Matt Hart, the Associate Professor in Creative Writing and Chair of Liberal Arts at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, read poetry from his two new books on Thursday, November 3. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the poetry journal Forklift. The pieces he read from RADIANT COMPANION and RADIANT ACTION included moments of serious thought, comedy, and heartfelt appreciation for family. Over 100 students, professors, and community members attended his reading, and for much of his performance, the audience remained astutely quiet. Hart alternated from whispers to shouting and singing to screaming; the crowd rode the waves with him as he wove an atmospheric spell with his words.
Those words – poignant and pointed, lovely and thought-provoking, serious and damning – brought listeners into his world. Many of the poems mentioned his daughter, Agnes, and his wife, Melanie. He spoke succinctly but remained lyrical. “I drive her to school with the radio off,” he said, thoughtfully, in the midst of a poem; the audience could feel the weight of those words to him and see the cherished moment with his daughter at the start of a busy day. Listeners could hear the reverence in his voice as he spoke of his family, music, and friends, each playing an influential role in his poetry. Music and song were incorporated into his work as he referenced old punk bands and screamed their lyrics that had moved and inspired him.
Hart’s poetry was optimistic because, as he mentioned, part of his philosophy is to “leave this place better than [he] found it.” He combined day-to-day activities and interactions with concepts of Heaven and death and what they look like fused with common life. The juxtaposition between chaos and order created a fascinating balance that left the crowd with nothing to do but listen intently and follow every word.
One aspect of the reading that I appreciated the most was the commentary Hart provided between poems. We got to see his character through his interjections; he was self-deprecating, encouraging the crowd to laugh with him as he laughed at himself. “If I start sweating, don’t worry. It’s all part of the act,” he warned us at one point. Hart mentioned the first poetry reading he went to and explained how it had transformed him. He advised us not to walk away from future poetry readings asking one another “Did you understand that?” but instead ask “Did you experience that? Was there a moment of transformation or recognition?” Poetry is a conversion experience for him, and I believe he wanted to make it one for us as well.
Hart also took the time to explain the backstory for the poems he was about to read and draw in context to help us make sense of what we had just heard. Reading poetry is meaningful, but to be invited into the poet’s world adds a layer of significance and understanding to the work. I find myself a better poet having heard and been inspired by Matt Hart’s reading.