Grhar. Ghhrarrr! The Beast Language of Michael McClure

Of Indigo and Saffron
Michael McClure is an American poet, playwright, songwriter, and novelist. A central figure in the Beat Movement and the San Francisco Renaissance, McClure has continued to reach new audiences through his poetry, plays, and performance. After moving from Kansas to San Francisco as a young man, he was one of the five poets who participated in the legendary 1955 Six Gallery reading that featured the public debut of Allen Ginsberg’s landmark poem Howl. McClure remains a key figure of the Beat Generation and is immortalized as Pat McLear in Jack Kerouac’s novel Big Sur.

In this footage from a 1966 episode of Richard O. Moore’s television series U.S.A. Poetry, we first see Michael McClure playing a tambourine, then peering from behind a plant while he recites a poem inspired by a line of Ginsberg’s.

Ghost Tantras cover image
Cover image of Ghost Tantras from stevenfama.blogspot.com

In the last section of this clip, McClure recites “Tantra 49” to the lions at the San Francisco Zoo, a poem from his 1964 collection Ghost Tantras, a book mostly written in beast language, a mix of guttural and laryngeal sound that brings together lion roars, a touch of detonated dada, and emotional truths. McClure describes the tantras as “ceremonies to change the nature of reality.”

The lions, especially in the final eight lines with its repeated variations of “Grahhr,” roar right back at him, sometimes in the pauses between the sentences and continuing in the silence after the poem ends.

Here are those final, wild eight lines of “Tantra 49,” 42 beast-roars in all!

Grahhr! Grahhhr! Grahhhrrr! Ghrahhr. Grahhrrr.
Grahhrr-grahhhhrr! Grahhr. Gahrahhrr. Ghrahhhrrrr.
Ghrarrrr. Ghrahhr! Ghrarrrrr. Ghrarrrr. Ghrahhhrr.
Ghrahhrr. Ghrahr. Grahhr. Grahharrr. Grahhrr.
Grahhhhr. Grahhhr. Gahar. Ghrahhr. Grahhr. Grahhr.
Ghrahhr. Grahhhr. Grahhr. Gratharrr! Grahhrr.
Ghrahrr. Ghraaaaaaahrr. Grhar. Ghhrarrr! Grahhhrr.
Ghrahrr. Gharr! Ghrahhhhr. Grahhrr. Ghraherrr.

Dig it, beast-readers!

In this second clip from U.S.A. Poetry, McClure discusses his poetic process and experiences with peyote.

You can watch both videos on our website by clicking the Audio/Video tab on Of Indigo and Saffron‘s page.

Portions of this text are adapted from Steven Fama’s website 17 Reasons Why . . . I Love the Work of Michael McClure!