We all have two profiles and along with that are the many sides to our lives. But Matt Clifford’s profile contains so many sides it will make you think of him as a dodecahedron. He has a full time life with a smoking hot girlfriend to boot. Not only is he heavily involved in the local poetry scene, but he is also a talented bass guitar player. Plus he is a tax accountant. Add to that the duties of being a grad student at Naropa University and you get one full-assed life.
Cliff, as he prefers to be called, is from New Jersey. It’s the state where Walt Whitman lived for the last nineteen years of his life and edited Leaves of Grass and wrote his last book, Good-Bye, My Fancy. It was the home of Imagist poet and physician William Carlos Williams, author of Paterson and influence on another New Jersey native Allen Ginsberg, who co-founded the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, where Cliff is one semester away from graduating. Also from New Jersey is Amiri Baraka, a prominent fixture of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s, and frequent participant in Naropa’s Summer Writing Program. The deeply controversial Baraka’s position of state poet laureate was removed by the state legislature in 2003 after he wrote “Somebody Blew Up America” in response to the events of 9/11/01. Baraka refused to apologize or step down after creating quite the political stir.
And now add Matt Clifford to this list. The budding young poet’s extensive writing includes a fiercely political book called To Believe: God and Country. It is a poetic explanation, written a little before the Occupy Movement, of the government bailout of big banks. His view of America is one where “Everyday is a happy ending, the last picked get trophies, where fatigue is a lifestyle, and safety is cozy.” Cliff tells America, “I adore thee like the hawk adores war, like the soldier adores torture, like the prisoner adores death, like the journalist adores Associated Press, like evil adores non-bias, like Facebook adores the extroverted. America I adore thee like the fetish adores the feet, like the cop adores the murder scene, like the pedophile adores babies.”
The Irish-Italian attended a Catholic boarding school and once submitted an anonymous written question to a priest which read, “Did Adam and Eve have belly buttons?” His punishment: to write a 300 word essay on sarcasm. He told me recently he was grateful to God for creating Atheism so we don’t have to think about him.
Cliff started his artistic expression as a bass player and lyricist in a pop punk band called State Unfair from 2002-2006, which opened for Hanson and toured the East Coast. By his junior year at Seton Hall University Cliff turned to poetry. There he met the love of his life, Natalie Doerre, who was the first to recognize him as a poet. He and Natalie hit the road after college. Driving and sleeping in their car they hit all the lower forty-eight states and visited over thirty state capitol buildings. Not bad for a Socialist who used to volunteer at Pearl Street’s Left Hand Books. Cliff has also traveled to Mexico, Europe, China and Thailand, where he had his big toe permanently damaged by a burly man running Mai Thuy bets. In the interim between tax season and the start of school, Cliff has recently driven to Utah, taken a train to San Francisco, and a bus to Boise, Idaho. Everywhere he goes he writes.
So what’s a punk rocker from Jersey doing in Jam Band Land and hotbed of Newgrass Colorado? “All musicians around here just want to jam,” I’ve heard Cliff say. He wants to form a punk band and tour while writing books and supporting causes. In 2011, Cliff began graduate school at Naropa University. Yes, the Great Ginsberg brought him here. And Cliff soon got involved in the local Boulder scene, like starting the Midnight Full Moon Poetry reading (every full moon at midnight in Morrison Alley behind the Boulder Cafe) with his fellow grad student/guitar player Tootles Methuselah that October. I met him the first day of the 2011 Summer Writing Program and after hearing his introduction to the student body I was certain he would be a great friend. He became my writing partner during Week 4, which changed my life forever. At first I was afraid he was going to steal my poems until I realized what a great writer he was on his own. After the SWP we kept in contact while I was in Florida. This was during the Occupy Movement and he sent me a copy of To Believe: God and Country. Although I was impressed, I didn’t finish it. When I told him, Cliff giggled and said, “That’s okay, it’s not a happy ending.”
I returned to Boulder in the summer of 2012 to hang with poets and start my memoirs. Cliff would go to readings with me. He reads recent poems, some even written during the event and he encouraged me to write new poems each time. That summer he impressed me by submitting to literary magazines and entering contests like the inaugural Spoken Word Cinema Film and Poetry Challenge, in which he paired up with a film crew called the Digital Darklords and spent 48 straight hours making a film of “Ranto II” from his recently published book The Rantodance of Anonymous From Necropolis & His Machine. The movie, Debris, was entertaining, smart and scientifically campy in nature. Although it didn’t win, it allowed Cliff to explore a new media and the filmmakers eventually “broke the code” to his work.
My first Full Moon reading was in 2012. I was nervous and intimidated by strong poets who drunkenly shouted out poems. During a break between poets Matt looked over at me and gazed toward the performance area, silently encouraging me to step up and read and I did. With each performance that summer I gained confidence and solidified my style. I thank Cliff for the encouragement to submit to local magazines and for his constructive criticism of my work.
Cliff was in a class with professor Bhanu Kapil when he came up with the phrase, “The machine listens electric.” This became the first line of The Rantodance of Anonymous from Necropolis & His Machine. He decided to take the following semester off from school to devote time to his book, self-published on the day after Independence Day 2013. One of my favorite lines from the book is, “You are what you click.” While he was busy working and writing, I moved to Denver permanently and often slept over on his futon after late night readings in Boulder. One time we were at Rad-ish Collective (710 31st Street) for Wine and Poetry Night (last Tuesday each month) and Cliff got skipped by the host, but he wasn’t hurt at all even though he was hosting All Knowledge Must Be Shared there the following week. Cliff started All Knowledge, the monthly information series, at Left Hand Books in November of 2012. Now that it’s at Rad-ish Collective (first Tuesday each month) it has become a wonderful forum of dialogue on everything from bicycle machines to recycling to explanations as to why some cats don’t use their litter box.
In the Summer of 2013 during Cliff and Natalie’s trip to Mexico City and Oaxaca, he lost a good portion of the poems he wrote there. He did manage to bring home wonderful verse describing Zocalo Square and his discovery of an allergic reaction to eating grasshoppers. He wrote of a church there, “The whole building is worn with prayers of years. A country which adopted conqueror’s religion.” While in Oaxaca, he penned the phrase, “She wants to play-we all do-all we want to do is play-play is our nature-the artist-the athlete-the lost adult-the stray dog-buried under the money is fun-burn the money and run-in the smoke-watch the sun go down in the smog-tell a joke-the mountains will be visible for a few more moments.”
Natalie tells me Cliff writes in the bathroom with the door closed while she sleeps and one time she found him passed out from exhaustion on the bathroom floor even tho he was completely sober. Cliff has already written two books before graduating and Rantodance could easily be his thesis manuscript, but Cliff is going to write another book because that’s how he rolls.
Along with his written work goes the spoken performance, which is not to be missed. Join us at Shine Restaurant & Gathering Place (2027, 13th Street) tonight at 8 p.m. to hear Matt perform as a featured for the Bouldering Poets monthly reading series. He will be accompanied by his bandmate Dan Halpern on guitar. There will be copies of Rantodance available and Cliff is perfectly willing to barter for it. Maybe buy him a drink for it.
Oh, and what about Clifford’s balls? I wouldn’t know. That’s just a play on words of Phish’s 1996 festival “Clifford Ball.”
– Phil Me Brightly