Matt Hart: “Always do the opposite.”

Special Topics: Sources, Scenes & Influence

Here’s an interview with Matt Hart (and another poet, Nate Pritts):


And here’s what Liam says about Matt Hart:


Matt Hart was born in the city of Evansville, Indiana in 1969. An avid poet, Matt Hart has published numerous books and chapbooks of poetry.  Including: Light Headed, Wolf Face, and Who’s Who Vivid.  He’s also had individual poems published in literary journals.  For his work, he has been awarded fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference and Warren Wilson MFA Program for writers.

Hart studied philosophy at Ball State and Ohio universities before receiving his MFA in poetry from Warren Wilson College.

He now teaches at the Art Academy of Cincinnati.  He is the co-founder and editor of Forklift: Ohio and managing editor of Incliner—a student-run arts journal based at the Art Academy of Cincinnati.


Found on Hart’s blog is a quote from himself, “always do the opposite.”  Another found right beside a rather mischievous looking picture of himself reads, “nonsense is serious business!”  I would say these two quotes just about sum up his style.  Hart’s poetry never makes logical sense all the way through and rarely do you find a line that makes sense on its own.  But, there is definitely a sort of feel for emotion in his poetry.  Especially when you listen to him read it.   Watching a video of him read: the words almost seem to disappear and the real feeling of his poetry comes through. This is a difficult thing to grasp unless you read it aloud, and even then it is a bit of an enigma.  He uses his words for power and effect rather than to present a picture of a situation, his rhythm is often very quick and one can find it a bit breathless at times.

He enjoys relating a sort of Picasso like reality to the emotions and thought processes within himself.  Although no sources I could find verified such information:  I would not be surprised if he drew a lot of poetic impulse from his dreams.INFLUENCES

I would definitely say that Matt Hart is a follower of the later 20th Century movement of Language poetry.  He is fundamentally interested in writing about things that don’t make sense.  He finds language to be oppressive to his endeavors and thus plunges down into the deep of the nonsensical, puzzling world that is his poetry.  Some of his favorite poets include Dickinson, Keats, Coleridge, Poe, William Carlos Williams and Young.  I would say he takes the most inspiration from Young than the rest.

The following interview by Elizabeth Hildreth, a good friend of Hart’s, gives you a sense of his poetic form and impulse.

Hi Matt. I said in a previous interview with Nate Pritts: “I’m excited for Matt Hart’s new book Wolf Face. It’ll be great to see another collection after Who’s Who Vivid. That debut was super – – and supercharged in terms of the pace. I’ll be interested to compare its velocity to Wolf Face.

So now I have seen Wolf Face. And it was great. Congratulations! In terms of its pacing, my conclusion is: Wolf Face= Accelerated. Thematically, I found it really similar to Vivid, though. In fact, it’s interesting how its pacing contrasts with the overarching theme of the book, which, to me at least, is everyday domestication, however (to use your word) revelated. You explain the definition of “revelated” in your poem “History Lesson”:

Back before REVELATED (a word I think I made up) meaning: 1) intense     spontaneous   and illuminated revelry 2) a state of elated revelation 3) GALVANIZATION 4) revolution with a smile

Or maybe you don’t agree with that. I’ll let you speak for yourself.

First, shouldn’t we mention to anyone reading this who doesn’t know, that you and I have known each other and been friends for twenty years, so if they’re looking for super-charged objectivity or poetry cross-fire or something, maybe they should read a more awkward conversation between two strangers interested in getting at the truth…?

As for the here and now (much wrangling and shifting and revision in the background), how about this: I think I agree somewhat that Wolf Face and Vivid are thematically similar — I mean, for one thing both books contain a lot of me talking — no speakers. I think, too, that both books contain healthy doses of skepticism and anxiety (some would I’m sure say neurosis) with regard to being and meaning in this world. In WWV I start out screaming and inventing “a monster,” and in Wolf Face “it’s dawn and the low baby’s crying.” So in that sense, both books are trying hard to see and live and work through the noise of being, and I think both books pose questions about our responsibilities to ourselves and others, and even to the things we make…

I actually think this is sort of tough for me to articulate, because I’ve been so focused on articulating the differences between the two books. I mean, Vivid is all over the friggin’ place, surreal, art-centric, a trying-anything-just-because first book. If it’s about anything (as opposed to being a book of individual poems that go from p. 1 to p. 88), it’s about the instability of the self, and both the anxiety and excitement that go along with that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of Who’s Who Vivid, but I think Wolf Face is certainly more located, grounded, and direct — less weird for its own sake, and more weird because life is actually really weird. Furthermore, I feel like Wolf Face is more cohesive as a BOOK, not just poems collected. I mean, it even has a setting, right here in Cincinnati in this house where I live, where I write. My wife, my daughter, my friends are everywhere present… the music is playing upstairs, even now. In other words, Wolf Face is a book about stability by almost any measure — a stability that if one’s lucky comes from one’s surroundings, the company one keeps, the choices one makes. And yet, in a larger sense the book’s about the slipperiness of those appearances of stability, the ways in which the surfaces and depths of things, not only often don’t match up, but potentially contradict each other.

This inability to just believe totally that all the good things are really good things — and that they’ll last, that we’ll live — is a big part what drives the new book. “Aside from the wolf, things go well,” wrote Richard Hugo. Everybody has a wolf. Mine is constantly (nearly) running me down, causing me to look over my shoulder. Sometimes I run into trees, and it hits me. Paranoia. Anxiety. “Life is great, but you better watch out.”

So yes, these poems are accelerated — that’s true. I’m in a big damn hurry to stay alive. I think after my daughter Agnes came along things sped up incredibly. Everything was immediately more complicated and serious, but also more exuberant and ridiculous and uncertain — including the poems. Nothing in this book is what it appears to be, and everything is exactly what it says. The poems demonstrate a particular way of paying attention, but they’re also often ABOUT real things (both concrete and abstract) that I hope other people — for instance, people like you who I’ve known for all these years — can connect with and relate to on multiple levels from a variety of angles with strangeness and weird joy and holy shit singing.

Entire Interview:


Hart makes far less sense to me than [Dean] Young (not a criticism mind you). Young is one step from the middle of the doesn’t make sense/makes sense continuum and Hart is all the way at the end of the line, practically.  Hart doesn’t seem to want to spread much of a message to his readers, rather to provoke a feeling of some sort to connect his readers with his work.  He definitely utilizes (to use Mister Beitelman’s word) idioglossia, but much of it indeed rarely makes sense (refer to language movement).  Hart likes more than anything to show his internalized experience as a human being and how the way the world works, much like Dickinson and Whitman.  Just in a much more abstract manner.


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