Today on Keep Louisville Literary [the radio show] I’ll be speaking with Matt Hart author of Wolf Face (H_NGM_N, 2010) Sermons and Lectures Both Blank and Relentless (Typecast Publishing, 2011), Debacle, Debacle (H_NGM_N, 2013) and Radiant Action (forthcoming from Typecast Publishing 2014). Stream the show live at http://www.artxfm.com @ 1pm! I’ll also be dropping more tracks from his post-punk band TRAVEL! Matt is also an educator at the Art Academy of Cincinnati and editor-in-chief at the journal he co-founded Forklift, Ohio: A Journal of Poetry, Cooking & Light Industrial Safety.
Dear Readers,This Thursday my guest will be poet / professor Matt Hart, who’ll be discussing with us education models for creative writing, his latest book Debacle, Debacle (H_ngm_n, 2013) and his new work-in-progress Radiant Action forthcoming from Typecast Publishing here in Louisville, KY!
You can check out Matt reading “Amplifier to Defender” from Sermons and Lectures Both Blank and Relentless (Typecast, 2011) HERE
And over HERE are five poems from Radiant Action over at Hobart.
NEXT Thursday, 7-25, my guest (who was originally slated for this week) will be Adam Day, University of Kentucky educator, poet, and Louisville Literary Arts (LLA) board-member. Adam holds an MFA in creative writing from NYU, where he studied with former U.S. poet laureate Philip Levine, and coordinates the Baltic Writing Residency which now includes residencies in Scotland, and at Bernheim Forest in KY. Adam Day is the recipient of a 2010 Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship for Badger, Apocrypha, and is also the recipient of a 2011 PEN Emerging Writers Award. He has a ton of experience and insight about the poetry world, is working on several projects, and will be chatting about all that and hopefully reading poems for us!
Poet Chris Mattingly, whose new collection Scuffletown (pre-order here) is forthcoming this month from Louisville’s own Typecast Publishing, will read April 20th 7:30pm at Seidenfaden’s (1134 E Breckinridge St Louisville, KY 40204) with fellow Typecast authors Amanda Smeltz (who’s coming down from Brooklyn, NYC just for us!) and Matt Hart— a line-up not for the faint-of-heart.
Brandon Stettenbenz: TYPECAST PUBLISHING (Louisville, KY) has a unique approach to publishing. They create one-of-a-kind books and assemble them by hand, ensuring that each collection has its due as an artifact worthy of ownership. Can we get any spoilers about the design, presentation, or packaging of Scuffletown?
Chris Mattingly: It’s the size of a Moleskine cahiers journal—which is what all of the poems from the book were drafted in—and the cover was letterpressed at The Firecracker Press in St. Louis. In terms of the printing, the cover has a deep impression, some gritty noise, and nice shades of color that conjure river clay, in my mind. The book feels good to touch. It feels substantial.
BS: Matt Hart recently told me that Jen Woods is a “really careful editor”, and I read once that she told M. Bartley Seigel “this is going to hurt” before taking the red pen to his This is What They Say manuscript. Assuming that the recollections and ruminations in Scuffletown are hard-lived truth or nearly so, do you think developing this personal collection with an invested, supportive editor like Jen was easier or more difficult, than it would have been with a less intimate press?
CM: Easier. The personal connection to the editor—well, to be clear, editors because Lindsey Alexander actually did the bulk of the hands-on editing with Scuffletown—was important to me as a poet and person. To be honest, I wanted for this book to come out of this region in every way possible. This is almost [from a] political urge to grow and cultivate things—not just food—locally. That said, I do want the book to achieve an audience larger than the local region! This is where aesthetics comes in: For a long time, I’ve respected what Jen has done with the magazine (Lumberyard) and the work she’s done on Typecast Publishing’s previous collections of poetry. So even though the book was created almost wholly on a local level, I believe Jen has created an audience that transcends place based on her aesthetics.
BS: Do you feel that the book ended up better because you were able to work locally with someone who, as a fellow Kentuckian, understands Scuffletown and the stories that emanate from that place (fictional perhaps in a similar way to Wendell Berry’s fictional “Port William” is an analog for his native Port Royal, KY)?
CM: Yes. Like I said, Lindsey Alexander was the editor of Scuffletown. Lindsey, being from a Louisville family that has roots in Barren County, I fully trusted her ear. Going back to the last question, it is important to note that we were able to cultivate trust through a personal connection based in part on both of us having deep family roots in rural Kentucky. Also, because we were both in Louisville, we were able to sit face-to-face and talk about the book. During these meetings, I was able to see the jubilance with which Lindsey approached the manuscript. Seeing that joy eased any apprehension I may have had about someone putting hands on my art. For me, this trust would have been harder to achieve if I was working with a distant editor strictly through, say, email.
