Clive Matson arrived on the Lower East Side of New York City in 1960, a fresh-faced adolescent with a blank notebook under his arm. He quickly fell in with the Beat Generation – his first event was a reading at the Tenth Street Coffeehouse, where he met Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and Diane di Prima.
“The atmosphere was stunning. People were aware that new ground was opening every day, and most of the Beat luminaries were in that one small café.” Matson had already traveled a long way from the avocado ranch in Southern California where he grew up. He had dropped out of the University of Chicago and hitch-hiked around Europe; his education in life was accelerating.
The proto-Beat Herbert Huncke became his second father, and Matson was captivated by John Wieners’ poetry and subsequently by Alden Van Buskirk’s. Diane di Prima published Matson’s first poems, Mainline to the Heart, and in the introduction John Wieners wrote, “One wonders about the nature of love in these poems. Are they vicious, or not?”Matson and his first wife Erin Black immersed themselves in sex, hard drugs, and psychedelics of 1960s Bohemian life. Eventually Matson became overwhelmed and returned to the West Coast. He worked for Taxi Unlimited, a producers’ cooperative in Berkeley; briefly for the Free Clinic and for MOVE (men overcoming violence); and learned the craft of printing from Clifford Burke at Cranium Press. Psychotherapy, Vipassana meditation, and twelve-step programs became fixtures in his life.
Space Age (1969) displays his psychedelic years, Heroin (1972) outlines his struggle with addiction, On the Inside (1981) continues the political sight of his communist grandparents, and Equal in Desire (1982) shows feminism instructing his own sexuality. In 1978, he got involved in workshops and found he could make a living teaching creative writing. He returned to school in the 1980s and earned his MFA in poetry at Columbia University. He has taught more than 3,000 workshops nationwide, and his how-to text Let the Crazy Child Write! (New World Library, 1998), honoring the creative unconscious, is being used by a number of groups around the world.
Matson co-edited, with the late Allen Cohen, the anthology An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind – Poets on 9/11 (Regent Press, Oakland, 2002), which won the 2003 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles National Literary Award. Earlier that year his seventh book, Squish Boots (2002), was placed, amazingly, in John Wieners’ coffin.
In 2004, a character in one of his unfinished stories began writing poems. His editor said, “Her stuff’s junk,” and Matson replied, “Get over it. They’re not yours.” Chalcedony’s First Ten Songs (2007) obsess on sexual passion. The poems are an extension of Matson’s Beat training, as Chalcedony makes a vibrant call to body and spirit and earth through the sensory world. The poems continue in Chalcedony’s Second Ten Songs (2009).
That Matson ultimately emerged drug-free and healthy gave him full appreciation for 1960s passion and honesty. These qualities are crucially important, he thinks, for the current era. “Coming to terms with my youthful, energetic voice has been a challenge,” he admits. “It helps that I hear, in these poems, both an urgent need to connect and full cognizance of the difficulties.”
Mostly Matson writes from the itch in his body, and says he always has. He likes playing basketball, table tennis, and collecting minerals in the field. He lives in Oakland, California, where he helps parent his son Ezra.