nevertheless recognizes eternal struggle while "seeking for stillness." "BEING SOLID IN NOTHINGNESS."

The poems gathered in the "Being" group, include tributes to...


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pp. 16-18
Launched on MUSE
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