BERKELEY -- If you phone poet Michael McClure, you'll not hear a formulaic "leave a message" or a slice of "Mercedes-Benz," the song he co-wrote with Janis Joplin. Nor will you hear recordings of associates: a crooning Bob Dylan; Doors' keyboardist Ray Manzarek tickling the ivories; Allen Ginsberg reading "Howl," or whispered lines from favorite poets like William Blake, D.H. Lawrence, Diane di Prima or Philip Lamantia.

There'll be no roar of lions or the sea.

Instead, you'll be treated to a finely crafted haiku involving fog-shrouded deer, recited in the cultured, melodious tones of the Beat Generation writer.

The recent republishing of "Ghost Tantras" (City Lights), a collection of 99 poems McClure first self-published in 1964, offers appreciative listeners an opportunity to hear the 81-year-old Oakland resident call up the past.

McClure will read from his new/old book at Moe's Books, 2476 Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley, at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

In 1955, McClure rode the crest of the Beat Movement, reading from Ginsberg's "Howl" at San Francisco's Six Gallery with four fellow poets. The Beat writers presented a manifesto of protest against social, political and ecological constraints.


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"We were speaking out for the liberation for the individual. People were being brainwashed by '50s consciousness. We put our toes to the line," McClure says. "We were looked at as if we were canon fodder. When we first started telling people about the environment, they would boo and hiss us."

It's a small miracle -- or a sign of the deep conviction that still rumbles from his belly and his words -- that McClure didn't drop public performance. "My first poetry reading was a curious one: There were congo drums and a belly dancer," he recalls. "There was no poetry reading history."

Today, while reading (Craig Venter's "Life at the Speed of Light," Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Laon and Cythna," Science Magazine) and writing ("That's a given," he says), McClure claims he's "no expert on the vast scene" of Bay Area poetry events.

But he adores releasing his poems from the "ball of silence" from which they spring, fully formed, onto the page.

"I want to let audiences hear the light in my voice that will bring them pleasure and deeper, broader consciousness," he says. "Karl Schlegel said all art must strive to be science and science, to be art. Poetry and philosophy should be the same thing."

A metaphor -- suspended in a question suggesting his mantras are both old and new, like the unexpected wrinkles he now finds on his face -- delights him.

"Oh, I love that. Yes, these poems are both," he exclaims, launching into mantra #51's "I love to think of the red purple rose."

McClure's signature, muscular reading style shifts into gear and next, he's reciting a poem he wrote on the day Marilyn Monroe died in 1962. Then it's #31 and "reem 'ptah: grooh gaharr" and "Chair like a darkly varnished butterfly...."

And just when the flotilla of sounds threatens to overwhelm both poet and audience, he grounds the incantation with a Middle English-accented Chaucer selection and an unnamed poem he calls forth entirely in Spanish.

"Poetry is an art, it's not literature," he insists. "It's not divided from music or dance -- they're one thing. We divide them for convenience of our practices and for people timid about our orchestrations."

Poet and longtime friend David Meltzer (they met in a North Beach record store in 1957) says McClure's works blend science and lyricism and that the playful poems "dance and inspire." Asked to characterize "Ghost Tantras," Meltzer calls it "an extraordinary work of invention and inspiration, bold and adventurous writing, and a fusion of the romantic exaltation with avant-garde adventures in expanding the possibilities of poetry."

McClure values his "genius type teachers," remembering in particular the "love, light, and myriad possibilities of consciousness" he learned from Dylan.

On Christmas, 2013, he and his wife, sculptor Amy Evans McClure, visited a nearby, unprotected beach. "I had a copy of Ghost Tantras and started reading them aloud, above the roar of the waves. I realized I was finally learning how to read them -- less timidly," he says.

Although he doesn't plan to write an autobiography, McClure says he would like to see his plays "The Bear" and "The Victims" republished.

A new poem gets a trial run to end the interview, traveling an improbable, sensory-laden journey from "Colors are the deeds and actions of light" to "imagining a dump truck, loaded with the odor of debris, causing wonder or grief in our noses."