BS: Scuffletown contains confessions of realities beyond regret, and yet the speaker/narrator recalls his grim histories with an elegiac nostalgia. Talk a bit if you would, about the contradicting emotions that are captured so well, in my opinion, by the speaker’s raw, simply stated recollections.
CM: You’re right there is nostalgia, and that’s because it’s my childhood. I am nostalgic about all sorts of elements of my childhood, not just the good. I’m often equally nostalgic, or sentimental, about summer bike rides out to stripper pits as I am about sitting around the fire pit drinking whiskey with my mom after a domestic dispute. The reason, however, is more complicated. What I know is that in those moments, like in the poem “Bon Fire,” the mother and son connect in ways that many children never connect with their parents. In that poem, the son becomes the parent to the mother, and in that, there is an opportunity to nurture, comfort, and even counsel the one who would traditionally be in that role. I think there’s also something about healing and forgiveness that informs the tone you’re talking about.
BS: Getting through the collection can be difficult, not because of any tough abstractions or thick lexicon, but because of the emotional gravity involved. I have to admit, I’ve not shed tears in public for years, but as soon as I cracked the book (pg. 3) a poem titled Bonfire (mp3 here) took my knees out from under me. How would you foreword or foreworn Scuffletown to average poetry reader? To Kentuckians or others familiar with places with Scuffletown?
CM: Think of the poems in terms of the blues form. We play the blues, we sing about hard times, sadness, and violence as a way of keeping it from having power over us. This book is like that; it’s me singing, testifying. I want it to be like the experience of hearing Skip James sing “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues”: no matter how down-low and rough [it] seems, in the end, you feel strangely empowered, maybe even connected to the speaker’s, or your own, experience a little more. If so, maybe the work will be validated, the experience redeemed.
BS: Level of education and manner of speech are addressed repetitively in Scuffletown, and near the end the speaker even indicates that he’s lost some part of his identity by leaving words unique to his region of origin behind. Laying judgments like “genuine” and “truth” aside, why did you decide, after college, that you would continue or return to writing in form and dialogue befitting your Kentucky heritage (as opposed to adopting non-regional standard English and traditional narrative forms or classical forms)?
CM: That’s what this project called for. I wanted the language to insinuate place. The themes in this book aren’t just regional, they’re American, but I think each region has a different way of understanding and dealing with those themes. One way this shows through is the language we use. For example, one poem ends with: “Let me beat on your for a while.” The idea, because of who the speaker is, is that she is basically saying, “I love you” in her own language. The line comes from an actual experience: One day, while fiddling around in the root garden, I overheard my neighbor say, “Git over here baby girl an’ let me beat on you fur a-while.” Because I am a sucker for a good expression, I stood up smiling while I felt the chaos of language resonate through my body. The little girl, 4 years old, was tickled, squirmed a little and simply said: “Naw, Mamaw.” The expression, make no mistake about it, was one of affection and tenderness. The old woman was basically saying let me love on you with pinches, squeezes, nibblin’s and rough ticklin’. An idea conveyed in a language that insinuated place with all its intricate familial, regional, historical, and class workings churning through my head like so many gears. Truth-be-told, I was moved by the way her expression entangled love and violence. And I was startled by what murked the surface of the quirky words: the brutal truth and wisdom of love’s deeply textured experience. The way pleasure is complicated by a hurting place peppered her tongue with subjective experience that burned like bourbon in my chest as I said the words over and over later that night. And I was startled again by the way her words evoked a place beyond the backyard in Louisville, out past the hills of her East Kentucky upbringing, and into a psychic region in a league with, say, the bullfighters, gypsy flamenco guitarists, and death infused dancers of Garcia Lorca’s duende. Or better, Blanch was like Feste, the jester in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, who imparts real depth of understanding beneath a sheen of comical ease. But of course, she was just talking, being her own danged self in her own danged backyard. She was not weighing each word or measuring each syllable, calibrating lines, and synching up sounds with meaning. She was not trying to raise a place from out of the seasoned lumber of the written word. The way we poets do.
BS: You hold an MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University here in Louisville. Would you like to tell readers who may be unfamiliar with that program about the Spalding writing/academic community?
CM: It’s a close-knit community that also is very much linked to the larger Louisville community. I think it feels linked to the wider community because during the residency—it is a brief-residency program—many of the readings and seminars are open to the public. As far as the instruction, it was ideal for me because it is more of an apprenticeship experience. While workshops are the backbone of the residency, the bulk of the semester is spent one-on-one under the guidance of a master. I worked with three different poets, one poet twice, and I always like to liken my experience to that of the young poet who’s exchanging letters with Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet.
