Tag Archives: Matt Hart

Best Thing I’ve Heard/Read This Week: Matt Hart

7 Feb

debacle_partialYesterday, 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.

Best Thing I’ve Read Today: A Conversation with Matt Hart at Rkvry Quarterly

3 Jul

A few months ago, Rkvry Quarterly published this devastatingly lovely essay from Matt Hart about hauntedness; if you haven’t taken the time to read it, you absolutely must.  It just about destroyed me in the best possible way.  For instance:

Every word is haunted by its own etymology. Its historical origins linger connotatively. These origins color the atmosphere of the language while remaining largely invisible. One doesn’t need to know, for example, that the word “haunt” derives from an old Norse word heimta meaning “to lead home, to frequent,” and yet these meanings are present in contemporary usage as a trace, an echo, a ghost. Every word is haunted by its past uses, and is also itself a haunting, a visit from the past into the present.

Poems deploy, destabilize, and explode the meaning(fullness) of language, creating fields of connotation, ambiguity, and metaphor, while playing on the history of words in the service of multiple possibilities. These are the ghosts of every line, every sentence.

Words are also haunted by other words, which in turn are haunted by still other words, and all of them are haunted by other languages, and language is haunted by human utterance as longing (a desire to meaningfully mean). This is art.

I just now caught that Mary Akers did this fantastic follow-up interview with Matt digging around further in what it means to haunt and be haunted, in poetry and in breathing wavering growling existence.  This part, which sent the most chills up my spine:

 I (used to?) have a recurring dream of walking down a dirt road in the woods in the middle of the night, and up on the left is an old gray house made of boards, and inside there’s a brightness, like a lantern light burning. The house is ominous, even evil. It radiates hostility and madness, something terribly gone-wrong and utterly sad— a big black negative negative. I know in the dream that whatever’s in there is going to be incredibly painful to me, that it might even kill me. And yet, I’m compelled to go to it, so I keep walking. There are some steps and a little porch. It feels like Tennessee for some reason (where my mother’s family’s from). When I get to the door, my fear is overwhelming, and that’s when I wake up.

In the broad light of day, the dream seems like a goofy Evil Dead type horror movie set, something more to laugh about than to be afraid of. About a year ago, I described it to a friend, and he immediately said that the next time I have the dream I need to make myself stay asleep and open the door—that I need to go inside the house. And when I asked him why he thought this he said simply, “Because it’s home.” I haven’t had the dream since, but before that I was having it four or five times a year. I think the dream is now haunted by me, and of course “haunt” comes from an old Norse word meaning “home.” Anyway, I will open that door the next chance I get.

Best Thing I’ve Read This Week: Debacle Debacle

10 Jun

debacle2In February of this year, H_NGM_N Books released Matt Hart’s Debacle Debacle. In some sense, the book can be read as the experience of working through contradictory thoughts and feelings.

To this extent, poems near the beginning of book guide the reader by setting the conceptual and poetic framework for the rest of the collection. In “Upon Seeing Again The Thriving,” the speaker informs the audience that “Life is so messy,” and:

                                                               yes, I do feel

terrible at times, like a fuck-up descending a staircase,
woozy with nectar and too much trouble. Frustration

I get, and discouraged I get. (20)

Likewise, in the title poem, the speaker reiterates similar claims when he states: “Positivity these days // is difficult to come by” (14). But in the face of frustration and discouragement, when filtering the world through a positive lens can oftentimes be difficult, Hart’s poems seek to do just that.

Of course, the poems of Debacle Debacle don’t do this by embracing affirmation uncritically. Instead, they do so by meditating on complex emotional circumstances of our daily lives; or, as Hart writes at the conclusion of the title poem:

                                                                          Life happens;
it’s my job to say so. It’s our job to express it, expand it
to the edges. 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)

Debacle Debacle, then, harnesses this tension between the joy and struggle to both sing and not-sing as an expression of a life lived poetically.

Hart’s poems succeed the most when they yoke these tensions of life so as to produce “an ambiguous noise” (30) wherein one cannot necessarily tell which feeling the poem expresses, or, to this extent, whether it’s song or not-song. The poem “Fang Face” echoes these sentiments in its closing lines:

                                    I hate the way stories
seem to love a conclusion. I love
the bird’s singing just before it gets eaten. (25)

The excerpt contains both “love” and “hate,” the song of a bird and its grizzly death, and a reproach of conclusions in its conclusion. By oscillating between these binary poles, Hart doesn’t offer didactic verse, but rather “expressive works… // …about the way the artist feels and thinks” (73). And this artist, it seems, thrives in the possibilities and tensions that a poem with open emotional and sonic registers offers us.

