Archive for Thursday, November 19, 2009

Poet & anti-poet: The duality of Lawrence writer Jim McCrary

November 19, 2009


Event info

Jim McCrary and Judy Roitman, book release and reading

6:30 p.m., at the Spencer Museum of Art, 1301 Miss.

This reading is the Lawrence release for local writer Jim McCrary's first "real" book, "All That" — a collection of chapbooks dating from 1987 to 2008 published by ManyPenny Press.

“Like all art, most poetry is awful,” says Jim McCrary, referring as much to his own work as anyone else’s. “The poet’s corner in the newspaper. You know what I mean.”

He divulges that reading his own poems often causes feelings of insecurity and embarrassment. His voice, permanently hoarse from a “frozen” vocal cord, can be problematic at readings. Yet McCrary, now 68, has been actively writing, publishing and reading poetry for more than 40 years.

An undiagnosed dyslexic until his 50s, McCrary doesn’t spell too well and seems to abhor the comma. And while his syntax often reads as fevered and foreign, his sharp humor and his strikingly odd juxtapositions evoke images and feelings too meaningful, too incisive to chalk up to chance. McCrary says he just writes it down and scratches at it until it’s done.

Anti-poet? Non-poet? Deconstructionist? McCrary generally dodges attempts at classification by quoting his mentor, poet David Bromige: “I know what I like, and it’s not art.” But in the DIY world of chapbooks — poetry zines, of which McCrary has published several dozen — McCrary is considered an innovator, a masterful technician and an artist indeed.

His first “real” book, “All That,” a collection of chapbooks dating from 1987 to 2008, was published by ManyPenny Press in 2008. Critics, readers and peers have been generous in praise. “Peek inside,” writes poet Richard Lopez on the back cover of McCrary’s book, “and you’ll find poetics with a tough no-bull (expletive) intelligence, yet with a language made of love and tenderness.”

McCrary will read with Lawrence poet Judy Roitman from “All That” at at 6:30 p.m. today at Spencer Museum of Art, 1301 Miss.

Lawrence, too, plays a part in McCrary’s double-edged poems. Soon after his arrival in the early ’60s, McCrary fell in with the free-wheeling literati at the Abingdon Book Shop, forming lasting friendships with the likes of GRIST publisher John Fowler, and writers Charles Plymell and George Kimball, and later with William S. Burroughs, S. Clay Wilson and Allen Ginsberg. Whether alienated by his dyslexia, or swayed by the influence of the company he was keeping, it was then that McCrary staked his claim on poetry’s revolutionary fringe.

Neither effort nor resolve has wavered since. Nor has his predilection for outcasts, outlaws and Wild West parables.

And while the mainstream warms to his voluminous body of work, McCrary, in a characteristic about-face, is currently focused not so much on the printed page as on the computer screen.

“Today, I read a lot of blog poets,” he says. He writes his own sporadic blog, Resisting Poetry, via dial-up connection from a tidy Eastside home shared with artist Sue Ashline, his wife of 17 years.

The Internet, for McCrary, is poetry’s brave new world, as evinced in a fragment of a poem from “All That”:

The sixties?

Not me man, no way.

What was that used to be.

Today things are “stored”.

That seems to work.

It is easy to “search”.

Memory chips.

Ah...the future claimed...


Assuming that nothing falls into place

And no direction is found

And some sort of definition

Does not appear

Just out of the blue

Then lasting impressions do count

  • from “Being Frida Kahlo,” 2007


The point is made

some sort of knowledge gained

nothing for sure lost in the dusk

hot dusk

  • from “All That,” 2008

“Remembering The

Honest Criminals”


let’s talk about

Belle Starr for a moment.

She was ugly as sin

had horrible taste in men

and could not tell north from south.

However ... however

she knew one hell of a lot

about the Savings and Loan

business in

northeast Oklahoma

that’s for damn sure!

  • from “All That,” 2008


Marty Olson 8 years, 4 months ago

Jim is one of Lawrence's treasures. Long live the poet/anti-poet!

So as not to appear anonymous, Marty Olson

Ronda Miller 8 years, 4 months ago

Thanks for the wonderful article on 'poet Jim', Mr. King! My only complaint is that I didn't have enough notice so I could attend the event. So from now on either send me a personal reminder a few days (preferably a week) in advance or write about poet Jim earlier!

We are fortunate to have so many creative spirits in Lawrence. I can't imagine any other place having the dense artistic culture we so often take for granted.

Hi Marty!

oldexbeat 8 years, 4 months ago

Gotta love Jim, ever since finding him and the unique Abington Book Shop, as a 1967 KU freshman. Thanks for your work, man. Sorry I can't get up to see you tonight.

Best, from Dodge City, George

lots more of Jim at:

Mel Briscoe 8 years, 4 months ago

i can relate... i am not accomplished like jim, however i can totally understand the feelings of insecurity and embarassment when he reads his own poetry. i love to write but i sometimes feel squeemish about reading it aloud.

irvan moore 8 years, 4 months ago

I've known Jim a long time and think he is one of the treasures of our city.

Liberty275 8 years, 4 months ago

Poetry, like art, is always exactly as good as the audience is sophisticated. Most artists are too narcissistic to realize art is in the mind of the beholder, not in that of the artist.

George_Braziller 8 years, 4 months ago

I understand the insecurity part. My artwork hangs on the walls of my house but I never show any of it. I've been encouraged to display it but I don't.

There is great joy and satisfaction just in the process of creating something that comes completely from inside.

BMI 8 years, 4 months ago

Interesting you should say that Liberty. A female friend today said to me that she has worked briefly on occasion with Jim for about 15 years. Her thought on him was, "I can't tell whether if he's someone I want to eat or if inside, he's someone I should reach over and give a smack." I believe either way, it's a compliment.

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