BS: Seidenfaden’s here in Louisville is a neighborhood bar, and you’re also performing for Holler Poets at Al’s Bar in Lexington on April 17th. Do you prefer to read your poetry, rife as it is with hard luck and hard drink, in a bar as opposed to a lecture hall, classroom, gallery or other formal setting?
CM: Not really. In a way, it seems more important to read these poems in a formal setting, but I do feel at very much home in taverns. When I was a teenager, my mom worked in a neighborhood tavern. I used to go in there to watch her work and listen to the stories of the people at the bar. Also, my uncles and dad went to neighborhood taverns, so I grew up going there with them, too. As far as Seidenfaden’s goes, on quiet nights, it’s like home: I’ve done homework there; I’ve hung out with my dad there; I was hired for a job while hanging out there; my friends and I used to spar and shadow box inside on slow nights; I’ve watched the World Series there; I’ve walked down there from the house just to unwind; And the poems do seem to ideally fit into that context.
BS: I’m betting both readings will be rowdy and raucous. You won’t wanna miss the party, dear readers! Clean out your ears and wear your stompin’ shoes. Bourbon is optional but recommended; tip your bartender(s).
Chris Mattingly is the author of Ad Hoc and a translation of Anglo-Saxon riddles A Light for Your Beacon both from Q Avenue Press. Mattingly holds an MFA from Spalding University, cultivates a great big garden, plays banjo, sometimes travels ridiculous distances for burgoo and chess pie, and is the eighth-generation Mattingly to live in Kentucky. He currently resides in south-east Georgia where he teaches at East Georgia State College
Typecast Publishing authors Amanda Smeltz, Chris Mattingly, and Matt Hart will read April 20th 7:30pm at Seidenfaden’s (1134 E Breckinridge St Louisville, KY 40204). I guess Jen Woods couldn’t resist throwing a party here in Louisville for National Poetry Month! Smeltz’s Imperial Bender is forthcoming as a limited VAULT edition, the first run of Mattingly’s Scuffletown is due shortly, and Matt Hart’s Sermons and Lectures: Both Blank and Relentless is being reprinted in box-set (letterpressed booklets and the CD album of the same name by Matt’s band TRAVEL stuffed into a cool box). To celebrate her own book and the rest, Amanda Smeltz is coming all the way from Brooklyn, NYC to party with us!
Brandon Stettenbenz: As a sommelier you have to know your product intimately, down to the slightest nuance. In Imperial Bender, your poems often compare individuals to very distinct wines, and you seem to mull them over carefully, in a similar way to wine though perhaps with less professional distance. How does your profession fit with or influence your poetic?
Amanda Smeltz: I compare people to specific wines in the book? I know there’s one poem where I liken my skin getting tan to Heiligenstein (which is a famous vineyard in Austria, it means holy rock)— but this has less to do with wine knowledge and more with my capacity for mythologizing. My profession isn’t being a somm; that’s an aspect of my day job. Thinking about wine isn’t a superpower, though of course it doesn’t suck to think sensually and emotionally as part of your job. But listen, a lot of it’s throwing around cases of booze in storage and dealing with imbecile salespeople. The Muse turned down my invite to visit the walk-in where I’m counting kegs.
BS: Speaking of spirits, this collection is boisterous, surreal at times, but also seems very personal. Some of the poems, in my opinion, read like letters to loved ones lost to death, or simply left behind. There’s an elegiac fondness working like vines through this book, like some organic network of human experience that binds crazy parties and indiscretions into a tapestry of being (as opposed to a National Lampoon movie). Could you tell us how you approached balancing your personal experience/narrative with the universal/philosophical images that delve into/aim for our “collective unconscious”?
AS: Hey, there’s plenty universal and philosophical about indiscretions! Shakespeare was more bawdy than I am, and no one pokes him about showing too much undapants.
I was fretful about a very confessional poem I was writing in grad school, one that was about as realist as they come, and a friend advised me not to be so nervous: he said the more honest we are in poems, the more others will recognize themselves in them. Through empathy, I wager. Admittedly I sometimes fear being considered an inferior intellect for my need to overtly explore my personal history, but that’s only when I’m being pathetic. I’m bound by my personal experience, even my body, but I mean to use them both to enter being beyond my own. As to how I go about doing it, I don’t understand my own methods. A lot of the poems are just frantic attempts. Rhyme I tried, and bravado, and narrative, and vivid imagery. How does any poet do it? I’m still learning. Seidel has: “I don’t remember poems I write. / I turn around and they are gone.”
I like that you said “elegiac fondness” in the same breath as “vines,” though. Couldn’t be happier to have those things said in earshot of my poems.
