Clive Matson writes from an itch in his body

More Dirt

January 21st, 2010 | Posted by clive in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

012110A date wanted to bring her portable drill to my bedroom and put up new paper blinds, all because I mentioned the old ones were soiled and tipping. She hadn’t even seen my bedroom. And I had spent barely two hours with her, she couldn’t have known whether I’m handy. I wondered what was going on, and I winked at her. “Maybe I should accept whatever you offer.”
“Whatever” sounds limitless. I thought I might be in for quite an adventure.
When Chalcedony offers something, I don’t have the choice of refusing. I don’t have the critical apparatus to make a choice, anyway. She exists outside my ken. I write whatever she wants, and afterwards, sometimes years afterwards, I dive into the poem and hope it will offer up its essence.
My date read a couple of these poems and, as fits her lack of gender bias, wondered why we don’t hear the boyfriend’s responses. Especially since Chalcedony is often ranting, taking him to task for his cluelessness.
I didn’t have an answer, and later it occurred to me that some of the songs might be the boyfriend’s responses. But his push back comes disguised in Chalcedony’s voice. Flamboyant and feminine as it often seems, it sometimes does not have any gender clues.
I never saw the drill, and my blinds are still soiled and tipping.


Dream One Revisited

December 2nd, 2009 | Posted by clive in Uncategorized - (5 Comments)

111309-120209“Maybe Chalcedony is the redhead?” asked a reader.

But the redhead in “Dream One” feels like a soul sister. She isn’t wild enough to beChalcedony, the spirit woman who writes songs.

A fearful excitement permeates the dream: the lions embody something powerful, untamable, and injurious. It’s startling that the lion’s den is also my writing studio. While the lion’s aren’t stationed at a portal to some treasure, this is the sense of the dream. There is a portal, however: the studio window. It looks back into the coliseum where the lions are, back into the ordinary world.

One doesn’t have to travel to find the – what to call it – the mythic? The other world? The super real? The dream indicates that the ordinary and the beyond ordinary are in the same place. It is everywhere, superimposed on, or beneath, or through, consensual reality.

Lions do guard the access, and Chalcedony lives in that territory. It fits her boundariless mind, her disregard for convention, her extreme passion. She is less a human than a spiritual, erotic force, or a deity. She is close to chaos. And in Greek mythology, everything comes out of Chaos. Chalcedony must be one of the first generation.

The portal is like a vagina. For the moment I look through it, with the redhead beside me, I am Chalcedony. She experiences much of the world through her vagina (though she’ll take issue with this idea, or with its common interpretation). And I must pass the lion’s scrutiny before I see her.

Does this mean letting go of my mind? My conception of what art should be? Of what life is? “It’s the creative process when there’s danger, when the conscious mind knows it’s at risk.”

A lot drops away when I’m in her presence. I recognize I’m there by a feeling in my body, so I’m spared any ratiocination. The barriers between us fall away as easily if they did not exist.

Chalcedony wants me as much as I want her.

(With help from Sarah Rees, Ezra Matson-Ford, and Lonner Holden.)

Poetry and Dirt

November 18th, 2009 | Posted by clive in Uncategorized - (1 Comments)

111809The woman spirit Chalcedony sends more images and feelings through my thin, tattered psyche than I can follow, much more. Not enough time or energy to sort them or find them places. One friend, who knows better, gave me high praise and said I was a “hero person,” when I’m mostly slogging though mud, trying to keep up. Then he tempered his words, lest we poets become proud.

“But remember, – who said it? – “I want to wash when I meet a poet’: I hope someone might say it about me. It’s elemental primitive with an enthusiasm and never give up. The trajectory of nakedness and slime still oozing from the
water’s edge.”

Ah, yes, the nakedness and the slime pull at us, and we are part of its momentum. My friend gave too much credit to others: his insight was his own. He was turning a quote on its head, from a Basil Bunting poem, “What the Chairman Told Tom,” where Bunting writes the words of an educated punk who doesn’t see the value of poetry.

“Poetry? It’s a hobby….

It’s not work, you don’t sweat….

Nobody pays for it….

You’ve got a nerve….

Nasty little words, nasty long words,

It’s unhealthy.

I want to wash when I meet a poet.”

A study in Psychology shows that washing makes people view unethical activities as more acceptable than if they had not washed. What does this imply? That when our hands are dirty, we know nasty acts -Â those “nasty words” -Â are close to us and more likely something we would do? And therefore objectionable. But if we’re clean, what’s unethical seems less likely a part of us, and therefore forgivable.

The muse takes us where she takes us. Into darkness, into a world of myth and power, of intuition, of passion, of chaos, into a world without morals. My friend’s image, “nakedness and slime” at the water’s edge, oozing around our feet, points toward primordial power. It’s far stronger than ethics or reason.

