Review of Touching the Edge: Dharma Devotions from the Hummingbird Sangha by Michael McClure Shambhala Publications; Boston, 1999; 128 pp; $16 (paper)
Poetry exists to be read aloud -- like music, to be played, embodied. Michael McClure's poetry is unmistakable in its look as well as its vision.
Roughly centered, it reads as the body language of a living organism -- muscular, as well as mental. Not only are sentences sometimes chopped. Like this. But also lines can break after just one word; some even letter by letter. The net effect is a welcome slowdown of mind awake to the richness of life The bigness of minute particulars, as well as the infinite; being; space; etc.
One of the original Beats, McClure is a hip prodigy reaching maturity gracefully, a rare thing. His recent Buddhist practice is like the capstone of a lifetime's overarching concerns. Marrying mysticism and biology, his work has always been typified by an expressionist vitalism. Now it gains a new, genuine, metaphysical drama as it juxtaposes nonaction to verbal "action painting." The image and the imageless. The miraculous and the everyday. Cosmic and domestic. Nondualism.
Touching the Edge is a book-length poem, recording a home-video epic of the process of practice. The effect of reading it (aloud) is as tantric as Francesco Clemente's watercolors, as psychedelic ("mind-manifesting") as the Flower Garland Sutra. Informed by the Soto Zen tradition of sitting just to sit, his writing-just-to-write traces the shape of mind in motion (and at stillness) with a wealth of keen perception along the way. Apples blush. Cats perform Noh drama under an apple tree. A poet dreams of lions and Herakles. And rice roars.
This craft -- a seemingly artless art -- can carry us across.
Two original poems by Michael McClure appear on Gary Gach's website, specifically at:
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