BS: Your poems in Imperial Bender go back and forth between allusions involving Greek mythology and romanticized modern experiences akin to the dramatically embellished beaches and pastoral places a reader might find in say, a Harlequin Romance. I found these transportations surprising, at times hilarious and at other times dead serious. I just don’t see many people hitting two very disparate ends of the literary spectrum within one collection, let alone one poem, very often. Delivering believable emotions to your reader in two modes back to back seems like an inherently difficult approach. Why did you decide to layer your work with these different allusions?
AS: Because that manner of counterpoint delights me. High and low, pah. It seems to me our notion of poetry lags way behind our notions in the visual arts. We’re comfortable there with not differentiating between high and low. I make a shitty realist, it turns out, and I can’t “correct” some of my bad taste. I populate my poems with things I delight in or am vexed by. If that’s Tupac and the book of Isaiah in the same breath, I can’t help that any.
BS: You also address people in your personal history (most notably in “Letter to Denny from Brooklyn”) as well as historical figures (ex: George the second) and poets (ex: Keats, Li Po). Besides being obviously rooted in your past and education, perhaps in your development as an artist or just personal development in general, what reasons did you have for using such specific figures? What’s their function for you, and also for your readers?
AS: I like people! I put people in my poems because they’re what I spend the bulk of my time thinking about in real life – whether alive or dead, fictive or “real…” The people in what I write are alive to me. To employ someone from my life is strange anyway: the moment you put them in your poem, your intention of how to depict them or what they mean to you is out of your hands. It belongs to the reader immediately. Denny Smeltz may as well be John Flippin’ Keats to you. And who Keats is to me is my own goddamn business, and I intend to keep talking to and about him. Although, as regards the habit of name-checking my poet loves, the very intelligent Mark Bibbins told me I’m too much FUCK YEAH NEW YORK SCHOOL, and that’s likely true.
BS: There’s quite of bit of self-destructive behavior, which you lament, celebrate, and forgive almost simultaneously. Likewise, the destruction and mutilation of individuals, societies, and landscapes wrought by war is also present. Finally, the motif of destruction, mutilation, and change inevitable to time and human experience is implied by natural imagery (most notably in “Baby, Vivere”). Those are three quite distinct ways to address our malleable reality and growth/decline as individuals and as a species. Why did you choose such an aggressive mode to tackle this subject? Is the natural imagery intended to quell or defang the terror of war and abuse?
AS: “Lament, celebrate, and forgive almost simultaneously” – that’s very accurate. That’s close to how I encounter wrongdoing and suffering in myself and in the world. Some kinds of destruction have no redemptive aspects – rape, abuse of power, brutality. But even in the wake of horrible suffering, there’s sometimes a pasture… And some kinds of destruction aren’t evil at all; I’m not the only artist who’s made good, lucid work in a gnarly hangover. I don’t know how to talk about the ambiguity of destruction better than this. It is probably one of the reasons I write poems.
If this mode, whatever it is, seems aggressive to you, I can tell you that you aren’t the only person who’s found being with me exhausting. Being a human is intense!
For the natural imagery – no, it can’t de-fang the horror of the world. But it is still crazy beautiful here sometimes. There’s a begonia blooming outside my window right now, on my gritty industrial block. I love it, and I love the neighbors who insist on it despite their nonexistent backyard.
BS: Ok, that was a ton of literary, philosophical and craft talk. Lastly, I’d just like to share a note I wrote while reading Imperial Bender and maybe get your reaction to it: “Celebrations of the wild mundane and of modern misfits drunk on dreaming.”
AS: I’d say you’ve captured perfectly my romanticizing self-indulgence. Cheers.
BS: If you aren’t excited Louisville readers, you might want to check your pulse. Seidenfaden’s (1134 E Breckinridge St Louisville, KY 40204) April, 20th @7:30PM: Grab your best hat, slip on your boots, get ready to laugh, hoot and holler, put a couple books and maybe some bourbon on your tab for the authors!
Author Bio: “Amanda Smeltz is the assistant poetry editor for Forklift, Ohio. Her interests include philosophy, history, swears and insults, bourbon and big laughter. In addition to writing, you can find Smeltz in her Brooklyn stomping ground working as a sommelier and wine director. Buy her a drink.”
Poet Matt Hart will be reading with novelist Patrick Wensink @Java Bardstown for the February 22nd installment of Speak Social at 7:30pm. I haven’t spoken with Patrick Wensink—who’s readings have been known to become drinking games as Erin Keane will tell you here, and who also had “four days of (internet) fame” after receiving the world’s “nicest cease and desist letter” from Jack Daniels whiskey— but I was fortunate to catch up with Matt (busy poet, father, educator, and musician) to try and dig up some insight for those of you who may not already be aware of this prolific, regional powerhouse of written and spoken verse.
