Michael McClure’s Ghost Tantras

ghost tantras newOn Monday, October 20th Beat poet Michael McClure celebrated his 82nd birthday. Happy Birthday and thank you for a truly expansive body of work!

In the first edition of Ghost Tantras, published in 1964, Michael McClure introduces the collection with “You’ve never heard anything like this before,” and he was right – McClure, being one of the more sound-conscious Beats, had delivered a set of 99 “tantras” that depended so much on sound that it would be impossible to experience them any other way. And we don’t mean word play. The book features many growls, howls, barbaric yawps, guttural grunts, and beastly shouts.

The word “tantra” is a combination of the two Sanskrit words tanoti (expansion) and trayati (liberationand is a term describing methods to expand the mind and liberate the body’s dormant energy. McClure explores these concepts in an almost monastic approach, and has experimented with the form both on stage with backing musicians and with animals as well – he once read to a group of somewhat agitated lions. Seriously:

Suiting, as McClure dedicates Ghost Tantras to “the Human Spirit and all Mammals.” In the video he notes,

The sound of the poetry itself creates an image in the mind and the body, and in the muscles in the body.

Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek collaborated with McClure, performing at several venues and releasing two audio CDs along with video footage. The pairing is fantastic. On top of sonic appreciation, the two seem to have a fundamental understanding of each others’ vision. McClure has also been credited as  Jim Morrison’s poet-mentor. And his musical ties don’t end there – if you ascend (literally) to the Poetry Room at City Lights you can see a photo of McClure and Allen Ginsberg hanging out in Kerouac Alley with Robbie Robertson and Bob Dylan in 1965. Dylan had been visiting after playing a show in Berkeley.

Oh, and you know that sort of important reading that happened at the Six Gallery at 3119 Fillmore St. in San Francisco on October 7, 1955?  McClure was there too. He read a poem titled “Point Lobos Animism” alongside Gary Snyder, Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg (who famously debuted “Howl”), Philip Lamantia, and Phillip Whalen.

In 2013, City Lights reissued Ghost Tantras, with a new introduction by McClure giving some insight into the process of creating the Tantras, reading to the lions, and the “beast language” he uses throughout. Penn Sound has an excellent selection of sound bites and we highly recommend checking them out to get the full experience.  Enjoy the below selection of Tantra #39, written on August 6, 1962.


–diving in a swirl of golden hair.
I hope you have entered a sacred paradise for full
warm bodies, full lips, full hips, and laughing eyes!

farewell perfect mammal.
Fare thee well from thy silken couch and dark day!
nah ooth eeze farewell. Moor droon fahra rahoor
rahoor, rahoor. Thee ahh-oh oh thahrr
noh grooh rahhr.  

For more McClure, check out his page on the City Lights website. As always, City Lights Bookstore is your source for all things Beat, including many copies of Ghost Tantras you can buy and read to lions as you please.

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