Mainline to the Heart & Other Poems by Clive Matson

Clive Matson‘s Mainline to the Heart and Other Poems, originally published in 1966 by Diane di Prima’s “Poets Press,” is a new edition from Regent Press. I received a copy of this book from Jacqueline Lasahn.

I want to caution readers that these poems can be very graphic and sexual in nature, which reflects the Beat Generation environment at the time and Clive Matson’s experiences. However, unlike other beat poems, this volume is edgier and raw. In some cases, these poems are surreal.

From “Outward Bound” (Page47-48):

“I reach out to him and nothing happens.
I want him for a friend and he’s somewhere else.
Or will he look up
with new light in his eyes when I draw back,
where will it end?
Already there is despair
and our engines will burn up the fuel,
I guess crash among wrecked dreams.
It’s ok,
tonight our parallel lives cross
& I see his gestures: steady curves
and knife edges.”

Many of these poems question daily activities, relationships, and other things, while at the same time offering implausible answers. In a number of these poems, there is an undercurrent of dissatisfaction, disgust, and longing. “Psalm” takes a look at drug use and the way it can twist thought and emotion into something ugly. One of my favorites from this collection is “My Love Returned.”

My Love Returned (Page 30)
© 1966 Clive Matson

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,
Cut off
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.

Within this poem there is a somber undercurrent beneath the dark images of vampires and life-sucking situations, which are not clearly delineated as a relationship with a person or a drug. It could be either given that these poems are deeply personal according to the press sheet that came with the book. Overall, this volume provides a deep look into the struggles of the narrator with drugs and relationships, and its raw nature can teach readers about the darker sides of life.

Another unique aspect of this volume is the inclusion of sketches and drawings of ornately drawn women. Mainline to the Heart and Other Poems is not a volume for the faint of heart, but it will grip readers from its the first poetic lines. Some may find the images in these poems unsettling, but it is this nature that will encourage readers to critically rethink their world view and examine their environment with new eyes.

About the Poet:

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 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, and in the introduction John Wieners wrote, “One wonders about the nature of love in these poems. Are they vicious, or not?”

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.”


I have 1 copy of Jill Mansell’s An Offer You Can’t Refuse; get two entries, comment on my review and my interview. Deadline is April 11 at Midnight.