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Hollyridge Press, $10 (paper)
Who’s Who Vivid
Slope Editions, $14.95 (paper)
Matt Hart’s first full-length poetry collection, Who’s Who Vivid, follows by just a few months the publication of his chapbook Revelated. What is most striking about both collections is the poet’s quirky, edgy, original, and endlessly energetic voice, as revealed in the opening lines of “All the Best Reasons I’m Nowhere” (from Who’s Who Vivid): “I don’t know whether I’m talking / or if I’m nineteen. I do know I need a haircut. / And the world opens its lips and spits plastic / army men straight-up like scotch in the movies / or a fountain of youthful exuberance, angels / and gargoyles pissing together.” Here, as in many of Hart’s poems, language and thoughts are disjunctive: he uses traditional diction and conjunctions such as “or,” but he turns them upside down, as if it made perfect sense that the speaker could be either talking or 19. Poems like “The Weight of My Next Best Thing” could make a logician’s head spin: “I may be thirty-ish and still / interested in seashells, but not enough // to get sucked down the drain looking / for a rowboat with my head in the sand. // Nevertheless, if you get tired of your couch, you can always come over and crash mine.” The speakers in Hart’s poems see connections between typically unconnected images and objects, and for this reason their utterances seem like little bullet points, one after another, disorderly, but orderly as far as these speakers are concerned. They want to be angry, ironic, disconnected, and meaningless, but they simply can’t be. They also want to be “beautiful” and to relinquish everything that is “fake,” as in “Beautiful Burns”: “What’s beautiful burns a hole in my pocket,” and “Nowadays / in everything the emphasis is on hipsterish // tragedy, but it’s all so fake my head hurts.” But Hart is also a hipster, if a newer, sincerer breed, and his frenetic hipster voice, which often is his greatest strength, at times becomes a crutch. Hart’s poems feature a powerful, ubiquitous first-person speaker, an I that overflows with an original electric earnestness that can be edgy, sincere, or edgy and sincere, but is always present. This voice varies little within or across these collections; lines from Revelated seem as if they could be from Who’s Who Vivid and vice versa. In Revelated, a poem titled “Whatever You May Have Said Before” is already familiar in its disjunction: “Say whatever you want, / but always say it with conviction / and connected in waves to the musculature of swans. . . . ” Ultimately, this lack of real stylistic variation deadens a voice that wants desperately to be heard. As the speaker states in the title poem of Who’s Who Vivid, “Who’s Who Vivid in the Moonlight in Pain”: “How // uncomfortable to be comfortable, to be churning / with poems, to be messed up and messy, / exuberant-green . . . Anymore what I mean / is like new, wet cement, / I speak and I’m stuck in it forever.” But while Hart’s speakers sometimes seem stuck in a rut, Hart nevertheless hooks us in and takes us for a happily messy joy ride: “My style is no style. My form is a pigsty. / Just look how far I haven’t come in the dark.”
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