|Michael McClure on Jim and Poetry
The role of a poet in society today is the same role as that of any artist and that is to maintain the thoroughfares, to maintain these pathways of the imagination in a society that would close down the pathways of the imagination. In other words, to keep the imagination moving. I mean, all of the arts have the same function, and all of them are to maintain a kind of state of crisis, to keep a state of crisis in existence, a state where we're alive and not just robots filling out social positions one after another...I think Jim would have agreed with that wholeheartedly.
What prompted him to start writing poems would be that he was responding to poems that he saw or heard, poems that spoke to him.
You see the possibilities of the play of imagination within an art form and then that art form begins to speak to you and then you wish to perform such feats yourself. For instance, you listen to blues, and you decide you are going to sing blues. You say "Oh my god, Muddy Waters is sensational." Listening to the complexity of that form, how might I do something like this?
The beginning of poetry writing is in response to poetry. A baby kitten starts chasing mice because it's going to be a cat; a baby eagle starts to fly, practicing standing on the edge of its nest, beating its wings; a baby Kerouac starts typing a novel.
Jim had a lyric gift, I mean a lyric gift not in the sense of song lyric, but poetry. Jim had a gift for poetry and then he also discovered he could sing and he could write songs, and he did the smart thing: he kept them separate and the more separate he kept them, the better off he was.
In The Lords: Notes on Vision, Jim alchemically deconstructed his own UCLA film school thesis into this incredible document. I think the book is a deconstruction and compression and compaction of a longer document, which is a very good way for a poet to work. It's profound for a young man to have and put together that many insights. Some of the insights might not be original, but the assemblage of them together creates a unique, philosophical work. He shows an incredible capacity for dealing with information, both inventive information and real information. It's a strong work.
Jim's book The New Creatures is a book of imagistic poetry with hints of the seventeenth century, with hints of Elizabethan Theater, and with hints of classical mythology, and it has a romantic personal viewpoint. I use romantic in a nineteenth century Shelleyian/Keatsian sense: "Snakeskin jacket/Indian eyes..." I mean, this is a nineteenth century poem, very personal, yet the poetry itself is adeptly twentieth century imagist poetry. It's almost mainstream, and it's good poetry, real fine poetry. It's as good as anybody of his generation; there's no better poet in Jim's generation.
This is as good an autobiographical poem, as good a short autobiographical poem as I know, especially considering its compression. Here we have a poem of what, six imagistic lines. I mean, one thinks of a sonnet of Shelley. It's like a flake, an obsidian chip flaked out of a sonnet of Shelley's One can also think of rock songs, at the same time, I mean, think of how simple-minded and yet beautiful...
Copyright 2004 by Michael McClure/Waiting-forthe-Sun.net