Reviews of Clive’s work

By Marc Hofstader in The Book Stacks

Clive Matson, Mainline to the Heart, Regent Press, 2009 (originally published 1966)
Clive Matson’s recent re-publication of his sixties classicMainline to the Heart is a celebration of two things: passion and poetry. Written, incredibly, when Matson was only twenty-three and twenty-four years old and subsequently published by Diane di Prima’s press, Mainline evokes the vicissitudes of a young man living in New York City who is seeking love, using drugs, and exploring his feelings in free verse that is supple, many-layered and suggestive. This poetry belongs to the legacy of the Beat generation. One can hear this in every line:

The Hustler, it’s over
& I walk out
to lights on the street.

The self is hip, aware, an adventurer and, above all, a poet. He seeks ecstasy:

Now I dig myself.
& forget myself.
Go out for air and
the desert street is white with
from the sun.

He also acknowledges the tawdry and stained aspects of existence:

I wake up blue and a little sick,
light a first harsh cigarette and
stumble into last night’s pants.

He is open about his drug use:

Opium today.
My brain is loaded.
Put down
the spike, wipe a red dribble
oozing out the hole in my arm.

He is in love with sex:

     I like to think you’re a
lioness with that loping,
straddle leg walk
& breasts free, bouncing and rubbing
against the flowered sheath—
I watch out the corner of my eye ga-ga.

He has a girlfriend, but isn’t unaware of other women’s charms:

Well Babe I’d die almost
without you & I know
you’d feel the same but

I’ll shrivel up without some
new young love &
today I saw
your blue eye roving.

He expresses his experiences with the implication that he is expanding the envelope through deliberate sexual and drug experimentation in the tradition of Rimbaud. But many people were experimenting thus in the sixties. What makes this self special is his ability to put the new knowledge into words. The verse skips around on the page, visual effects creating emphases that would not exist if each line began at the left margin:

            Who took the clouds from the sky!
Since when is death pretty &
things alive and sparkly:
in some continual sex act.

Here the isolation of the typically slangy “twing-twanging” makes us hear it as if it were music.
This young poet describes his life with remarkable authority and beauty:

                   The first day
I go out into a beautiful world. Of color &
where each tree & building & person
is beautiful!

The life of feeling is celebrated in this poetry in such a way that it is inseparable from the life of verse. It is through poetic expression that passion finds its utmost meaning. This poetry itself is a “mainline to the heart”. Drug use, sex, love, the city are all transformed by verse into a beautiful, passionate, legendary vision. This kind of innocent romanticism may seem almost quaint to our more knowing but less hopeful age, but we can still learn much from it. It is a foundation from which to build, and a reminder that gadgets and bandwidths are not sufficient to construct a life of meaning.


More Reviews of Mainline to the Heart

The Compulsive Reader
One thing clear to me is the deep voice running beneath the poems that speaks to the awareness of experience humans share with each other. It’s a sexy collection and like talking with your lover, it conveys an interest in pleasure and at the same time an honesty that is willing to share what is most heartfelt.

Jacket Magazine
The daring honesty and chaos of a drug- and sex-saturated life revealed, the starkness of the sexual frankness must have captured the eyes and ears of those liberated souls of that flower era, if it can still be remembered as such.

Creatively Rooted
The poems stay within the mind for a long time after reading those. The emotions ooze from each page. A book worth reading but not for those who like everything nicely tied up.

Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene
…the language is intense and beautifully crafted, the work of a seasoned writer. And yet Matson maintains a rawness, a nakedness, to the imagery.

Poetry & Ideas
Mainline to the Heart presents Clive Matson in full flight, as Sixties as they come, that is to say sex to jazz’s backbeat, guys & gals, drugs, the Beat merging with the Hippy thing. It contains or assumes the bits of attitude which’d one day declare as Punk.

Rain Taxi
Matson’s work is, to adapt Ezra Pound’s phrase, news that has stayed new. These are poems that can still startle, even shock; they are also poems that can make us grieve and see something of the beauty and richness that isn’t so much in spite of the “disease” that is life but because of it.