Matt Hart at BONK! (03/16/13)

16 May

On 16 March, Matt Hart read at the 54th installment of the Nick Demske-curated BONK! performance series in Racine, WI. Hart, although promoting his new book Debacle Debacle (H_NGM_N B__KS, 2013), read selections from all five of his collections. In the below video, Hart reads his poem “My Wife on Vicodin Kissing,” from his fourth book Wolf Face (H_NGM_N B__KS, 2010):

Debacle Debacle by Matt Hart

30 Apr

Coming from Matt Hart’s fourth book Sermons and Lectures Both Blank and Relentless, where his howling is loudest, his heart as ruckus, this fella typing expected more of that same oomph with his fifth book, Debacle Debacle. Once one gets so loud, it’s so hard to turn it down.

Yet, Hart turned it down and turned it up remarkably at once.  These new poems eat and regurgitate thought in a whole new way. As Adam Fell says in his blurb of the book, these new poems have “a burning domesticity, an anxiousness.” As you’ll hear in these poems recorded below, there’s a beautiful new tone that exists in these poems. “The essential recognition is of sameness and difference.  And these two together make thoughtfulness Pleasure,” as Hart says in the title poem “Debacle Debacle.”

Wow, right? Pick up the book from H_NGM_N Books now.

An Unruly Collage of Strange and Intense Emotions, or Best Ofs For 2012

27 Dec

If I remember right, I saw Scott McClanahan give this performance after Abby Koski got me wasted on rum and Cokes then introduced me to Matt Siegel, and I had no idea what to do.  Or where anyone was.

I didn’t think, “Hey, where are all the people I know” until after.

You can tell I’m happiest not when I smile but slapped into dumb stunned awe like I was watching Scott bark his generations, a latter-day prophet too made of thunder and dirt-real truth for any church, so boiling over with harsh and angelic vision, soothing my frayed thoughts while setting the room ablaze.

I’m sorry, but I’m just not a cheerleader; I’m a lower-tier saint.

This was probably my best moment in the Beauty Bar at AWP 2012, followed closely by drunk hugs from Brian Oliu and laughs with a few others but roundly defeating some other interactions, Hellos I didn’t want to say, Nice to Meet Yous that felt everything but.  Again, some unraveling.  Basic kindness can appear to us as an unblemished lamb, so we take up our knives.

*   *   *

There is a place I go to read and write when I need to recalibrate and push off the stupid shimmery idea of being a writer or an indie lit writer so I can just do the thing without all the shit.  Two people know where that is.  Both of their names start with A.

I took Matt Bell’s Cataclysm Baby there during the ugliest time of year, when winter is worn out and spring is all, “Whatever, be there in a sec,” when I’m sick of wearing scarves.

I could barely hold a fork, knocked slack-jawed by Baby’s rapacious beauty.  I found myself mouthing the last story, “Zachary, Zahir, Zedekiah,” a real electric rush that swells like Explosions in the Sky, incanting

And then every morning, some new and constant sun, born upon the horizon.

and almost crying in my booth.  I paid, left, and stared at the iron atmosphere too much for safety as I drove.

*   *   *

The cover of Nick Sturm’s chapbook, “WHAT A TREMENDOUS TIME WE’RE HAVING!” with its birthday party horses is the perfect graphic representation of a genuine smile, which seems like the kind of person Nick is (Nick Sturm: A Genuine Smile) and the requisite spirit embodied in that joyous little book.

I remember for a while keeping it in the passenger’s side interior door pocket to show to anyone I gave a ride.  It seems like there are about three people at any given time who are riding in my car regularly, so my evangelism wasn’t far-flung but lacked no enthusiasm.  I generally showed my passengers the poem that ends

                                    …My spirit animal is a bear

with a confetti cannon strapped to its back

The point is to surprise you & then maul you

into pieces of joy

and thank goodness, no one ever said they didn’t understand why.

*   *   *

For some reason I read Matt Hart’s Sermons and Lectures Both Blank and Relentless a lot while giving plasma this spring, squeezing myself through a needle with one hand and holding the book with another.  Listening to Jimmy Eat World, Lovedrug, The Smashing Pumpkins, that helped too, to distract from the displaced queasiness that got better little by little but never went entirely away.

It makes sense that his poems helped the same way; the direct mention of Sunny Day Real Estate aside, the upfront guitar fuzz and gorgeous thrash of them calmed and exhilarated.  Every appointment I had a half hour to imagine where else I could be besides Muncie in February, March, April, still slushed and gray.  It felt holy, an internal push toward whatever better places there were to be.

*   *   *

Brian Oliu’s Level End is the first book I’ve ever delayed reading to intentionally take time to absorb its packaging.  I couldn’t stop just looking at the thing, turning it over and getting happier with every detail from a childhood and adolescence spent on four generations of Nintendo consoles, starting with the NES, a game for which the book’s design was modeled after.