Brandon Stettenbenz: Let’s clear the air. This interview is not going to be as awesome as the one you did with BookSlut (it’s really worth a read!); of course that was a few years back… Since then, you’ve put out a book with Typecast Publishing here in Louisville, called “Sermons and Lectures Both Blank and Relentless.” Your band, Travel, also did an album inspired by the book. Can you fill us in on that experience?
Matt Hart: I’ve been a big fan of Lumberyard (the print magazine that Typecast publishes) almost since the beginning. I think it’s really exciting what they do with typography, exploding the poems, reconfiguring and re-contextualizing the various moving parts of the lines and stanzas, emphasizing the visual, material, and sculptural (not to mention, wooden and concrete) qualities of language. There’s something radical and radicalizing about their vision, and the DIY nature of the thing is something that really resonates with me and with my background, both with Forklift, Ohio (the magazine I co-founded and edit) and in punk rock.
With that in mind, I was only maybe a third of the way into the poems that became Sermons and Lectures, when I started thinking that Typecast would be the perfect publisher for that book. The poems are so full of fracture and speed, and the material quality of the language that comes through in the collage technique is a prevalent mode of the book’s poems. Of course, there are also numerous references to early punk rock and the idea that everything might fall apart at any second. It seemed to me to that the book had a lot in common with the Typecast aesthetic and vision, so I approached Jen Woods about it, and she liked the manuscript and took it on. I don’t remember exactly when in the process I got the idea to do a new Travel record using cut-up versions of the Sermons and Lectures poems as lyrics, but it all sort of came together right around the same time. The resulting record, Blank Sermons…Relentless Lectures, is one of Travel’s best, I think; full of noise and skronkiness that actually ends up sounding like music. Go figure.
Working with Typecast, and with Jen in particular, was truly a wonderful experience. She really helped me with ordering the manuscript, but more than that she’s a really careful editor, and I think she understands my aesthetic sometimes better than I do. I hope I get to work with her and Typecast again at some point. But regardless, I know that we’re friends for the long haul. She really is my Weird Sister.
Note: (Typecast Publishing is an immeasurable asset to our literary scene here in Louisville, and a growing force among American small presses. You can check out their impressive catalogue here, including Lumberyard magazine #10 featuring Mary Ruefle, Maurice Manning and more)
BS: I’ve read and heard mostly the poems from Sermons, but in older and more recent journals I’ve observed that your voice has remained loud; there’s really no other way to describe it whether in print or in person. Do your see this as a product of your punk/rock n’ roll roots and/or an intrinsic personal trait?
MH: Well, okay, I get that. But I think of my more recent work, especially the post Sermons and Lectures stuff that’s been appearing here and there, as really domestic, romantic, nearly pastoral in some of its tonalities and urgency toward melody/rhapsody/narrative. In fact, if I could have my way, with my new book Debacle Debacle, I would whisper the poems to one listener at a time. Sadly, that doesn’t usually fly so well against the backdrop of espresso machines and clinking beer bottles. It’s hard at most readings to be desperately, energetically, and personally low volume—almost no one would be able to hear the poems!—even though that’s often how I hear them in my head, and certainly the way I read them out loud to myself as I’m writing them. It’s the way I imagine someone else reading them too.
I should say also that just reading poems in a monotone is so incredibly awful to my ear that I just can’t allow myself to do it. Poems are alive. They have their own peculiar voices. At a reading I’m not trying to read them the way a reader would/should read them. That’s a thing done in the privacy of one’s mind, one’s mouth, one’s soul—if we’re lucky. Poets need to realize when they’re reading in public that they’re performing. There’s an audience in front of you, and they deserve a thing delivered, a call for their response. But also the poems deserve to be inhabited and brought to life.
That said, I always try pretty hard to create something of a dynamic range in the work—all one volume all the time gets kind of boring. With Sermons and Lectures, which takes a lot of its inspiration from punk rock and hellfire and brimstone preaching there’s certainly a lot of “loud,” but that’s contrasted with very modulated quiet passages. The final sequence “Blood Brothers and Weird Sisters” has a much different tonality than a lot of the rest of the book. It’s a denouement and a finality—a last gasp—and is the result of a kind of necessary exhaustion, a gradual fade out. It is true that often at readings I like to try and build momentum (which itself often comes with increasing the volume, either incrementally or radically)—to make poems ramp up with a fever, to press their bewildered faces against the infinite—whatever that is. I definitely think that this desire for a dynamic range in the work comes from my background in music. The “louds” I want to be really loud, but the “quiets” should be barely audible, so that people have to lean in and stop breathing.
BS: The other unique thing your poems have impressed upon me is a feeling of constant work, struggle, striving, experimentation, and change that seems to extend through absurd, metaphysical, political, and historic landscapes that are ultimately examining your own past and present. What I see more than anything in your work is a tenacious drive to examine and expose the self, to unearth and divulge your own thoughts (in this instance I’m assuming the narrator of your work is most often yourself as opposed to a generalized “the self”). Do you see poetry in general or at least your own as a mode of growth, self examination, perhaps therapy or necessary release from the pressures we all face; an exorcism/meditation if you will?