Interviews with Clive Matson

Interview at Savvy Verse & Wit
Interview and Reading at Blog Talk Radio (PODCAST)

Clive Matson’s Resume

Clive Matson’s Resume

472 44th Street
Oakland, CA 94609

PDF version


  • M.F.A. Poetry, School of the Arts, Columbia University, 1989
  • Undergraduate work, University of Chicago, 1958-59


Faculty in creative writing

  • University of California Extension, Berkeley, California, 1985-present
  • John F. Kennedy University, Orinda, California, 1993-1995

Creative writing workshops taught

(more than 3000), including Umbria, Italy, 2006; Oakland Adult Art Camp, 2000; Woodstock Art Guild, Woodstock, New York, 1989; Soledad Prison, California, 1983; Woodstock Art Guild, Woodstock, New York, spring 1989; Soledad Prison, California, spring 1983

Readings coordinator

  • Poetry & Pizza, San Francisco, 1999-2010
  • Cody’s Books, Berkeley, California, 1979-81


Volumes of Poetry

  • CHALCEDONY’S SECOND TEN SONGS (Minotaur Press, Pt. Townsend, Washington: 2009) 35pp
  • MAINLINE TO THE HEART and other poems (reissued, Regent Press, Berkeley, CA: 2009) 92pp
  • CHALCEDONY’S FIRST TEN SONGS (Minotaur Press, Pt. Townsend, Washington: 2007) 36pp
  • SQUISH BOOTS (Broken Shadow Publications, Oakland, California: 2002) 69pp
  • HOURGLASS (Seagull Press, Oakland, California: 1987) 53pp
  • EQUAL IN DESIRE (ManRoot, So. San Francisco, California: 1983) 25pp
  • ON THE INSIDE (Cherry Valley Editions, New York: 1982) 70pp
  • HEROIN (Neon Sun, Berkeley, California: 1972) 35pp
  • SPACE AGE (Croton Press, New York: 1969) 73pp
  • MAINLINE TO THE HEART (Poets Press, Kerhonkson, NY: 1966) 29pp


Poems featured in 12 anthologies, including

  • PASSIONATE HEARTS (New World Library, Novato, California: 1997)
  • HANG TOGETHER (Hanging Loose, Brooklyn: 1987)
  • LOVES, ETC. (Doubleday, NY: 1973)
  • 31 NEW AMERICAN POETS (Hill & Wang, NY: 1969)


Poems published in more than 100 journals, including



Poetry chapbooks

  • TOWERS DOWN with Diane di Prima (Eidolon Editions, S.F.: 2002)
  • SHAVED AT DAWN with John Oliver Simon (Aldebaran Review, Berkeley, Calif.: 1984)



  • “Cache” in TULANE REVIEW (Tulane University, New Orleans: spring 2005)
  • “Guards” in WORD 60 (New York School of Visual Arts: fall 2004)
  • “Asbestos” in SANTA CLARA REVIEW (Santa Clara College, California: fall/winter 2003)
  • “Search” in SOUNDINGS EAST (Salem State College, Massachusetts: fall 2000)


Essays, including

  • “Remembering John Wieners,” in MONTESSART REVIEW no. 7, ed. Calder Lowe: fall 2003)
  • “Membrane Porous” in THE SPIRIT OF WRITING, ed. Mark Waldman (Tarcher, L.A.: 2001)
  • “Going Public” in POETS & WRITERS vol. 25 no. 2 (New York: March/April 1997)
  • “Robert Duncan and His Audience” in EXQUISITE CORPSE #57 (Baton Rouge, LA: 1996)
  • “Mapplethorpe: The Censorship of the Senses” in CULTURE CONCRETE (S.F.: 1992)
  • “Breath of Inspiration” (PRESUMPTIONS, Berkeley, California: 1987) 15pp


Nonfiction Volume



More than 2,000 poetry readings given, 1964-present, including 60 with musicians



  • NOBODY’S BUSINESS, full-length, Marin Theatre Co., workshop production July 1996
  • SPIKES, one act drama, Marin Theatre Co., workshop production October 1995
  • CACTUS, full-length comedy, The Nat Horne Theater, workshop production Sept.1989




  • AN EYE FOR AN EYE MAKES THE WHOLE WORLD BLIND – Poets on 9/11 with Allen Cohen (Regent Press, Oakland: 2002)

Provided developmental work on more than twenty volumes, including

  • CHINA DREAMS, Isabelle Maynard (University of Iowa: 1997)
  • GOD’S CARESS, Charles Cohen (Oxford University Press, New York: 1986)
  • LAMI, Alden Van Buskirk (Auerhahn Press, San Francisco: 1964)



  • Best Writing Teacher, Best of the East Bay 2006 (“Arts & Culture,” EAST BAY EXPRESS, Berkeley, California: May 3-9, 2006, p. 34)
  • 2003 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles National Literary Award (with the late Allen Cohen) for the anthology AN EYE FOR AN EYE MAKES THE WHOLE WORLD BLIND – Poets on 9/11 Columbia University Graduate Writing Fellowship, 1987-88

About Clive


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.