Matz, Martin

   A self-proclaimed “perpetual wanderer” who did not taste the admiration of a wider audience until late in his life, Martin Matz was a streetwise poet who savored close friendships with gregory corso, bob kaufman, and herbert huncke. Like his comrades, Matz was an autodidact, whose love of intoxicating substances led to a long bit in Mexico’s notorious Lecumberri Prison in the 1970s, and like his friend Huncke, Matz was a gifted raconteur and storyteller with a keen appreciation of the surreal and absurd.
   Martin Matz was born on July 16, 1934, in Brooklyn. His father died in 1944, and Marty spent his adolescence with his mother and her second husband in Nebraska. After a year at the University of Nebraska, Matz entered the army, serving as an alpine instructor in Colorado during the Korean War. While in the service, he was seriously injured in a car accident and spent nearly nine months recuperating in an army hospital. Following his discharge, Matz arrived in San Francisco, where he studied Buddhism and met jack kerouac, neal cassady, and allen ginsberg. Just as he was becoming part of the incipient North Beach poetry scene in the late 1950s, Matz hit the road, traveling in Mexico and South America for the next 15 years. Alluding to his time in Mexico, Matz later recalled, “I got tired of it after the first year, but it took me 14 years to get out of the hammock.” After collecting pre-Columbian art for the film director John Huston, Matz began to collect for himself, occasionally returning to the States to sell some artifacts. He moved on to drug smuggling for which he was incarcerated in the abominable Lecumberri, which he described as “the closest thing to Hell to be found on earth.” Matz detailed the horrors he endured and his attempted escape from the prison in “The Escape Was Impossible,” a story (from his partially completed autobiographical novel) published in the Panther Books edition In the Seasons of My Eye: Selected Writings 1953-2001 (2005).
   In 1978 Matz returned to the United States as part of a prisoner exchange with Mexico, and he again settled in San Francisco where he renewed old friendships with the city’s poets. Matz’s Time Waits: Selected Poems 1956-1986 was published in 1987. In the late 1980s, he married filmmaker Barbara Alexander, and they spent the better part of eight years in northern Thailand, living on Barbara’s inheritance. In a small hill tribe village north of Chiang Mai, Matz wrote a suite of opium poems that became pipe dreams (1989), a privately published gem with an introduction by Huncke, who 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.”
   In 1990 and early 1991 Marty and Barbara Matz spent eight months in the Chelsea Hotel, where they hosted a convivial salon which included Huncke, painter Vali Myers, poet Ira Cohen, and literateur Roger Richards. The Matzes separated in the late 1990s, and he again hit the road, living for a time in Oaxaca, Mexico. 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. In 2000 Matz found himself back full circle in his native Brooklyn. He recorded a CD of his poetry, A Sky of Fractured Feathers, with musicians Chris Rael and Deep Singh. Marty spent his final months on the New York’s Lower East Side, where he graciously received a new generation of admirers. He died on October 28, 2001, in the hospice unit of Cabrini Hospital.
■ Matz, Marty. In the Seasons of My Eye: Selected Writings 1953-2001. Edited by Romy Ashby. New York: Panther Books, 2005.
   Laki Vazakas

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

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