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:
My brain is loaded.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.