I Like Your Eyes Liberty
by Julian Cowley
As the vocabulary of freedom becomes day by day more thickly encrusted with the shit of American foreign policy, it’s salutary to hear the voice of Michael McClure, a poet who for 50 years in print has explored states of freedom with candor and athletic intelligence. He writes poetry with acute eyes and ears, translating critical observation into precisely tempered verbal notations, celebrating the animal body and human consciousness growing out from it. He’s an expert reader, too, with an actor’s voice, sensual and attuned finely to cadence and energies of enunciation. And he’s learned from musicians. As his Beat associate Jack Kerouac might have noted, McClure knows Time.
In the wake of his friendship with The Doors’ Jim Morrison, McClure developed a close working relationship with that group’s keyboard player Ray Manzarek. I Like Your Eyes Liberty, vividly recorded in Terry Riley’s Californian studio, raises McClure’s association with music to a new plane. Riley uses a range of keyboards, acoustic and electronic, to generate radiant real-time arrangements, not mere accompaniments, but spontaneously made settings that draw together strands of his own decades of rich musical experience. Gamelan sonorities and raga spirals, stately grand progressions, and jazz in introspective modes, electronic shimmer and prepared piano percussiveness elaborate McClure’s arresting images and measured speech.
As well as texts from his 2002 book Plum Stones, McClure revisits his 1964 Ghost Tantras where, moved by Antonin Artaud, he physically imagines “beast language,” voice acknowledging openly its flesh and muscle. His delivery through these incantations remains disciplined from within — no screams or histrionics but articulate groans, moans and quiet roars that move smoothly from and into verbal shapes and shared meanings.
Novelist Joseph Conrad once wrote that words are the great foes of reality. The mouths of imperialist politicians prove his point. But McClure has always written to sustain fidelity of language to our given physical realities. This recording will of course have no traceable impact on political decisions but it gives form to what is currently under immense threat from an official discourse of cynical deception and overt violence. It’s a serious statement about getting in touch and the considerable pleasure it offers is an integral part of its importance.