Martin Matz died last night in the hospice unit of New York's
Cabrini Hospital. I believe Marty was 67 years old. I met
Marty in the Chelsea Hotel in 1989 and we remained close till
his dying day. This is some of what I remember Marty telling
me about his life. Because we were usually pleasantly loaded
when we talked, some of my memories could be off a bit.
Marty was not a prolific poet, but he was a poet's poet.
Marty's poetry was a unique fusion of Surrealism, Lyricism
and Beatitude. He was inspired by, and refined the traditions
of vagabond poesy. Look on the back cover of his book Time
Waits: Selected Poems 1956-1986 (JMF Publishing, 1987; privately
revised and expanded, 1994), and you will find encomiums
from the likes of Gregory Corso, Jack Micheline, Harold
Norse and Howard Hart. Beat eminence Herbert Huncke wrote
a stirring introduction to Matz's book of opium poems, Pipe
Dreams (privately published in 1989). Huncke wrote that
Matz "...draws support for the solidity of his statements
from the earth, the soil--all of nature; trees, rocks and
gems--upheaval and restless winds--strange dream-producing
flowers. His is an awareness of the endless mystery we are
all so much a part of."
Marty was decidedly his own man, and stayed true to his
own poetical calling. He wrote poems for himself and for
his friends, and did not taste the admiration of a wider
audience until late in his life. What quenched Marty's soul
was late night pow-wows burnished with jazz, sharing tales
of the brotherhood of fringe dwellers. His love of nocturnal
creatures shines through in his masterful poem
I KNOW WHERE RAINBOWS GO TO DIE (On The Death of Bob Kaufman):
TOGETHER WE WALKED THROUGH A FABLED CITY
OF HALLUCINATING GREEN
AND TALKED AWAY
A THOUSAND SMOKING NIGHTS
AS YOUR ACHING HEART
BEAT ITS BONES
IN TIME TO BIRD'S BRILLIANT SOUNDS
OVER THE NEON STREETS OF MURDERED SCHEMES
Matz was born in Brooklyn, spent his adolescence in Nebraska,
and served in an alpine unit (no mean feat for a flatlander)
in Colorado during the Korean conflict. After the service,
Marty gravitated to San Francisco, where he studied anthropology
and met Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Gregory Corso and Bob
Kaufman. Just as he was becoming part of the incipient North
Beach poetry scene in the late 1950s, Marty hit the road,
I AM THE PERPETUAL WANDERER
THE INSATIABLE TRAVELER
THE MYSTIC NOMAD
TOWARDS SOME STRANGE HORIZON
OF TWISTED DIMENSIONS
AND CHAOTIC DREAMS
(From "Under The Influence of Mozart" by Martin Matz)
His insatiable thirst for travel led Matz to Mexico and
South America, where he wandered from the late 1950s through
the late 1970s. He told me so many wondrous tales of his
meandering in Peru, Chile, the Yucatan. On one of his journeys
he ran into the legendary director John Huston. He told
of how he and John and several others drank for a solid
week, talking through the nights. Marty insisted that Huston
never once slurred his words.
Marty was an intrepid traveler, always seeking and finding
the least-trodden path. He told me of how he was once bitten
by a snake while crossing a river in Mexico. The flesh on
his lower leg turned a hideous purple-black, but he kept
going. He always kept moving.
Another time he was stricken with a flesh-eating parasite.
Doctors told him that his arm would have to be amputated.
He sought out a shaman, took a week of yage cures in a longhouse
(in which the shaman "threw light" into the darkest corners
of night), and successfully avoided any surgical procedure.
Matz became fascinated by pre-Columbian art, and translated
an unknown Aztec codex, "The Pyramid of Fire" (for more
information, please check out: http://www.alignment2012.com/pipedreams.html).
Marty was also an accomplished smuggler, but those are
tales to be told at another time. Suffice it to state that
National Geographic did a story which elucidated some of
Marty's unique talents as an contraband ceramist.
In the late 70s, Marty was pinched in Mexico with some
grass and cocaine on him. Because Mexico had signed a treaty
with the Nixon Administration which forbid transfers of
drug prisoners, Matz's only recourse was to bribe his way
into a somewhat inhabitable cell block in the notorious
Lecumberi was an old, dingy, frightfully overcrowded prison,
built by Porferio Diaz in 1903. By his wits, Marty was able
to survive four horrific years of the most abominable incarceration.
In 1994, he told Huncke and me how he once was sitting in
the Lecumberi yard when one man stabbed another in the throat,
showering Marty with "a fountain of blood." He said: "I
didn't know the human body could pump blood that fast."
It was a tribute to Marty's formidable powers of resilience
that he chuckled as he emphasized that "I don't like to
be showered in blood." Matz's warm and infectious sense
of humor always remained intact.
