Yesterday, Matt Hart traveled from Cincinnati to Cleveland in order to read and discuss his poems for the second installment of the Poets of Ohio reading series at Case Western Reserve University. In my introduction to the event, I wrote the following with regard to his fifth full-length collection of poetry, Debacle Debacle (H_NGM_N Books, 2013):
In a review I wrote of Matt Hart’s book Debacle Debacle at the beginning of last June, I noted how the poems both mediate and meditate upon the “complex emotional circumstances of our daily lives,” ratcheting up the tension between “excitement” and “irritation” in order to generate productive forces that harness a certain poetic energy formed at the confluence of these competing emotional and psychic states. Or, as the speaker of the book’s title poem says:
Essential it is to struggle, but struggle’s
merely tension, and tension can be a thing of balance
or irritation, confusion or song. I’m singing in tension
with the not singing. I’m living in tension with the forces
out to kill me. We’re living in tension because we’re
different human beings, and living in excitement
that we’re so much the same. (15)
While I still believe this “tension” is a central concern of Debacle Debacle, my re-reading of the collection during the past two weeks has offered me a new conceptual framework through which to think about these poems.
As a side note—before I explain the new framework further—poetry’s ability to provide multiple interpretations and experiences when our contexts shift happens to be one of it’s many characteristics of which I am enamored. While, certainly, this trait is not exclusive to poetry, the genre seems to thrive on the potential of its texts to open up to an assortment of readings, interpretations, and possibilities.
And what is this new understanding of Hart’s collection that I experienced of late? Well, when re-engaging the book, I was keenly aware of the manner in which the poems name their historic and aesthetic communities. Beginning with the collection’s opening epigraph—which is Breton’s admonition that “A poem must be a debacle of the intellect”—as well as a slew of touchstones throughout the book that reference Coleridge, Wordsworth, Keats, Berrigan, Pound, and Whitman; and, finally, to the concluding poem’s Wallace Stevens’ epigraph, Hart creates and names a lineage of influence that shapes the contours of these poems.
Debacle Debacle, though, does more than just outline Hart’s aesthetic and historic communities; it also sings the praise of his contemporary communities, by which I mean his friends, family, and poetry peers. For instance, he thanks “the sky for [the contemporary poet] Adam Fell” (39), he reminisces about his friend “Jane” who recently became “entrenched / in Brooklyn” (49), he references his friend, poet, and publisher Nate Pritts who drives “his auto on automatic pilot feeling ebullient” (63), and he composes a poem to his then four year old daughter in order to “tell [her] some things” while he’s “in perfect alignment” (72).
Yes, this is a social book, at least to the extent that the poems therein declare to and for whom they belong. But if Hart does not name you or me or someone else for that matter, this does not mean that we are not welcome to participate in the poems. In fact, Debacle Debacle can be read as an invitation to those who share like-minded poetics and sensibilities. Yes, “everybody’s on fire beside” (5) him, not just his close confidantes; indeed, Hart sings in a “common language” (80) where “Every single one / of us [is] a hymn” to the weird, to the wired, to anyone willing to “open our books” (74) and join in this “marvelous” human “predicament” (75).
Below is a video of Hart reading his poem “Upon Seeing Again the Thriving” from the event:
The next event for the Poets of Ohio reading series will take place on Thursday, 13 February when the Yellow Springs, OH poet Heather Christle will join us for an evening of poetry and discussion. For more details, please visit the Poets of Ohio website.