MH: I think I believe that artists always get to the universal via the personal (which is a paraphrase of something the painter Robert Motherwell said). But I don’t think of the poems as therapy. I’m not solving mental problems; I’m blasting off with joy or being awe struck or playing (which is a very serious thing). My poems are mostly exploratory, [meaning that] they point back to the process of their making and/or are demonstrations of a particular way of paying attention (my way of paying attention)— which I hope is something recognizable to other people, something they can connect with/to [via similarities] they find between my way and their way. I want my poems to open a window in the reader/listener’s life—from me to you, from you to me, and back again, forever. In other words (with other worlds), to create and court experiences of empathy is ultimately what I’m after. Empathy is (and this is a paraphrase of something Dean Young has said) the imaginative act of putting yourself (figuratively, metaphorically) so entirely and intensely in someone else’s shoes that you feel what they feel. For me, empathy is a kind of visceral entanglement of the self with the other—one that’s entirely based in the notion that we are a lot more similar than we are different. But it’s also those similarities which are the basis for appreciating and celebrating difference.
Of course, first and foremost, and whatever the aims, the poems have to be the best poems—as poems—that I can make, and I try to do that any way I can. I don’t want to limit possibility. I want to delimit it. My books are all really different from each other by design, because I am always trying to find new opportunities in the language—both in its form and its content—to reach out, to shock and be shocked and get a charge from our common humanity. I’m not worried about establishing a voice. I have faith that a voice will emerge from the activity of ranging far and wide wherever my interests and attention take me.
BS: Your new book from H_NGM_N Books (“Hangman” when you say it out loud) is called Debacle, Debacle. Folks can pre-order it here, an option that’s been up for only about a week. H_NGM_N also put out your last collection, so I assume you’ve forged a good working relationship with them. Could you tell us about the new book, your experiences working with H_NGM_N and a bit about them as a publisher?
MH: Well, just to be clear, H_NGM_N did my 2010 book WOLF FACE, but Typecast put out my last collection Sermons and Lectures Both Blank and Relentless in 2012. And in between those was a collection (mainly of several chapbooks) called Light-Headed that came out from BlazeVOX in 2011. My first book, Who’s Who Vivid, came out from Slope Editions in 2006—don’t wanna step on any editorial toes here.
As for Debacle Debacle, Nate Pritts, who founded, runs, and edits H_NGM_N, is a friend of mine from grad school. We’ve kept in close touch over the years, and all that time he’s been such an incredible champion of my work. I’m really grateful to Nate for his faith and trust in my process and poems. He’s truly my brother in more ways than one. As it turns out, many of the poems in Debacle Debacle respond directly to poems of Nate’s, or to ideas that we were both thinking about and discussing at the time the poems were written—ideas about friendship and the creative process, our respective domestic situations, my dumb (and very dumbly—I won’t go into it) broken foot. It’s funny, though, those poems seem to have all been written such a long time ago—2009-10 (a few in early 11). I’m two manuscripts beyond them now, but I’m excited that the book is finally coming out. I deliberately haven’t really read them anywhere, so that I can figure out how to do that when the book is in the world as a book. I just did one of those NEXT BIG THING interviews where I talk all about Debacle Debacle—its origin story. Anyone who’s interested can see it here. I’ve really loved working with all of the editors I’ve been fortunate enough to work with. Every one of them has been terrific and insightful. There aren’t many instances, I don’t think, where you get to work with your best friends, so I feel really lucky to get to do that.
BS: Another new accomplishment/change came in the form of a visiting Assistant
Professorship this past fall at the University of Texas, Austin. I’ve never been to Austin (unfortunately!), but I’ve spent plenty of time in Cincinnati. They must be very different places. I must admit, I’m completely in the dark about both schools, though I’ve heard and read a few things about UT’s Creative Writing MFA. How did you like Austin; was it a big adjustment? Did you find more enthusiastic students at UT than the Art Academy of Cincinnati, or perhaps a larger pool of creative writing students?
