Mainline to the Heart and other poems (2009)
Mainline to the Heart was originally published by Diane di Prima’s Poets Press in 1966, with an introduction by John Wieners. The book was confiscated by British Customs in 1968, and released a few months later. The poems had been judged “borderline pornographic”.
Mainline to the Heart and other poems was reissued by Regent Press, Oakland, on March 11, 2009. This new edition of Clive Matson’s early 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.
At once obstreperous and innocent, these poems celebrate a place where emotion, sex, and religion come together with overwhelming intensity. In the fifties and sixties Beat Generation writers were revisiting this edgy, full-blooded romantic tradition and Matson joined the exploration with youthful energy. But the quest was fraught with tension.
To Matson’s heart and mind, the Beatific vision morphs into something as sinister as it is beautiful, sex is utterly consuming yet fosters hostility, emotion is an exhilarating current as dangerous as a tsunami, drugs are glorious and bring one to the brink of death. Writing these poems were a crucial part of a young person’s growth, as demonstrated by the open, accessible style. The poet’s overriding concern is understanding the self and the world. Be-bop and cool riffs, common in the Beats, are truncated or undercut in Matson’s work, to arrive quickly and precisely at the point.
Mainline to the Heart and Other Poems expresses a confluence of personal and historical forces. Clive Matson was coming of age at the same time the culture was at the height of its 1960s explosion. While the poems cast a sobering light on Beat exuberance, Matson’s vibrant imagery makes the personal, visionary, and sexual excitement impossible to deny. Steve Weltner writes, “These poems speak about desire with an exactitude too excruciating to be pornographic. The power of their eroticism has not diminished.”
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Praise For Mainline to the Heart and Other Poems
When Clive Matson’s Mainline to the Heart fell into my hands back in 1966, I inhaled it feverishly. I imagined I knew – in the now quaintly antique parlance of the day – where the poet was coming from. In essence a helpless and passionate romantic, Matson and his poetry zeroed in dead center on what pop-vernacular sang and was calling “The Big Hurt.” In every direction you looked, the world was in flames. Bursting and raging with a jaundiced innocence, Matson’s poems narrate one intimately harrowing season in hell. So lyrically well-preserved is this hell that, decades later, the touch and scent of its tenderness still hangs in this reader’s nostrils. These pages get it right. With a mentor like Herbert Huncke, junkie raconteur and Beat icon, to inspire him, how could Matson not sing to pitch-memory the funkiest of blues: the death-wish blues? The anger, excitement and longing for love you read about and hear and feel in these pages tell the true story of how we live now and the way some sensitive, aware Americans have lived for a long time. In a voice as strong as any official’s, Clive Matson’s poetry reminds us that love and love and love alone is enough to make us give shots in the dark to ourselves. The fever is still upon us.
~ Al Young, Poet Laureate of California
Our bias towards age (or “maturity”) makes it difficult to account for the bursts of intense illumination sometimes present in twenty-somethings. The riveting poems in Mainline to the Heart were produced well before Clive Matson turned thirty. The late John Wieners described them brilliantly when he wrote, “It is heroin and the blood he draws. It is not peace.” This book is not likely to persuade anyone to become an addict: it is hardly a pretty picture. But Mainline to the Heart is an enormously powerful evocation of a state of mind most people barely know exists. It is no accident that William Burroughs, another heroin addict, produced science fiction. To inject heroin is to inject a kind of science fiction of consciousness. Matson’s immensely disturbed hero tries to go about a “normal” life while fully aware that “We are all insane.” Robert Duncan called this book “butch.” It’s that, but it’s also what Baudelaire called “la conscience dans le Mal,” not consciousness of evil but consciousness in evil. “From the Abyss comes / a message that spells out our shape on Earth.” “I / open to the darkness my home.” “I see no exit / away from the Horror, / why not embrace it.”
~ Jack Foley
I discovered Mainline to the Heart in the stacks of a university library whose buyer for contemporary writing knew where to find nearly all the poetry being published in the States at that time, no matter how obscure the publisher or the writer, and arranged to have it placed on the shelves fast. I read lots poetry there for the first time. Some like Spicer or Olson or O’Hara would become well known, even famous later. Many others would disappear, and I too quickly forgot them myself. But Mainline to the Heart was stronger stuff. It wouldn’t let me forget it.
