Famed poet who helped kick off Beat Generation dies

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FILE – In this Sept. 16, 2010, file photo, beat poet Michael McClure is seen on his deck with sculptures by his wife, artist Amy Evans McClure, at their home in Oakland, Calif. Michael McClure, one of the famed Beat poets of San Francisco who went on a career as a poet that eclipsed most others in popular culture, has died. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that McClure died Tuesday, May 5, 2020, in Oakland, Calif., after suffering a stroke last year. He was 87. (Paul Chinn/San Francisco Chronicle via AP)

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Michael McClure, one of the famed Beat poets of San Francisco whose career as a poet eclipsed many others in popular culture, has died. He was 87.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that McClure died Tuesday in Oakland, California, after suffering a stroke last year.

A then 22-year-old McClure helped organize the famous Six Gallery beat poetry reading on Oct. 7, 1955, and later read at the Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park that launched the Summer of Love in 1967 and at The Band’s “Last Waltz” concert at Winterland in 1976.

“Without the roar of McClure, there would have been no ’60s,” actor Dennis Hopper once said.

In McClure’s 1982 nonfiction account of the Six Gallery reading, “Scratching the Surface of the Beats,” he set the stage for the revolution that was to follow in the mid-1950s:

“The world that we tremblingly stepped out into in that decade was a bitter, gray one,” he wrote. “We saw that the art of poetry was essentially dead — killed by war, by academies, by neglect, by lack of love, and by disinterest. We knew we could bring it back to life.”

His first reading in 1955 was overshadowed by the introduction of “Howl,” by Allen Ginsberg. But McClure outlasted all of the Beats in a career that spanned more than 60 years, publishing more than 30 books of poetry, plays and anthologies until 2017. He toured the United States, Mexico and Japan with Ray Manzarek of the Doors. He also was a professor of poetry at California College of the Arts for 43 years.

“Michael was incredibly gracious, erudite, and totally dedicated to the poet’s calling,” said Elaine Katzenberger, publisher of City Lights, which published McClure’s works dating to 1963. “He was a sometimes-trickster, most definitely a provocateur, and yet, quite solicitous and patient, a sage who was beautiful inside and out.”

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