When I finally did get to reading the thing the effect was much the same, a combined joy and relief that someone understood so well the real emotional tug 8-bit worlds have on us whose first big adventures included finding the Master Sword and discovering gold-littered shortcuts in the clouds above danger.  And rendered it so truly in its surreal beauty and sincerity; all nerd jokes aside, sitting in front of a pixel-laden TV screen with my big brother, defeating all number of monsters and villains, is one of the most loaded and precious memories I have.

*   *   *

I remember texting


to Chris Newgent as soon as I read it, and immediately claimed it in a tiny yet steady fashion for my own near future:  a beach, a flock of friends, an ocean, a slew of present moments far from Indiana.  I read the rest of Thomas Patrick Levy’s I Don’t Mind If You’re Feeling Alone with a similar hyper-focused sprint, or as a binge, on the couch in my beige and tan apartment and sunk into myself with relief, consuming its color and breathlessness.

*   *   *

There’s a modest handful of books that wind themselves around the edge of my thoughts almost constantly. I think this is in part a residual effect of being an expatriate of Christianity that took the idea of being in constant prayer deeply to heart:  once the verses about no hope for men outside of Yahweh and his son were discarded from whatever walled garden in me they occupied, there was left a decade’s worth of empty earth.

Ben Kopel’s VICTORY is one of those few books that immediately took root in me.  Fragments of it run through my head throughout the day, quiet meditations on how to stay vital and honest and brave.  This book was the first thing I wrote about for Vouched and it remains one of my favorite, most dearly loved books of poetry or anything else.  When I read it I feel like the first time I realized that wet pavement under streetlight is beautiful.  I feel fifteen, riding with my brother in his Explorer through cornfields at night, summer, hands out the windows, brushing fingertips with fireflies.

I could not tell you what my favorite poem is from the book, but there is one part from the poem “Because We Must” that heartbeats through my thoughts almost daily:

A prayer, now

& at the hour of our death—

Fill me with yr light inside this car.

Fill me with yr light.

*   *   *

Yesterday, Christmas, after my family ate a lot of things then opened a lot of things and then said even more things, I continued reading Sal Pane’s novel Last Call in the City of Bridges.  I get embarrassed with how often the book describes my own tendencies and identity:  self-doubt alongside a sense of superiority, a feeling of specialness bred in part by constant consumption of heroic narratives growing up, strong attachment to video games and college memories, yet another member of a generation that was told by parents and teachers to get good grades or else we’d have to work at McDonald’s then was chastised by parents and teachers for thinking we were too good to work at McDonald’s.  The accuracy is painful.

I’m only halfway through so I can give you no conclusions, other than to state that I’m curious to see what direction a story about the directionless will take, and that reading will take me into 2013, heading in one of many possible directions.

The Volta! The Volta! The Volta!

31 Oct

Can you tell that I’m really stoked about The Volta? Oh man, that big wonderful stack of literary goodness founded at the beginning of 2012 by Joshua Marie Wilkinson and Sara Renee Marshall (read a stellar interview with Wilkinson about the project here)! Somehow, I missed this sexy thing (I’m sorry I’m sorry), but now that I know, wow, I’m not going anywhere.

The Volta has so much to offer–new poems, interviews, reviews, videos, manifestos, etc.–all under one hottttt jacket. I spent the entire second half of my Sunday poking around the site. Man, coming at it late was a little overwhelming (major thx to their About page for explaining what the different sections are/the site’s smooth design for making browsing the archives so easy). Below, I’ve plopped some of my favorite pieces from my glorious evening with The Volta. Please, once you’re hooked, as I know is bound to happen, let me know in the comments what your favorite sections or pieces are.

In a Word, A World by C.D. Wright

My relationship to the word is anything but scientific, it is a matter of faith on my part, that the word endows material substance, by setting the thing named apart from all else. Horse, then, unhorses what is not horse.

The Neighborhood by Chris Martin

I was partly human partly
waves breaking quiet
on wide tarmacs of conversation
that surged or dimmed
thwack thwack
retuning the neighborhood solemn
each tree nodding
off before jolting into readiness
I was holding my neighbors
like deep green
swaths of virgin grain
holding the neighborhood
by fear
of whatever new malevolence
might be thwack


An Interview with Sarah Gridley by Joshua Marie Wilkinson

I do not experience a natural world as distinct from any other world. Natural—social—symbolic worlds are to my mind expansions and contractions in the same place at the same time, in the moment’s movement from the perceptual to the conceptual. Charles Simic says, “One is neither world, nor language, nor self.” I am one sensing being among a diversity of sensing beings—not all exclusively human. My vagrant subjectivity is given contour, or as Hopkins would say, “instressed,” through its insufficiencies, its searches for reciprocities. I experience these backwards and forwards movements not as checkmarks in a quest for coherence or self-assertion—I experience them as tenuous affirmations of my momentary inherence, of being “kind” in the literal sense of kindred, of belonging to something far beyond my ability to know or name. As Paul Crowther writes in Art and Embodiment,

Otherness is radically transcendent. We can take some hold of it, but there is always more than can be contained in any present moment of perception or sequence of actions…our most fundamental relation to this world is not that of an inner ‘thinking subject’ gazing out upon and ‘external world.’ Rather, we inhere in the sensible.