Almost forty years have passed since I read it last. I do not know how much my reading of it now has been affected by the feelings and thoughts it provoked in me then when I had read little like it and nothing so sexually exacting. Unlike so much writing by Ginsberg, for example, to which it might be superficially compared, it doesn’t pontificate or take on self-important poses. One never senses, as I do now re-reading a lot of the work of the `fifties and `sixties associated, say, with the Beats, that one is witnessing a performance.
“Naked,” like “raw” and other such words, is too easily used. “From the Abyss comes a message that spells out our shape on Earth,” Matson writes in “The Jungle,” and, in “My Love Returned,” “I see no exit away from the Horror.” “Abyss” and “horror” are words that risk their own sort of sentimentality, of course. They can appear to make important what is merely unpleasant. But in Matson’s poems, so many of which are truly exposed, bare of any protection (including that, still, of good taste), the horror is real. Joy is real too, in this work, but horror is more commonplace, in part because these poems speak about desire with an exactitude too excruciating to be pornographic. The power of their eroticism has not diminished, unaffected by time or the vagaries of style. “Love is possession,” Clive Matson writes, “and we possess each other on a bone level.” In these poems, those bones still live.
~ Peter Weltner, author The Risk of His Music
Mainline to the Heart traffics in sex, drugs, and sacrilege. Yet, for all of their decadence and obstreperousness, these are poems of innocence as well as experience. One senses the poet groping, without self-consciousness or shame, for an elusive vocabulary of salvation. When that vocabulary occasionally breaks through, the joy is palpable.
~ Hilary Holladay
In these poems of lust, compulsion, and “greedy warlock magic,” Clive Matson frankly celebrates the rough grace of youth. Somewhere between art that wants to be popular and art that’s proud of giving shocks is art that’s truthful. This volume proves that this poet was grappling with that golden mean at a tender age.
~ D. Patrick Miller, author of Instructions of the Spirit
When I first read Mainline to the Heart, it was a door. I went inside and swapped my MP3 player for an armload of jazz records. I didn’t miss my email account at all, and instead waited patiently for a single letter on paper. Spilling over with love or blithering with “fuck yous,” whatever. As long as it was handwritten, with the pen’s hard indentation on the other side of onion paper just as passionate as the words composed on the front. When the door slammed shut behind me, I didn’t care to go back.
The second time I read Matson’s manuscript, it was a trip on peyote. Telling me only the very essential, and then giving it flight, with wings the color of Indian batik under neon lights, loud and cacophonic as the treasured broken typewriter, and balmy as the aromatic mixture of di Prima’s ever-present stew, cigarette smoke and sweaty women wearing patchouli as anticipation.
The third time was the most miraculous of them all. At his strongest, Matson gets God alone in a room and starts asking questions. If only he hadn’t been hung-over at the time, he might have remembered God’s answers. At his most vulnerable, Matson begs only for love. He’s just like the rest of us.
Yes, the third time I read Mainline to the Heart was the most miraculous. It became a mirror.
– Elz Cuya, founder The Poetry Mission
The language of the poems is of the sixties, reflecting Allen Ginsberg’s transformation of poetic consciousness. The feelings are tough and drug-enhanced, steeped in existential despair. For the sake of art, the poet got himself hooked on junk. It was in the air.
His vision of woman is almost Baudelairean in the demands he places on her, in the evil he attributes to her. A claustrophobic projection of anger, desire and need permeate the poems. But the complex rhythms chronicling the swings in emotion resonate beyond the words to reveal the natural cadences of a poet.
John Wieners’ introduction intuitively grasps the essence of the poems. Is this love? If it is, it’s not peaceful.
For all his youthful nihilism, the Clive Matson I remember from those years had a gentleness of spirit that always kept me his friend.
~ Eila Kokkinen
This is a book of wild songs, of naked paeans to the American street and its tormented hungers: the wailing, chaotic lyricism of youth sung in the key of compulsive sexual frenzy – an orgasmic, rapturous celebration of lust, drugs and life. Clive Matson is an authentic maker: he has told the truth and shamed the devil! Raw, painful, explosive – this is a poetic document well worth having back in print.
