"Penetrating curiosity" is what his elementary school teacher saw in Clive Matson. Writing a poem about the wind -- in Southern California hills behind the avocado ranch where he grew up -- and reading the first page of Joyce's Portrait of an Artist accentuated that curiosity: "What's real?" "Who am I?" "What is life about?"
Impulse and strong feeling, a signature of hip writers of the 1960s, drew him to New York City. Herbert Huncke became his guide, and Diane di Prima published his first book, Mainline to the Heart (1966). "The dream of the angel-headed hipster is dead, as these poems testify," wrote his mentor John Wieners.
The world, after its glorious expansion by the Beat generation, appeared drenched in difficulties and pain. Space Age (1969), Heroin (1972), and On the Inside (1982) were accommodations. A smattering of odd jobs ended in a seminal classroom in Port Angeles in 1978, where Matson led a writing workshop. A career in teaching creative writing ensued, led him to Columbia University and an MFA in poetry (1989), and evolved into Let the Crazy Child Write! (1998), a how-to book honoring the creative unconscious.
Matson came to realize he wrote mainly from an itch in his body. Women, especially in early days of liberation, were his most important teachers, and Equal in Desire (1982) arose out of those teachings. That itch led to 12-step programs and therapy and a decade-long struggle with core issues which informed his next book, Squish Boots (2002). A copy was placed, amazingly, in John Wiener's coffin. "Delightful and penetrating at the same time," comments Susan Griffin.
The insight on how unconscious processes are fundamental to creative writing supplied the impetus for the nonprofit WordSwell. 9/11 gave signature examples, with Towers Down (2002) rising as an inescapable fountain through Matson's body. The late Allen Cohen realized many people were having a similar experience, and together with Matson edited the anthology An Eye for An Eye Makes the Whole World Blind - Poets on 9/11 (Regent Press, 2002), which won the 2003 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles National Literary Award.
In 2004 a character in one of Matson's unfinished stories began writing poems. His editor said, "Her stuff's junk," and Matson replied, "Get over it. They're not yours." The muse in Chalcedony's First Ten Songs (2007) obsesses on sexual passion and its 10,000 variations, and she doesn't know anything else. Why should she? These poems are a vibrant call to body and spirit through the sensory world. Chalcedony has now written eighty-some songs, and Matson says they feel more and more like his.
He lives in Oakland, California, where he shares parenting of his son Ezra with poet Gail Ford. Matson enjoys collecting minerals in the field and playing table tennis and basketball.
Clive's first book will be reissued by Regent Press in the spring of 2009. Mainline to the Heart and Other Poems includes all of Diane di Prima’s “Poets Press” version – 1,000 copies were sold out in 1966-67 – and adds significant uncollected pieces from the same period.
These turbulent poems celebrate a place where emotion, sex, and religion come together with overwhelming intensity. Is this trinity at the core of human experience, as Baudelaire suggests? “Mainline to the Heart is an enormously powerful evocation of a state of mind most people barely know exists,” states Jack Foley, and Steve Kowit calls the poems “Naked paeans...the wailing, chaotic lyricism of youth sung in the key of compulsive sexual frenzy – an orgasmic, rapturous celebration of lust, drugs, and life.”
Regent Press, New World Library, Minotaur Press, Broken Shadow Publications, Seagull Press, Poets Press
Amnesty International, National Resources Defense Council
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