Remembering Daniel Abdal Hayy Moore, July 30, 1940 – April 18, 2016

By Nancy Peters


Thinking of Daniel recently, I found in my bookcase a treasured copy of his poetry book Dawn Visions, which City Lights published in 1964. It is one of 50 limited-edition copies, the covers of which Daniel had hand-painted with bright Blakean images–moon, fire, wings, dark angel, and a path up a mountain to a radiant castle. I was struck by the book’s dedication to Indian musician Ali Akbar Khan and Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, which I didn’t remember having read before:

—you sit in the radiant Grove
and everything’s ear is a
cupped transparent shell for your sound—

This seems to me now a perfect emblem for Daniel himself, a bright, graceful and open spirit who created wonderful poetry, translations, theater, paintings, songs, opera, libretti, essays, and works for children. It was a delight to spend time with him, for he had an inquiring mind and a wry sense of humor.

When, in 1970, Moore became a Muslim, having discovered in Islam the spiritual path that was right for him, he took the name Abdal Hayy and spent several years traveling in North Africa and Europe, active in the Sufi community.

City Lights published his second book of poems, Burnt Heart: Ode to the War Dead, a response to the Vietnam tragedy, in 1972. A great many more visionary volumes of poetry followed. His website The Ecstatic Exchange confirms the wide range of his prolific life as an artist in many media over half a century.

daniel moore books
Dawn Visions (City Lights, 1964) & Burnt Heart: Ode to the War Dead (City Lights, 1971)

Carolyn Forché aptly called Moore a “surrealist of the sacred.” Like his friend Philip Lamantia, everything interested him, all things taking part in the consciousness-cosmos he was impelled to explore. He pressed language to its limits, seeking image and sound that might put words to the unnameable Mystery.

Daniel was perhaps best known as the originator of the Floating Lotus Magic Opera. At the high point of the counterculture in the Bay Area, the FLMO presented two unforgettable open-air ritual dramas in Berkeley’s John Hinkel Park, ecstatic productions inspired by the chanting of Tibetan monks, Kathakali ritual, Asian folk and religious theater, as well as the flow of the 60s psychedelic zeitgeist. Staged at night and illuminated only by firelight, Moore used the natural environment to great advantage. “Our thirst for the primordial keeps us from using electricity to amplify any of the instruments or actors.” This was the central idea:

The whole vision is designed to be performed outside in the raw air of IT
on a hillside after civilizations blow all their plugs,
and still the spirit dances, approachable and manifestable
within us. . . .

Daniel’s vision attracted poets, musicians, dancers, actors, and artists, many of whom collaborated in this theatrical tour de force, as actors or as makers of beautiful costumes and painted masks, sets and backdrops. The drama itself involved an intense conflict between good and evil forces; actors wearing fantastic masks, and playing gongs & drums & horns, transformed the violent energies of war into an illuminated and jubilant space.

In her memoir, the painter Ariel Parkinson captured the experience. She suggested that . . . “Daniel’s vision was difficult for most people to stomach, his critique of this bloated, exploded planet and what transformation requires. Daniel had valuable ideas, poetic and philosophical, to express the age in a powerful way. Building a culture requires building a world of Imagination and Vision . . . The Foating Lotus Magic Opera existed. It exists. I took Daniel’s magic with me.”

All of us who knew Daniel and admired his work will take his magic with us.

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