About Clive Matson

Clive Matson was born in 1941 in Los Angeles and grew up on an avocado farm in a small town near San Diego. His mother was a red-diaper baby who attended UCLA in the 1920s and worked, while raising five children, as town librarian and as elementary school secretary. His father was an electrical engineer who wired the DC-3 aircraft and then left the industry after World War II to become a rancher.

Of conservative persuasion, Matson’s father was nevertheless smart and observant and, after conversations with his wife, became a good Democrat. Matson’s maternal Irish grandmother loved Stalin as much as her parents loved Jesus, and she fed her grandson books praising Stalinist Russia by a reformed Catholic bishop. Matson read one and hid the others under his bed. His maternal grandfather, who passed in 1925, was a communist from northern Italy. He believed the future of the West Coast was with the Latino community and published a political newsletter in Spanish out of his print shop in Los Angeles. Irish cousin Willie was  national champion in small arms fire, fought in the Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, and wrote a pamphlet How to Fight A Cheap War.

If the family had been talkative, political discussions would have warmed the dinner table. As it was, the siblings were raised with some political awareness and an acute sense of how savvy and hard-working people must be to run a successful farm. They worked on the ranch every day after school, often alongside immigrant laborers, and, except for Sunday escapes to the beaches and to the desert, every day during the summer. After Matson left home he wrote his grandmother about joining Che Guevara in Bolivia. She replied not to, instead “Just go have fun.” She repeated a mantra she had often, with a gusty laugh, said in the Matson home, “Capitalism will fall of its own weight.” She no doubt expected that to happen before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Matson wrote a poem when he was fourteen and writing became his vocation. In New York City he was protege to the Beat Generation and found mentors in Herbert Huncke, Diane di Prima, Michael McClure, John Wieners, and especially in Alden van Buskirk’s work. He escaped the Vietnam war by becoming 4-F at a time when an unstable-sounding proclamation was enough. His awareness shows in his first book, Mainline to the Heart (Poets Press, Kerhonkson, New York: 1966), and in the poem “Millions Come Haunting,” an expression of white guilt. He was an occasional participant in rallies on the East Coast and joined the March on Washington in 1968. As the sixties ended and general sentiment subsided to “That’s enough of that,” Matson’s ire was provoked. He wrote On the Inside (Cherry Valley Editions, New York, 1982), a record of activity he saw continuing, without fanfare, through the seventies.

Matson saw the erosion of income, power, and liberties of common people over the last sixty years, and the increasing wealth and power of the rich. Work for common good frequently retreated to fighting for lost rights. The link to Matson’s creative and teaching life — he makes his living teaching creative writing — is that truth resides in the creative unconscious. That source is repository, he believes, of social and economic oppression as well as of our creative impulses. Knowing what we feel and knowing its history, and being honest with that knowledge, must, almost of necessity, make us progressive.

After 9/11 Matson responded to Allen Cohen’s call for an anthology. Together they edited An Eye for An Eye Makes the Whole World Blind — Poets on 9/11 (Regent Press, Berkeley, 2003). Three years later Matson established WordSwell, a nonprofit whose mission is to bring out “the writer in people by helping them engage their creative unconscious in an energetic, playful, and healing manner.”

With the beginning of Occupy, Matson felt the exhilaration that, finally, there’s sufficient awareness of inequities in our country that they can be challenged. Writing Occupy Workshop and the Writing Occupy website have evolved since the demonstrations in the fall of 2011.