H_NGM_N Books, 2016
review by William James
By page 34 of Matt Hart’s latest book-length single poem Radiant Action, we’ve already been steeped in the idea of noise. It’s a frantic, crashing cacophony of “hardcore vocalists, birds with jet engines, sandbag pilgrims,” a favorite punk rock band playing loud in the basement, the author “wak[ing] up screaming [his] whole throat to red.” Noise is a common thread in this poem, so when we get to the line “Poetry is language made noisy with god” it’s a moment like standing in a field under a storm-dark sky, seeing the clouds break open, and feeling the sudden brightness of the sun piercing the gray.
Radiant Action is not exclusively a poem. It’s a prayer, an incantation, a pleading. It’s reckless wonder when the author’s daughter finds “a real dead starfish.” It’s a worn out hopelessness when the author tells us “I used to think the world was broken Now I know the world is broken” It’s a punk rock tenacity that refuses to wallow in that hopelessness, but declares “the world is less cruel when we fall, fall together.” Radiant Action is a call; not to arms, but to love. Matt Hart is deeply, unfathomably filled with love – for family (Agnes and Melanie and Daisy “the dog, not the flower),” for Lorca and Whitman, for Cincinnati, for Black Flag and The Clash and a host of other bands you may not have even heard of (and it doesn’t matter, really, because the bubbling joy that this poem exudes with every band reference is never lost in translation). At times, the love Hart has for the subjects of his poem is so overwhelming that he has to “scream like a jay, those of you I love should know how I love you, which is always.” And while many times, Hart is directing his poem to specific people in his own life, as readers we’re never left feeling excluded. If you are paying attention to this book, Matt Hart has a great and enthusiastic love for you too, and you’ll know it.
Those who mistake punk rock’s intensity for anger may be confused by this book. There is, of course, an intensity not unlike that found in a mosh pit, but there’s astonishingly little rage here. Instead, there’s an excitement that bursts, like a child who has just discovered the gift of language, and quite literally can’t keep quiet about it. Sloughing off stuffy propriety and formal language, Hart simply carries on (the stylistic choice of not using punctuation to end sentences here is perhaps a way to communicate the breathless excitement of the poem) in language that leaves everyone feeling a part of the conversation. There are no outsiders here – and isn’t that just the most punk rock thing ever?
Here’s a fact, and an admission: I have read Radiant Action cover to cover three times, and at the time of this review have started my fourth. This is a book I am incapable of putting down – more than that, this is a poem that has struck a fire in me. I can think of no greater testament to a book of poetry than to say “this made me want to write a hundred poems in a row,” and Radiant Action had that exact effect on me.
To paraphrase the closing line from the first section, “we should all cheer wildly at the end of this [book.]”