MH: I loved being at UT. The city of Austin’s great, but I was so busy that I didn’t really spend much time wandering around—though I did get to see Dinosaur Jr., Pianos Become the Teeth, La Dispute, and Willie Nelson w/ Asleep at the Wheel (not all on the same night, of course). The music scene’s intense. Anyway, the big difference between what I was doing in Texas and my usual gig at the Art Academy was that at UT I was teaching grad students, which I loved, in addition to undergrads. All the students at UT were awesome, but I found the grad students in particular to be wild and bewildering with brightness and all manner of full-throttle inspiration and anxiety (which can be an artist’s best friend). I adore them all—really. They made me such a better teacher and writer. I actually wrote about 75 poems while I was there and quite a lot of prose on poetry, too. It was poetry twenty-four seven, which is really different from my normal life. I’m married (14 years!) and I have a six year old daughter. My family couldn’t come with me to Texas, so in terms of that, I didn’t have the usual (very good—and very necessary for me) distractions of family life to contend with. Thus, I got even more work done than usual, but I was also missing my home life terribly. I loved being in Austin (where I have some amazing friends, in addition to the amazing students), but it’s also really good to be back home in Cinci.
As for the Art Academy, that’s a great gig too. It’s art-college—undergraduates—so all of my students are artists, my colleagues are artists, and there’s an incredibly high degree of interplay between visual and written expression. The whole building smells like oil paint and words. And I have some awesome poets that never cease to up the ante and challenge me as a teacher and a poet. I’ve been teaching there now for thirteen years, and I really do love it.
BS: Cincinnati is just a stone’s throw away, so I assume you’ve read here before (apart from the sneak peak of Sermons you laid on us at the Writer’s Block open mic in 2011). Louisville is also a music-centric town, bar town, etc… has your (I’ll venture to say) distinct brand of exuberant reading been well received here, historically?
MH: Louisville’s a really fun city—a lot like Cincinnati actually—with its river life and little neighborhoods. People in Louisville have always been really warm and welcoming to me. I’m excited to be coming back. Of course, I’m always glad to get to see Jen Woods and her husband Bill, both of whom have become great friends and collaborators (not just with Sermons, but) in various kinds of mischief over the years. For me, a reading is always a time to reconnect with old friends one already knows and also to meet new people and potentially make new friends, not only in terms of the art, but on a personal level as well. These days I like readings more for who I get to see and meet than for anything having to do with people seeing me read—though reading is an incredibly invigorating and gratifying experience. It’s fun to share the work.
BS: Poetry in general, especially performed live can be a thing of energy, and you seem to plug right into it before cranking the gain up to eleven. Are you hoping to get the Speak Social crowd riled up on the 22nd?
MH: I’ll definitely bring a good energy supply—I do hereby promise. I have lots of new poems, and I’m excited for the opportunity to see how some of them fly in the air. Can’t wait. See you on the 22nd!
Bio (from the author’s own page):
Matt Hart is the author of four books of poems, Who’s Who Vivid (Slope Editions, 2006), Wolf Face (H_NGM_N BKS, 2010), Light-Headed (BlazeVOX, 2011), and Sermons and Lectures Both Blank and Relentless (Typecast Publishing, 2012), as well as several chapbooks. A fifth collection, Debacle Debacle, is forthcoming from H_NGM_N BKS in 2013. Additionally, his poems, reviews, and essays have appeared in numerous print and online journals, including Big Bell, Cincinnati Review, Coldfront, Columbia Poetry Review, H_NGM_N, Harvard Review, jubilat, Lungfull!, and Post Road, among others. His awards include a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from both the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers. A co-founder and the editor-in-chief of Forklift, Ohio: A Journal of Poetry, Cooking & Light Industrial Safety, he lives in Cincinnati where he teaches at the Art Academy of Cincinnati and plays in the band TRAVEL.
note: ALL OF THESE EVENTS INCLUDE OPEN MIC OPPORTUNITIES.
Show up early, sign-up, share your work and become part of the literary community!
(TOMORROW) Feb 12th The Kentucky Great Writer’s Series @ Carnegie Center for Literacy. David King, National Bestselling Author of “Death in the City of Light”. George Ella Lyon, National Award Winning writer of “Holding On to Zoe”. Will Lavender, New York Times & International Bestselling Author of “Dominance”. 7pm
Feb 13th Subterranean Phrases feat. performance poetry troop: “Shakespeare’s Monkey” based in Evansville, IN: “This collection of Poets, Artists, and Musicians have been creating and performing together for over 20yrs. Lead by William Sovern, curator and host of the Poet House Emporium, this group has travelled far and wide; NYC, the beats live on.” @Decca (812 e. market, Lou, KY) in the downstairs lounge 9pm.
Feb. 20th Holler Poets #57 feat. Mischa Feigin and Matthew Haughton.Open-mic sign ups (1 poem please) at 7pm, event at 8pm. @ Al’s Bar of Lexington (601 N. Limestone)
Feb 22nd Speak Social with Matt Hart and Patrick Wensink 7:30PM @ Java Bardstown (1707 Bardstown Rd. Lou, KY) p.s. Keep your eyes peeled for my interview with Matt Hart later this week!
