A Poet Among Visual Artists

Matt in Class

By Mark Flanigan
Photo by Hailey Bollinger

Matt Hart sits for an interview with CityBeat in the small café at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, where he currently serves as associate professor in creative writing and the chair of liberal arts, and from where he will soon embark to Ann Arbor, Mich. for a poetry reading later this evening.

It will mark his 34th such engagement in the two months since the simultaneous release of his two newest poetry collections, Radiant Action (H_NGM_N Books) and Radiant Companion (Monster House Press), the former comprised of one 130-page serial poem. Previously, Hart has published six collections of poetry.

If it all seems like a lot, it is also part of his larger point — his books and their poems are bursting at the seams with vitality. “Your aesthetic is really just the ways that your values are manifested in your work and the choices that you made to get them there,” Hart says. “So, here is one of the things that I value: I value inclusion over exclusion, in the extreme.”

Visibly tired, his hands nonetheless begin to punctuate each sentence by pounding on the table as he continues. “(That) is why I want to try to say everything in every single poem,” he says. “I want the poem to be as big as the world. That value of inclusion comes through in the writing — it’s not that I refuse to edit or rewrite, because I do — but that I want every poem to be as much as it can be and activate possibilities. I am deploying language into the world, rather than employing it to do something in particular.”

Hart’s route to poetry and teaching has been circuitous. Born in 1969 in Evansville, Ind., he grew up there and in the nearby Ohio River town of Newburgh, Ind., until he left to attend Muncie’s Ball State University, where he studied philosophy as an undergrad. Immediately afterward, he went into the master’s program at Ohio University, where he chose to study the 20th-century Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.

He didn’t finish his master’s then, but in hindsight learned a crucial lesson from his studies. “Wittgenstein talked about the possibility of language, what it can and can’t do. It’s where I feel I learned that poetry doesn’t have to be true, it only has to be real; poetry doesn’t have to prove anything.”

Before finding poetry as an outlet, Hart had been singing and playing in Punk Rock bands, with some genuine success. Yet, it wasn’t until he took a poetry workshop in the hope that it would make him a better lyricist that his trajectory changed when he witnessed an elder student read aloud “Feeling Fucked Up,” by the late American contemporary poet Etheridge Knight.

Hart quotes the beginning from memory:

“Lord she’s gone done left me done

    packed / up and split

and I with no way to make her

come back and everywhere the world is bare

bright bone white   crystal sand glistens

dope death dead dying and jiving drove

her away made her take her laughter

    and her smiles and her softness and her midnight sighs—”

“I remember thinking, ‘You can do that in a poem?’ ” Hart says. “You can make a big noise with just your voice and your body? The next day I sat down and tried to write a poem for the first time without a prompt, and I’ve pretty much been doing that every day for 30 years. That was a conversion experience.

“I had been playing in bands since I was 15, but I was changed,” he adds. “That’s why I believe in the power of art to connect us, to challenge us, in really generative ways. I was changed in a moment.”

In 1999, six years after moving to Cincinnati and — with Eric Appleby — starting his own publication Forklift, Ohio: A Journal of Poetry, Cooking and Light Industrial Safety, Hart went to the MFA Program for Writers at North Carolina’s Warren Wilson College’s, in part because he didn’t feel as if he was a legitimate poet without studying the technical aspects of poetry.

He remembers thinking, “If I go to graduate school in poetry and they tell me that I’m not good, I will quit.”

“And I am so grateful that nobody ever did that,” he says.

Teaching at the Art Academy, Hart communicates an overriding sense of compassion, but one coupled with discernment; more than anything, there was excitement, life and engagement, reminiscent of his recent poems.

In a post-interview email, Hart explains the importance of his class to the Art Academy’s curriculum. “We’re trying to get students to do something wildly unpredictable in accordance with their vision,” he says. “But to do that they have to be able to grasp their vision. Articulating it helps give it shape, makes it a thing to be pushed, expanded, exploded. Articulation provides parameters that one can work with or against, and all art is made via this method.”

There’s an overriding, ultimately contagious, exuberance and passion to all of Hart’s work, whether it’s in his teaching, his writing or just in the way he sits in the Art Academy’s café, preparing for a trip to Ann Arbor.

