Carol Sokoloff had just attended a playwright workshop in Calgary led by a writer she greatly admired, when shortly afterward she ran into a handsome young poet carrying a stack of books with a familiar name.
“Why are you carrying so many Michael McClure books?” she asked the young man outside a gallery in Banff.
That poet, Richard Olafson, would go on to run a successful book publisher, Victoria’s Ekstasis Editions and become Sokoloff’s husband. The couple formed a life-long friendship with McClure after meeting him at the Jack Kerouac School.
Some three decades later, Sokoloff, a jazz pianist, will join McClure onstage for his second time in Victoria as he reads from his new collection of poetry, Persian Pony at The Roxy Theatre on Saturday (Oct. 21).
“It’s really all about the poetry,” Sokoloff says of their performance, where they’ll be joined by Victoria trumpeter Patrick Boyle. “Michael being a beat poet, that tradition, they were very influenced by jazz players like Charlie Parker. They tried to bring that energy into their poetry.”
The literary movement rooted in the principals of non-conformist ideologies, sexual liberation and exploration came to be known in the early 1950s as the beat generation. Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs became central figures in the counterculture movement – a response to a post-Second World War America – that would lay the foundations for the hippie era of the 1960s.
McClure was born in Kansas, but made his way to San Francisco by the mid-1950s and at 22, was one of five young poets to perform at the now infamous Six Gallery reading, perhaps best known as the evening Allen Ginsberg first debuted Howl.
“He made a deep impression on me,” Sokoloff says of McClure, who has been widely credited with influencing the songwriting of Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and others. McClure was immortalized as the fictional Pat McLear in Kerouac’s novel Big Sur.
“Michael has had a profound cultural influence,” Olafson says. “I don’t think there’s any other living author that has had such a pervasive influence on modern culture.”
The scientist, journalist, actor, filmmaker, playwright, poet and novelist has published two novels, four collections of essays, 20 plays and musicals and now with Persian Pony – published by Ekstasis – 14 books of poetry. Much of McLure’s work imbues a relationship with nature, a commonality among beat writers, but with an emphasis on scientific disciplines, among them biology and ecology.
For Olafson and Sokoloff, the rare chance to engage artistically with a literary hero turned dear friend is poignant this fall. Oct. 7 marks the 62nd anniversary of that evening at Six Gallery, McClure’s first poetry reading; Ekstasis turns 35 this year and the day before Boyle, Sokoloff and McLure take the stage, the beat poet will celebrate his 85th birthday.
“Poetry provides a frame for one’s life,” Olafson says.
Of McClure, truer words could not have been spoken.
An Evening with Michael McClure and Jazz starts at 7:30 p.m. at The Roxy Theatre. Tickets are available at EkstasisEditions.com or at the door.