Matt Hart, Who's Who Vivid (Slope Editions, 2006)
Reviewed by Cynthia Arrieu-King
I'm so glad I have a new copper pink retro chair to sit in to think about these poems, burnished and nothing like anything else I own. Because more than most these poems won't let you settle into any familiars, but you might keep pace with pattern.
Each poem in Matt Hart's Who's Who Vivid seems like material ripped and reassembled on sketches of a few major thoughts. Or a few thoughts ripped and reassembled. These discursive riffs of air and explosive emotion point to the edges of the picture, though disguised sometimes as glibness or nihilism. The doubt convinces, though. As the epigraph by Apollinaire hints: "I know nothing anymore and can only love."
All the dearest confetti has been pieced together here: corporate language rephrased, clichés turned on their ear, sweet nothings, rock lyrics, Biblical phrases, disappointments, disavowals. In lieu of a prosaically depicted speaker, we have leitmotifs, themes, repeated phrases that outline the atoms of this life. In his blurb Dean Young calls the book "a new realism hatching from the old," and you can see for yourself the atoms of Tuesday all gumming together for one poem, all the atoms of Friday collecting into the next. It might do to show how a few of these fire-burst, repeated nouns connect poem to poem, and so create reality again.
There seem to be many fires, air, ambulances, elephants, emergencies, urgencies. Zeroes, and nowhere... The speaker seems to be repeatedly making the international choking artist sign, as if the boring makes for the worst suffocations, sense the worst claustrophobia, so much so that in "Elephant," a beloved elephant hidden in the house hides from poachers who "engage the text and conjugate correctly." To get enough air, the speaker is constantly, "combating the sky, the ceiling, getting the lid off." Towards the end of the book, "The sky is a big holy mouth," and the speaker moves to address it almost as if out in space—"'boom boom boom,' says another dead star." All the joy here alternates with doubt about the world, and eventually the mind, centering edges since anything sensible couldn't possibly represent actual life. This "launch site," as Young calls it (into the stratosphere, I'd add), feels like a new lyrical math, convincing, disembodied, and alien.
If Gertrude Stein were a cubist poet, then Matt Hart seems to be the guy who takes beautiful hand-drawn cartoons, cuts them into squares, and distresses them before gluing them onto canvas as a kind of fur. The poems are ordered to slowly establish the pattern of criss-crossing a field. In fact, in "Criss-Cross in Every Direction," Hart makes the first direct hit on the reader, smashing a bottle "across her nose." You get the feeling Hart will keep coming up with those scat, truncated, vivid punches. It's an original mind throwing out the koanic fists, so you might need to keep this on the bedside table to wake you up.