John Wieners’ lines come to mind, from The Hotel Wentley Poems. “The poem does not lie to us. We lie under its law.”

(With help from Ed Mycue, Kate Madden Yee, and April Renae.)

photo attribution=

Dream One

November 13th, 2009 | Posted by clive in Uncategorized - (2 Comments)

111309-120209I dreamt I was walking with a striking redhead, six feet tall, to a Shakespeare play. The show was in a huge enclosed coliseum. People were milling about and tension hung in the air. There was a palpable, fearful rumor that lions were part of the performance.

Peering through the crowd I saw two lions standing together, old lions, not too scary. Between me and the lions was my older brother. He moved at a tilt, staggering as if something had happened that was more than he could handle, and he didn’t recognize me. The lions looked peaceful enough, and as we got closer I saw a young lion next to the older ones.

This animal’s aura different: it was wild and untamed.

The performance was not about to start. The floor was dirt, and my companion and I were drawn to a hut at the far corner of the coliseum. Inside a heavy brick and cement wall and primitive doorway were two rooms, one bare, and a sense of familiarity came over me. In the dream I remembered this was a place I had lived, on Sixth Street in West Berkeley, with quite low ceilings. That house was titled. The floor in the dream was even more steeply tilted. We went up into the second room, and there was a single bed with a stew of bedclothes. I knew this was my bed.

And the rooms were the lions’ den. We were invading their territory, but I felt welcome. This bed was where I wrote my poems and dreamed my dreams. We poked our heads through an opening in the far wall of the room. It looked out on the performance area and the lions were directly in sight. Fear washed through me.

The opening was rimmed with a sort of animal skin, three-inch long hairs in a rim of fur. As I poked my head through I felt wonder along with fear. The lions knew I was there. The opening was like a vagina, the source of life, open into the world.

Chalcedony (Kal-SAID-en-ee) would be familiar with this territory. She would find some harmony with the lions. If lions guard the portal to the treasures of the unconscious, we need to make friends with them. We need to do whatever penance allows us to enter those energetic places.


November 4th, 2009 | Posted by clive in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

110409The Bronx in the 1960s was a difficult place, and one of our writers lived there in a sixth floor walk-up apartment with her mother. Rents were cheap, and as immigrants at poverty level they had been attracted to the neighborhood. But some buildings were burning, the streets were contested by gangs, and political groups were in conflict or disarray.

One day the City condemned their building, and all five floors beneath them emptied out. Mother and daughter stayed a while longer. When they came home at night to the deserted hallways, her mother stamped her feet hard on the floor and all the way up the five flights of stairs. Her daughter did the same. The mother called out, again and again, “Hurry up, George!” as if her husband were just behind them. In reality he was at work across town, but the muggers didn’t know this.

Years later the writer asked her mother how she felt about that time.”I didn’t think much about it. I thought it was just the way things were.”

“Just the way things were”? When neighborhoods are burning, and it’s dangerous to walk to the corner store and buy a quart of milk? We wonder what that does to a young writer’s psyche, and how she might react later.

But the writer calls herself a “recovering MFA graduate” and says she likes staying in touch with chaos. She did five years traditional training in literature and, ultimately, she found it boring to her creative impulse. She must have felt some resonance with the chaos, or its familiarity made chaos necessary to her work, or part of her recognized that at least some uncertainly is a quality of life. Everywhere. It was certainly present those years in the Bronx.

She says, “I invite chaos into my writing.”

Chaos is familiar territory to Chalcedony (Kal-SAID-en-ee), the spirit woman in my collections Chalcedony’s Songs. She lives in the passionate, archetypal currents running through our bodies, and the ride is often rough. Often chaotic. Her world doesn’t conform to our wishes, certainly, of how things should be. But Chalcedony likes the wildness and the rambunctiousness, and wants everyone else to enjoy it, too. Or at least to come to terms with it.

Especially her lover. Doesn’t he recognize that parts of life are always spinning out of control? In “Song Three” she admonishes him, one day when boundaries had dissolved and their impulses were overlapping. Everything was mixed up and intertwining, even at the atomic level.

“You think this is aggravating?” she shouts, “You think this isn’t the way of the world?”

Writing and Fun

October 26th, 2009 | Posted by clive in Uncategorized - (7 Comments)

102609“I’m having a lot of fun writing this,” said a beginner in Tuesday night workshop, thirty pages into a first novel.

The writer needs to meter out drama and character-building details in a smooth, believable, organic trance. This has to be complicated, and it cannot be an easy project. But what could be better than to have fun doing it? That would be a measure of one’s competence and ones’s daring. And more, a measure of belief in one’s competence.

