“Writing my first poem gave me a sense of joy and authenticity,” says Clive Matson. “I’ve been following that powerful feeling my whole life.” The opening page of Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist drew him to literature, and at age fourteen his teacher asked him to write a poem. “I wrote about the wind blowing through chaparral hills. Maybe it was for only two days, but it seemed the words rolled around my mind for weeks.”
He journeyed from the avocado ranch where he grew up in Southern California and arrived in New York City, a fresh-faced kid with a blank notebook and high expectations. He had entered the University of Chicago on a full scholarship, and in 1959 he went to the Gate of Horn reading for Big Table. He heard Allen Ginsberg read “Howl.”
“Ginsberg spoke directly to the alienation of the young, to the appeal of drugs, to sexual uncertainty, and he countered these downward pulls with a vibrant sense of adventure.” The creative energy of the Beats was palpable and it seemed not perceptible at the University. Matson wanted to take part. He dropped out.
Matson and his first wife Erin Black immersed themselves in sex, hard drugs, and psychedelics of 1960s Bohemian life. It was an exciting time. The bohemian scene was small, and at a single reading on Tenth Street they met many of the Beat luminaries. They both were entranced and they got deeply into hard drugs and into psychedelics. Having grown up in the straight-jacketed 1950s, this was courageous: a celebration of life and of the world.
The proto-Beat Herbert Huncke became Matson’s mentor. “Huncke and I walked the City, and he would talk. He made his way by gaining people’s confidence. He had a striking awareness of people’s psyches and could be intimate with pretty much anyone in a minute or two.” Huncke was friends with John Wieners, whose work was Matson’s ideal. In 1966 Diane di Prima published Matson’s first poems, "Mainline to the Heart". In the introduction Wieners wrote “The ‘angel-headed hipster’ dream is lost, as these poems testify.”
Eventually Matson became overwhelmed and returned to the West Coast. Individual therapy, meditation, and twelve-step programs became fixtures in his life.
"Equal in Desire" (ManRoot, 1982): “Women have probably been my most important influence. “I remember Erin insisting, in the middle of a spat, ‘I’m a person!’ As if that was being overlooked in those sexist times. She was right.”
In 1978 his life changed. While reading poems in the Northwest, he was asked to lead a workshop. Matson confessed he had no classroom experience, but the organizer insisted it was easy. Simply give an exercise dividing the psyche into Parent, Adult, and Child – the voices of transactional analysis. For writing, these become Editor, Writer, and Child. “Tell the Editor and Writer to take a walk and let the Child write whatever it wants.”
The instant Matson stepped into the classroom, everything said fit that scheme. The remnants of his long efforts to be a cool poet dropped away. “I became, in that moment, the custodian of everyone’s creativity.” He began a career as a teacher, and returned to New York in the late 1980s to earn his MFA in Poetry at Columbia University.
A vast stream of creative energy runs though us every moment, Matson believes. "Let the Crazy Child Write!" (New World Library, 1998) grew out of his teaching and gives full honors to the creative unconscious. The “Crazy Child” is its playful sobriquet. "Squish Boots" (2002) came out of his own teaching and the “Crazy Child” exercise. Amazingly, at John Wieners’ death a copy was placed in his coffin.
Matson married a former student in 1993, and currently they are co-parenting their preteen son, Ezra. “Having a child opens one’s heart. Immensely. What a surprise and joy.”
In 2004 Chalcedony, a character in one of his unfinished stories, began writing poems. Matson’s background provided the breadth and understanding to accept these poems as his. The voice recalls that of Mainline to the Heart minus its caustic disappointment. "Chalcedony’s First Ten Songs" came out in 2008. “I’m very lucky,” says Matson, referring to his dangerous life in the 1960s. Emerging drug-free from those times gives Matson the ability to fully appreciate their honesty and passion. These qualities are crucial to our era, he believes. “Coming to terms with my youthful, energetic voice has been a challenge.” This has taken years, Matson admits. “It helps that I hear, in these poems, both an urgent need to connect and full cognizance of the difficulties.
What would sum up his life, so far? “I would like to put Herb Huncke’s face on a t-shirt,” says Matson. “I’d give it the caption, ‘Where’s your passion?’”
Publications and Prizes
Books:Mainline to the Heart and Other Poems
(Regent Press, 2009), Squish Boots
(Broken Shadow, 2000), Let the Crazy Child Write!
(New World Library, 1998), Hourglass
(Seagull Press, 1988), Equal in Desire
(Manroot, 1983), Space Age
(Croton Review Press, 1969), Mainline to the Heart
(Poet's Press, 1966)
Chapbooks:Chalcedony's First Ten Songs
(Minotaur Press, 2008)
Anthologies:An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind - Poets on 9/11
(Regent Press, 2002)
, Fine Madness
, Mad Swirl
, Poetry Magazine
, Poets & Writers
, Visions International
2003 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles National Literary Award for
An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind - Poets on 9/11, co-edited, with the late Allen Cohen (Regent Press, Oakland, 2002)
Please note: All information in the Directory is provided by the listed writers or their representatives.
Listing last updated: February 26, 2009