Tuesday, May 17, 2005


My Matt Hart

I had a full-on Yogi Berra experience when I went up to New York last week to read with Anselm Berrigan & Matt Hart at the 11th Street Bar in the East Village: déjà vu all over again. The reason being Matt Hart.

Matt Hart is a critic, poet, musician &, betwixt 1997 & 2004, a grad student at Penn (having already gotten masters degrees from both the University of Sussex & Edinburgh University), very active in & around the Philly Talks scene & Writers House. He hails from Manchester, U.K, &, PhD in hand, he eventually decamped to an assistant professorship at the University of IllinoisUrbanaChampaign. So when Thomas Heise told me that he’d lined up Anselm Berrigan & Matt Hart as co-readers, I was completely pleased.

Once I arrived at the 11th Street Bar – your standard New York tavern, with something of an alcove in back where readings take place behind drawn curtains with just a little more light than the old Double Happiness – I looked around for the tall guy with the Manchester accent, when Heise proceeds to introduce me to a shorter fellow – also dirty blond with glasses – whose accent I’d wager is distinctly Midwestern. When Thomas said this was Matt Hart, my eyes must have dilated.

This Matt Hart, as it turns out, is likewise a poet, musician, teacher (Art Academy of Cincinnati) & editor (Forklift, Ohio). He has an undergraduate degree from Ball State University & did some grad time in philosophy at Ohio University before getting the MFA at Warren Wilson College. He’s the one on the right with the bow tie in the photos above, my Matt Hart being on the left. This Matt Hart has published a fair amount, tho a lot has been in School of Quietude (SoQ) type magazines like Ploughshares. Until I shook his hand in the 11th Street Bar, I had never even heard of this Matt Hart.

I was so stunned by this that I said not a word. I just sat & listened. And frankly liked what I heard. This Matt Hart is sharp, funny, full of pop references & allusions – twice he noted Gregory Corso, both times with approval – and hardly at all what one might expect out of a context like Ploughshares, one of the most somnambulant of all SoQ venues. If anything, this Matt Hart took me back some 30 years to the heyday of Actualism, which is to say the verse that rose up out of Iowa City in response to the energetic teaching of Ted Berrigan there – poets like Darrell Gray, Pat Nolan, George Mattingly, Alan Kornblum, Keith Abbott, Jim Gustafson, Andrei Codrescu, Dave Morice, G.P. Skratz & Victoria Rathbun. Just like Actualism, much of this Matt Hart sounds a lot like maybe third generation New York School poetry – a tone, it is worth noting, that is entirely absent from the work of Anselm Berrigan, a more serious & subtle soul than people seem to have yet recognized.

Unlike Dean Young, say, who always strikes me as an experiment to see what would happen if you crossed James Tate with Bob Perelman, this Matt Hart isn’t simply an echo of Ron Padgett or Kenneth Koch, tho the reverberations are unmistakable in his poems. But it did strike me that, like Dean Young, Matt Hart may see his project as – if he should think about it in larger historical terms – making that side of the New American poetry “safe” for the SoQ going forward. If the ellipsism of Jorie Graham, C.D. Wright & Ann Lauterbach can be understood as one tendency where impulses of both SoQ & post-avant traditions are woven together as tho there were not deep fissures & contradictions in the project, just possibly Hart & Young could be seen as another such attempt, along somewhat different fault lines.

The trick in all this is that one has to be more than a little good to get away with it. Wright & Lauterbach would be fabulous poets regardless of which tradition & tendency they involved themselves in & it wouldn’t surprise me, ten years hence, if I didn’t think the same here with this Matt Hart.

But the event I most want to hear, obviously, would be Matt Hart with Matt Hart.




Drew Gardner has a review of sorts of my part of the reading. It was only reading Drew’s piece that I realized that it was Murat Nemet-Nejat who was sitting at my table. I can be so dense when I’m in an unfamiliar setting, especially when the people I know aren’t whom I expect them to be . . . .