Joanna McClure's poems reveal the story of a central woman writer of the San Francisco Beat generation counterculture. Married to Beat poet Michael McClure soon after she arrived in San Francisco in 1954, Joanna McClure became a significant figure in the Beat poetry scene.
Growing up on a ranch in the Arizona desert, Joanna developed early on a deep sensitivity to the beauty of nature. Her move to San Francisco as a young woman in 1951 launched a lifelong love affair with that city and the poetry it engendered. Thriving on the energy of the Beat movement, the young poet found herself inside a circle of famous poets and great writers in American poetry and American literature, including San Francisco Renaissance poet Robert Duncan and his lover, artist Jess Collins, as well as the Beats Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, and Gary Snyder. She heard Ginsberg's first public reading of "Howl" at the Six Gallery in 1955, and the home she shared with Michael became a gathering place for beatniks.
Meanwhile, Joanna was developing own body of poetic work, allowing her clear inner voice to guide her. Her poems ardently claim the freedoms her generation struggled to achieve, yet they often do so in a playful and generous voice, reveling in the beauty of the natural world and everyday moments and elegantly celebrating sensuality and intimate love. In the late 1950s she began publishing her work in literary journals and chapbooks, and her first book of poems, Wolf Eyes, was published in 1974.
Like many of her female Beat poet contemporaries, and American women writers throughout the 20th century, Joanna McClure wrote prolifically yet quietly year after year, even as her life shifted focus to a career in early childhood development and she and Michael divorced. "Poetry is where I keep company with myself," she declares. Now for the first time the full range of McClure's voice is accessible in one volume, spanning the poet's entire writing life.
About Christopher Wagstaff
After receiving a PhD in American Literature from the University of California at Davis, Christopher Wagstaff taught writing and literature for many years, most recently at the University of California at Berkeley. He has curated numerous art exhibitions, showing the drawings and decorated books of Robert Duncan, among other art and literature, at University Art Museum, The Bancroft Library, the Palo Alto Cultural Center, and Mythos Gallery. He is preparing a traveling exhibition devoted to Robert Duncan, his partner Jess Collins, and their artistic circle. Wagstaff has published a series of chapbooks of his interviews with Bay Area artists. He has also edited The Collected Poems of Madeline Gleason 1919-1979(Talisman House, 1999) and A Sacred Quest: The Life and Writings of Mary Butts(McPherson & Co., 1995). He is co-trustee of the Jess Collins Trust, which administers the estates of Robert Duncan and Jess Collins. Wagstaff lives in Berkeley, California.
“I envy Joanna McClure's writing without an urge always to say ‘something important.’ The world out there exists in its stew of good and evil, and she, shocked by it, nevertheless remains in her catbird’s nest, parsing her own life—a life so fully expressed in these interior monologues.”
—Lawrence Ferlinghetti, member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters
“Joanna McClure writes with a delightful and charmed authenticity. Fresh, direct, and observant, her honesty and intelligence shine through the decades. She grants herself freedom to observe with an open heart, revealing the story of a life that aims for harmony of spirit, self, and the world around her.”
—Joanne Kyger, author of About Now: Collected Poems and Strange Big Moon: The Japan and India Journals, 1960–1964
“A poetry of elusive moments we must fill in, like haiku … A revelation of deep feelings and a life played for keeps.”
—Peter Coyote, actor and author of Sleeping Where I Fall
“Joanna McClure grew up on the desert ranch, and her poetry has the same pure, sparse beauty, written with the sharp eye of a naturalist. The body of work gathered here in this book has a subtlety and power that is all too rare in the noisy neon world. Joanna's poems will claim you, and you should let them.”
—Brenda Knight, author of Women of the Beat Generation
“The power in Joanna McClure’s poems starts quietly, but so does a nuclear chain reaction. Whether she writes of simple joys, like the pleasure of laughter, or deep feelings, like her love for so many different men and women, McClure shows utmost respect for, and kindness toward, the life both around and inside her. These are poems of precise observation, untainted by prejudgment or emotional outburst, that refuse to let life be seen as one-dimensional, that demand always ‘both sides of the coin.’ The immediacy of lovemaking is weighed against the governments that ‘turn over like exploding pods’; the dark brown delicacy of a sunflower’s center against the dark brown depth and terror ‘of Baudelaire Verlaine and Mallarmé.’ McClure’s outwardly quiet life is at times reminiscent of Emily Dickinson, for she finds so much beauty, joy, and imagination in roles that to some might look quite ordinary: lover, wife, mother, teacher, caregiver, and finally, lover again. In fact, it is hard not to envy her unending ‘love affair of the century’ with the world around her, in which she is overcome to the point of ecstasy in her extraordinary appreciation of the blessedness of every moment. Truly, these poems are a gift of new life, and renewed life, to everyone who reads them.”
—Gerald Nicosia, author of Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac, One and Only: The Untold Story of On the Road, and Night Train to Shanghai
“A clear-eyed compendium of a poet’s life path. A poetic journey of being and becoming, lucid, open, direct and honest, playful, deeply articulately serious, moving and often magical. McClure’s collected poetry is a notable addition to the undiscovered works of the so-called Beat Generation. It is a rich and wise offering.”
—David Meltzer, author of When I Was a Poet
“These poems are a wholeness of melodious contemplation. The language skillfully avoids the heaviness of time-bound phrasings, allowing for an inner odyssey of accumulated decades; at the same time, the entire body of work aims at a reader’s mind at just this instant, in every generational moment.”
—Kristian Carlsson, Swedish poet and translator, editor of Kvinnas Beat