When the Mexican government decided to close Lecumberi
and transfer the prisoners to a new facility, Marty and
another prisoner hid for days in a tunnel which they had
spent months excavating. They hoped the prison officials
would eventually stop searching for them. They were finally
captured after hiding for a week, and much ado was made
of their daring exploits in the hyperbolic Mexican papers.
(For more information on Marty's experiences in Lecumberi,
I suggest checking out his interview in Romy Ashby and Foxy
Kidd's wonderful Goodie Magazine, issue number 6; http://www.goodie.org).
In 1978, Marty returned to the US as part of a prisoner
exchange with Mexico. He settled in San Francisco and once
again shared his poetry at readings. He renewed old friendships
with the city's more famous poets.
In the late 80s, Marty married film maker Barbara Alexander.
They spent the better part of the next eight years in northern
Thailand, living on Barbara's inheritance.
Marty and Barbara also spent some of this period in New
York's Chelsea Hotel, where they presided over a convivial
literary salon. Their Chelsea suite was filled with the
lost art of conversation, the walls covered with exquisite
artifacts from Thailand, Nepal and Burma. Painter Vali Myers,
storyteller Herbert Huncke and poet Ira Cohen were frequent
guests. At one memorable birthday party for Matz's longtime
friend and patron Bob Yarra, Harry Smith held court. Huncke
and Matz gave two compelling readings at The Living Theatre
at this time.
In 1991, I traveled with Marty and Barbara to Thailand
and Burma. Together, we made a 26-minute video travelogue
called "Burma: Traces of the Buddha," which documents a
boatride down the Irrawaddy River, a Shin Byu (coming of
age) ceremony in Pagan and the dedication of a new temple
in New Pagan. Our time spent exploring together was indeed
inspiring. After our visit to Burma, I settled with Barbara
and Marty in Ban Muong Noi, a small hilltribe village north
of Chiang Mai in Thailand. It was in this small, remote
village that Marty wrote his book of opium poems, Pipe Dreams.
In the late 90s, after having settled in Healdsburg, California,
Marty and Barbara separated. Marty again hit the road: Mexico;
Vienna, Austria; Italy. He found a warm receptiveness for
his poetry in Italy, where he joined a "Beat Bus" tour of
poets, including Ira Cohen, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Anne
Waldman. For several readings, Marty was backed by avant-saxaphonist
Steve Lacy. Marty stayed for months with friends outside
of Rome, where he basked in the glow of recognition of his
In 2000, Marty found himself back full circle in his native
Brooklyn. He recorded a CD of his poetry ("A Sky of Fractured
Feathers") with master musicians Chris Rael (sitar, guitar)
and Deep Singh (tabla, harmonium). He gave memorable readings,
embellished by Chris and Deep's deft playing, at the Brooklyn
Museum of Art and the Gershwin Hotel.
Marty was a thoughtful and comforting presence throughout
old and dear friend Gregory Corso's valiant final months
battling cancer. Gregory affectionately referred to Marty
as "my Matzoh Ball." Matz's eulogy for Gregorio was among
the most moving at the memorial services for Corso at the
Orensanz Foundation and the St. Mark's Poetry Project.
Matz spent his final months at Lower East Side apartment
of his longtime friend Bob Yarra. Marty, like Huncke and
Corso before him, received a new generation of admirers
in a modest, tv-lit abode. He graciously acceded to interviews
while watching his beloved San Francisco 49ers (Marty loved
football and the sweet science of boxing). Old friends Roger
and Irvyne Richards, owners of the much-missed Rare Book
Room, came by to watch the Yankee playoff games. All the
while, Marty continued to spin his magical tales of a fiercely
uncompromised, hectically picaresque life.
Like his close friends Herbert Huncke and Gregory Corso,
Marty Matz stayed true to himself, always traveling, always
savoring extraordinary experiences, always sharing freely
his unique impressions yet never straying from his chosen,
off-the-Beaten poetical path:
UNDER A SHADOW OF FRACTURED ECLIPSES
IN THE WINTER'S UNHARVESTED SHADE
IN SOME MARINADED ANGLE
SOME SECRET PERSPECTIVE
SOME HIDDEN TRAPEZOID
SOME MECHANIZED EQUATOR
OR OCCULTED WRINKLE
ON THE INVISIBLE LONGITUDE OF MADNESS
IN MONEY'S FROZEN SMILE
IN EXPLOSIONS OF ENDLESS EXPANSION
IN THE GULLEYS AND CANYONS OF TIME
(From "In Search of Paititi" by Martin Matz)
Matz is survived by his wife Barbara Alexander of California,
and his half brother Bruce Hoberman of Nebraska.