review by Lynn Houston
“I have only my love / to recommend it beyond what it already is.”
(Matt Hart, “Breaking Spring,” Radiant Companion)
By now, one of your friends has shared a social media meme with lines from the Leonard Cohen song “Anthem” that goes like this: “There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
The poems in Matt Hart’s latest two collections, Radiant Action (H_NGM_N Books) and Radiant Companion (Monster House Press), crack open language and spill light on the page. They radiate a galactic sense of warmth and well-being in response to the ever-fucked-up-ness of the world. And aren’t we hungry for art that reacts to hate and violence with love and light? Radiant Action and Radiant Companion are this historical moment’s necessary carnal communion, songs of self that blossom into melodies of every body: “this body—mine and yours, which is the same body” (68 RC); “My veins with your veins, my noise with your noise” (81 RC).
If you were my freshmen composition students, I would explain it in this way: Radiant Action lays out a kind of thesis for Hart’s aesthetic: “the fires of Truth are the birds we dance and sing”; “Today is the day / I’ll attempt to make sense”; “I wanna get high into. . . / the poetic riddle” (11; 13; 82 RA). The poems in Radiant Companion, then, provide the lyric examples of that visionary poetic argument. However, few categories or boundaries remain stable when applied to Matt Hart’s work, given its Blakean contraries and Whitmanian abundancies. In fact, in one of his poems, Hart unshyly shares Emerson’s suggestion that “sometimes a scream is better than a thesis.” And since you are not (most likely) my freshman composition students anyway, I will explain it like this: the book Radiant Action is the poet “screaming screaming screaming an ocean into being” (48 RA). Perhaps then, what distinguishes Radiant Companion from the latter is that it offers a direct and sustained call to the reader to take up the important work of channeling the ecstatic present by writing radiantly, the work of making our own “transformative music”: “I’m writing to tell you / you have to keep it up—the dailiness / and simplicity, the astonishment and love” (9 RC). “Thank you,” Hart tells us in advance, “for dreaming and squawking / and daring” (74 RC).
Among so much intertexual playfulness in these two collections is an aesthetic that challenges William Carlos Williams’ edict that there are “no ideas but in things.” Hart’s poetry shows this is not an exclusionary proposition, that one can have both ideas and things and that the interplay between them is how art helps us to keep living. He crafts a tension between abstract thought and the concrete details of daily life. In doing so, he produces lines that are full of linguistic surprises: “I want words to be matches / or not to be at all, to burn us up from the inside / outlandish, which is a desire” (76 RC). Matt Hart’s verse is rough-beast awake and slouching.
Heart-son of Whitman, punk oracle to the ghost of Keats—Matt Hart is a wild-haired Orion. This body of work is his flaming arrow shot into the castle’s keep. Let us join his rapturous wondering, his starlit wandering, his luminous siege.