They Are On My Side, or Books For My Summer

1 Jun

I am not a superstitious person.  I say that knowing that no one is entirely reasonable, that like anyone sometimes I think about objects as though just by having them around they can keep me safe, that they are on my side.

Last Saturday I drove 13-ish hours to live in North Carolina by the beach for two months.  The couple weeks beforehand were a slow emptying of closets and furniture, edging up to leaving.  I am so thrilled to be to living in this beautiful place with beautiful people for the summer, but I’d dreaded saying goodbyes – guh, see-you-laters – so much that I didn’t look at the fact of departure directly, not until I took my leave.  Even this one that’s only a couple of months. I left to live by the beach for a summer a few years ago, but then I didn’t dread going at all; there weren’t as many people it hurt to leave.

When I first thought about what books I would take, these I immediately knew I wanted to pack were ones I’ve already read, all multiple times.  If I’m honest about how I think of them, they are little guardians, voices of conscience, talismans warding against forgetting who I am/want to be and how important books have been to that personal trajectory.  When so much else gets uprooted their steadiness moors me to some wispy feeling of safety.  If there can be such a thing as holy books for an individual life then these I knew I would come with me are part of an ever-expanding gospel:

Sermons and Lectures Both Blank and Relentless by Matt Hart:  The music of Matt’s poems is totally wild but still steady, intentional, an ocean always coming back to where you can walk up to meet it.  Leaving this behind would’ve been like not having favorite albums to sing me the way here.

If I Falter at the Gallows by Edward Mullany:  Reading these poems feels like hearing prophecies of a strange god you know will be fulfilled.   Mullany breathes a quiet but swelling kind of truth, thunder or bells tolling to more bells.

Come On All You Ghosts by Matthew Zapruder:  I’ve never read a book of poems and experienced as much gentleness and mercy and glimmer as from this marvelous thing.  It was given to me by someone who says I’ve called from them their ghosts.  I don’t know if that’s a thing I can do, but these poems help me remember how to inhabit haunted and fearful places with light.  They reassure me that a trembling heart is better than none at all.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman:  This is not the sort of book usually written about on here but yeah, okay, whatever.  I first read this just over ten years ago and my attachment to it still grows.  When I became an atheist after ten years of devout faith it took on special significance, this story of a ragged twelve-year-old girl pitted against a cruel, powerful god and his army of angels.

Several months ago I took the copy I first read from the public library in my hometown. I took it from the shelf in the young adult section I virtually lived in through adolescence and walked out.  There are some things that never leave you, and I had to go back for this one.


5 Mar

Tomorrow night, to celebrate his new book of poems, Sermons and Lectures Both Blank and Relentless (Typecast Publishing), Matt Hart is reading in Indy. Matt and his energetic reading goodness will be accompanied by local writers Wendy Lee Spacek, Ryan J. Rader, and Vouched main man Christopher Newgent. If you are in the area, please come check it out.

Get Lifted

30 Jan

I’ve been meaning to get off my lazy vouching butt bone for awhile to raise the roof for the new issue of Forklift, Ohio. Consistently a thick rad object full of poems and recipes and strange little pictures that seep human thinking, example the way humans think, thinking of humans on the page. Issue #23 is no exception, featuring those wonderful poets like Matthew Zapruder, Paige Taggart, Sean Bishop, and Weston Cutter, whose two poems were my favorite of the issue.

Here’s the beginning of Cutter’s “Is Hunger.” (Apologies to Cutter and you and Forklift for not being able to retain the cool spacing of this poem; imagine indentation as energy as movement as thoughts going)

A woman I’ll never kiss spots a five dollar bill
while running, shoves it
in her tights
between skin and lycra, runs, breathing even and
not sixty feet later
pulls the cash and
tosses it back, something returned, a moment for
some other winded
seeker to cherish.

Same woman, same path, different day: if it’s
a fifty? a hundred?
At what point does
value overtake value, how much does a moment
of almost, of oh look

Order the whole issue here, get your own cover with the one-of-a-kind continuous line drawing here, find more goodness here.