~ Steve Kowit
“I’ve a disease called life / and it’s aching, what to / do with it,” Clive Matson appeals in Mainline to the Heart. These poems measure a young man’s relentless will for love, in spite of, and perhaps because of, all its terror and tenderness-love, the ultimate drug: “Can’t it keep me / high every night? / Every day? / Off and on.” The 20-something Matson wrestles with some tough questions in these poems – “words / someone will take as a drug and discover / a friend inside” – and to witness the Clive Matson of today is to witness answers hard-won and heart-won: “From the abyss comes / a message that spells out our shape on Earth.”
~ Marj Hahne
Teardrop In My Eye
Fuck you, Huncke.
hung up for junk, waiting
alone in a dark room candles
you lit burn down in.
They unwind curls of smoke
like incense I remember we offered
It is Nostalgia.
I treat you mean
and I get what’s coming
down on Lonely Street.
I walk amid cold winds,
while I blow.
No one to hold my hand.
Tompkins Park ~
a violet night sky looms,
one icy star in it. Is it
And on 3 sides
fountains I see thru squinty eyes
squirt white geysers like cocks:
streetlamps seen thru tears.
Wish you were here
& cruise empty benches
for the familiar body.
What’s the use.
Turn a corner, God
I’m relieved! Gone the terror.
No more hairy lump between thighs or
mornings he slunk away
thru dawn’s pale blue light as
as I reach long arms
& grasp a rumpled blanket.
I hoped for joy.
Why did he go?
This affair started with a smile that
opened caverns in his skull
When he gave me a blue china bowl.
For weeks after
we took off
together jiving our way along
for outer space as
only we can. Will we
space out once more.
Have I got heart for it,
Now I’m free I can
go to Chatham Square a vulture,
follow the fading rumors he left
behind with me. & these memories
I would live again.
My Love Returned
The Moon rises
ass heavy: on the wane.
Wish it was full.
I dream &
a huge bat wing arcs over skeleton buildings
and dips to touch ruby pinprick traffic lights
on the street’s horizon in mute salute,
when I take in another block
the black wing blacks out the lights
and I know it is the Vampire,
my love returned
in the city calling me to bed
with faint irresistible siren
over the cool line of telepathic desire
or echoing “could be” to my need
broadcast live out dewy eyes, glib tongue
and come-on slouch for months.
How does she know? How the seasons change
and my veins hold new blood for her to suck now,
new blood I can bleed
over the white & untried bed
and my teeth are white and sharp to eat with.
Now I brim over with come to shoot in her,
I flap my jaw
and smile goofy at strangers
in the fullness of it.
Glad I’ll kill myself
& build a life with her. Glad
I’ll gaze into the wide blue eyes
I cannot fathom.
Not Christine not Huncke
not Martha could take her place.
I loved each and let each loose
the beautiful face no matter or
how strong my yearning ache,
at dangerously hot by a circuit breaker
or fanned to blistering flame so
she turned cold shoulders in disgust,
Useless to give my all when it’s already given
to end lying anguished mornings on the same wrinkled sheet,
some yellow belly demon inside calculating
to save me for the One
or can I love at all?
Hear dark silence for the answer
& I’ve torn up the map, all highways
lead to the same dead end where
I see no exit
away from the Horror,
why not embrace it.
Love is possession
and we possess each other on a bone level
I don’t understand but we keep
a dim promise of happiness alive
or magic descends from the ceiling
& days light up now and then like sparkling incense,
I do what I want with her
as nuptial joy lifts toward bliss
that can not come true
and will carry me
thru boredom, fighting, anguish
the same scene repeated endlessly
1966, 1969, 1975 as
over the years
Time binds us tighter together
in orbit around our asteroid or lovely room
where we are each other’s parasite
and no friend in sight,
where we’ll die
within the same few seasons fatally wounded
our better half destroyed
or God insert the drug, body, faith
can bridge to the old dream she devours
& I love a spirit of the Dead.