People having fun as they write made me suspicious when I first started teaching, thirty-some years ago. How can you get to the energetic depths, if having fun is the overall tone? It fits intuition that there must be some unpleasant struggle somewhere, just as in life.

But another writer dispelled this prejudice, saying for that writer, writing is play. “Play like what children do: totally encompassing play.” Where the writing becomes the entire world and the entire world is one’s playground. One can map a lot of struggle, I understand from this, over into the child’s playground, and it won’t seem painful. “Deep pleasure in the writing,” said another writer, who added that a lot of practice goes into the pleasure. Lining up the vast creative unconscious in a harmonious way with that small part of us that recognizes pleasure.

Do you know the Robert Frost quote? “No tears for the writer, no tears in the reader.” It might also be true: “No fun for the writer, no fun for the reader.”

(With help from Sandy Olsen, Deborah Janke, and Jeff Karon.)

Fire Alert

July 5th, 2009 | Posted by clive in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

070509We gave a new twist to a writing exercise at Art Camp in the Sierra. It grew out of a discussion the month before at Wilbur Hot Springs, in the seminar “Writing and Powerful Experience.” The question of what is powerful circled around core issues as the answer, around what’s at the center of one’s personal journey. Facing solitude? Touching some vast creative energy? The sorrow of heart’s desire? An ocean of truth all around us? Sex or love bonding?

Each person , for the first part of the exercise, picked a word, said it aloud, and we wrote it down. An intimate workshop of seven writers, we had seven words. Part two, we each wrote seven sentences, each sentence using one of the words. In our chairs next to Spanish Creek outside Quincy, over our heads the Jeffrey pines swaying in the sunlight, we might have written the purest lyricism.

So far, a familiar exercise. Sharon Doubiago has used this a number of times, and you could probably find it in a variety of writing texts. Part three was to write something, a story, poem, essay, or play, with one of the sentences as the opening.

We are trained to write the best piece we can, so automatically we look for material and style that gains the most approval. But our twist was to find the sentence that’s at the core of our journey. Or one that points to the core. The sentence we chose could be the first sentence of our piece, or the last sentence, or its content could be, or could suggest, our central issue.

Powerful experiences can be all light of course, but I suspect there’s generally another sense, of darkness or difficulty or frustration or foreboding, that is key. By making a core issue our subject, we turned the exercise 180 degrees. We reversed its direction. We aimed for darkness, chaos, trouble, flames, the unknown.

I’ve watched this emphasis produce marvelous pieces, many times, over the years I’ve been leading groups. The writers headed off for lunch, the forest, swimming, camp events, solitude in their tents, and at some point the pieces were written.

It’s not at issue whether we’ll hear good writing the next day, when we share our work. We should rather worry whether we’ll start a forest fire.

Solstice Greetings

December 26th, 2008 | Posted by clive in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Stark sunlight angling in low
strikes a beautiful stone,
flecked with gold and rot brown.

I am looking at the galleys for Chalcedony’s Second Ten Songs and I am totally gassed by the reader’s responses to Chalcedony’s First Ten Songs! Now selecting a few for the new back cover. What in the world what was Chalcedony doing right?

Just received the first in-depth response to Chalcedony – here it is!

"I’m one of those people who never reads the preface, and it took me a couple of references to breasts to realize my perspective was definitely skewed. Back to the preface and… ahhh….
I love how this archetype, as Matson describes Chalcedony, pulls the poet into a lower world of her own deeper wisdom, an initiation almost, into the ancient rites of love, magic and expanded consciousness. Matson’s mind can’t fathom the wild ranges of her awakened senses, and so she has to drag the poet there with images and tastes and smells. I love the story about how Matson couldn’t resist her.
Some of Chalcedony’s First Ten Songs has the exalted flavor of Rumi, who is one of my all-time favorite writers, using the tangible flesh of sensuality to describe the incandescent Mysteries.
Lines I especially loved were:

You think you can put your heart
back in your chest
and go?

I’m eating you with strawberries.
I’m sipping you with black tea.

We say "Yes" to the love buried
in a thousand thousand languages.

Do we need
bigger holes for our eyes?

loving you with both her hands.
(which is really what this collection is about, to me)

This is the nothing behind the nothing
from which everything arises.
(… and what more can one really say?)

And finally,
Sink into the lullaby
flowing between us
deeper than a thousand rivers.

That’s what Matson has written: a lullaby of mystical musings, salted (as it should be) with the grit of the mundane and the human: blackheads and pores and cleaning ladies’ knees. Great juxtapositions, daring journey”

— Cynthia Moore, Berkeley, April 2008