When asked if he ever finds himself self-conscious about that fact, he pounds on the table and says, “I refuse to live in the darkness of this time. I want for people so badly to have the things that they need. I want us to love each other. I want to be a believer, you know? I don’t have a particular faith, in a religious sense, but I do believe in the human spirit and I am going to write that as hard as I can.” ©

Excerpt from Matt Hart’s serial poem “Radiant Action”

I’m wondering about heaven (as a metaphor,

of course, since I don’t believe in heaven,

but I’d like to) and hoping that someday someone will

recognize themselves in this, and it will be as if

a great blast of electric light came into

whatever darkness they possess, and

     as a result

they will be spurred to their own furtherance,

their own thoughts, the discovery

    of their own

sources of energy, their own new works

with beginnings and endings, entwined

    and entwining,

revealing better than I ever will the history

of this life, what it means to be awkward

in awe,

to be human in our time, to love one another

with perfect abandon, with total resolve,

descriptions of descriptions of waves forever

breaking into each other


AAC Poetry Series Welcomes Alex Lemon and Jenny Sadre-Orafai

Come feel the words of esteemed poets Alex Lemon and Jenny Sadre-Orafai at a free public reading of their work beginning at 7:00pm on Thursday, October 9. This is the second reading of the 2014-15 Art Academy of Cincinnati Poetry Series, sponsored by the Liberal Arts Department. Following the reading their with be a short OPEN MIC for anyone who would like to share their work.

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AAC Poetry Series Welcomes Poets Anthony McCann & Megan Martin

The Art Academy of Cincinnati welcomes poet Anthony McCann and poet/fiction writer Megan Martin  for a free public reading of their work at 7:00PM on Wednesday, Sept 3rd in Room N206. This is the first reading of the 2014-15 AAC Poetry Series. The series is sponsored by the Liberal Arts Department.

Anthony McCann was born and raised in the Hudson Valley. He is the author of Thing Music (forthcoming from Wave Books in 2014), ♥ Your Fate (Wave Books, 2011), Moongarden (Wave Books, 2006) and Father of Noise (Fence Books, 2003). In addition to these three collections, he is one of the authors of Gentle Reader!  (2007), a book of erasures of the English Romantics, along with Joshua Beckman and Matthew Rohrer. He lives in Los Angeles and teaches in the University of California-Riverside’s Palm Desert MFA program. He is the “Poet Laureate” of Machine Project and also teaches courses at the California Institute of the Arts. 

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Award Winning poet ADAM FELL reads at the AAC this Thursday, April 17 at 7PM

The Art Academy of Cincinnati welcomes poet Adam Fell for a free public reading of his work at 7:00PM this Thursday, April 17th, in Room N206. This is the second and final reading in the 2013-14 AAC Poetry Series. The series is sponsored by the Liberal Arts Department.


Adam Fell is the author of Dear Corporation (H_NGM_N Books, 2014) and I Am Not a Pioneer (H_NGM_N Books, 2012), winner of the 2011 Posner Best Poetry Book Award from the Council for Wisconsin Writers. He teaches at Edgewood College in Madison, WI, where he co-curates the Monsters of Poetry reading series.

In addition to Fell, AAC Creative Writing students Chloë Bell, Millie Ferguson, Billy Golden, Hannah Hersko and Sam McCormick will open the event with readings from their work.

Immediately following the featured event, there will be a short open mic for anyone else who’d like to share their work, then Adam will be available to answer questions and sign books. As always, coffee and fresh-baked roller skates will be available to take the edge off.

See links below to some poems from Adam’s new book Dear Corporation, which American Microreviews describes as devoting, “itself to an idea that Corporate Personhood—our Dear Corporation—carries out its investments, its conflicting strategies of selling junk and earning trust, within any one of us. It is a sympathetic idea, gently pushed at times, at other times more insistent, that transforms Dear Corporation into a remarkable protest, one that, by getting at the difficulties of acceptance, even forgiveness, cautiously offers clues for carrying the fight forward.”


The Academy of American Poets/Poet.org

Ink Node

Hope to see you at the reading!

Matt Hart’s featured at The Academy of American Poets

I’m happy to announce that my poem, “Today A Rainstorm Caught Me” is up today in the Poem-a-Day series at The Academy of American Poets poets.org site. I hope you’ll check it out. The post also includes a brief prose description of the way I wrote the poem.

While you’re there, please take a look at the site, which literally has thousands of poems and writing about poetry in its archives. You can also sign up to receive a poem a day, via the Poem-a-Day series, in your email.

Matt Hart’s RADIANT ACTION at Spoke Too Soon: A Journal of the Longer

AAC Friends,


I’m happy to announce that twenty sections of my long poem sequence “Radiant Action” have just been published at Spoke Too Soon: A Journal of the Longer. You can read the selection and hear recordings of me reading it here. The issue also includes prose reviews of the selection by poets Ben Kopel and Jennifer Moore. You can read them here and here.

Spoke Too Soon: A Journal of the Longer is a journal that was started late last year by poets Kelin Loe and Leora Fridman. As the title suggests, it’s dedicated to publishing long poems and selections from them, and always includes both recordings of the authors reading the published selection and critical prose on the work written by other scholars and poets.

Please check it out.