Feb 24th Stone Soup with Angela Burton, Leigh Anne Hornfeldt, Matthew Haughton, And Robert L. Penick. 5:30pm @ The Bard’s Town (1801 Bardstown Rd. Lou, KY)
Well, I don’t know if I’m spearheading a literary revolution, but I’ve had damn good time doing this blog. I started in late August 2012 and set out to change the dynamics of our local Lit. scene by co-mingling crowds and attempting to generate public/community interest in new and resurfacing authors via interview. Since no “year-in/year-end” blog posting is complete without them, I’m going to all the awesome people I’ve interviewed this year (which you can still check out!), some of the inspiring books I’ve read, and the people I have slated and in-mind for interviews this spring.
Past interviews: John James, Hannah Gamble, Joe Brashear, Makalani Bandele, Ada Limón, Jessica Farquhar, Erin Keane (and her questions answered by me, Brandon Stettenbenz), Sean Patrick Hill, Jennifer Woods (Typecast Publishing), Nettie Farris, Jimmy Besseck, Kiki Petrosino, Sheri Wright, and Rachel Short. I’m sure this wasn’t the highlight of the year for any reader or interviewee, but I hope everyone had fun!
Recommended reads for the year: Ada Limón’s Sharks in the Rivers, Sean Patrick Hill’s Interstitual, Hannah Gamble’s Your Invitation to a Moderate Breakfast, Kiki Petrosino’s Fort Red Border, Jimmy Besseck’s Bus Boy Moments, Sheri Wright’s The Feast of Erasure, Erin Keane’s Death Defying Acts, Dean Young’s Fall Higher, Charles Simic’s That Little Something, Richard Taylor’s Fading Into Bolivia, W. Loran Smith’s Night Train, M. Bartley Seigel’s This is What They Say, and many more than I can list or remember.
Reading list 2012 (So far): Dorthea Lasky’s Thunderbird, Dean Young’s Bender: New and Selected poems, Sean Patrick Hill’s Hibernaculum, William Carlos William’s Paterson, Mary Ruefle’s Selected Poems, and so forth and SF books no one cares about.
Slated & possible authors/publishers to interview: Adam Day, Jeriod Avant, Meg Bowden (Sarabande Books), The White Squirrel (UofL) staff, Thomas Olges (later this mo.), Eric Sutherland (Holler Poets, Lexington, KY), Chris Mattingly, Matt Hart, Lynnell Edwards (LLA, InKY, Poet), Brian Leung (LLA, Inky, Novelist) and hopefully many more interesting persons.
I’ve had a decent year personally, and an excellent five months with this blog. I’m hoping that 2013 will bring the Louisville Lit. scene closer together than ever before (we are the only support we have folks!), and I look forward to seeing great readings and interviewing/meeting interesting writers.
Keep Louisville Literary in 2013!
Best wishes to all,
p.s. If you curate, edit or are otherwise part of literary events, magazines/journals, workshops or festivals anywhere in the region, I’d love to collaborate with you for this blog! My goal is not an insular one; enriching any literary community also means connecting with other literary communities and traveling writers! Its a two way, mutually beneficial endeavor.
Chicago poet Hannah Gamble will give a house reading to celebrate her debut collection Your Invitation to a Modest Breakfast(Fence books, 2012; winner of the 2011 National Poetry Series) on Friday December 21st at 8pm hosted by Speak Social at the curators’ residence: 1259 Eastern Parkway.
[Note from them (John and Sarah): “Please try and carpool as parking is limited. Take a left on Barret, left into the first alley and park out back.”] RSVP Here.
Keep Louisville Literary utilized the awesome power of the internet to pick at Hannah’s brain for clues to the nature and origins of her book:
Keep Louisville Literary: Aesthetic aside, poets are ever aware of the specific and the universal. How do you approach weaving your personal experience with broader allusions?
Hannah Gamble: I don’t think I ever consider it in quite that way (I mean, I never think “How can I talk about myself in particular and human experience in general at the same time?”). I mostly think “Am I enjoying writing this?”
It seems to me that the writer should think about herself first. If she’s not enjoying herself, then something is wrong, and that poem won’t move anyone the way it could or should.
Of course, the poet enjoying herself (or at least being really interested in, really caring about, what she’s doing/ saying in a poem) is only the first step in the making of a good poem. When going back to revise a first draft, it’s important to ask, “Have I articulated this in a way that someone who doesn’t have access to my brain and my history will be able to understand/ connect with?” [That phase is usually the phase wherein I take out all the puns I made in the first draft.]
KLL: Though you write mostly about urban-scapes and people (as opposed to the pastoral), you poems seem to deal often with the concept and feeling of loneliness, even when the speaker is not physically alone. Could you elaborate on this recurring theme?
HG: Pretty easy answer here: I get lonely a lot! Though less so now (now that I realize that being with myself is often less lonely than being in the company of people who don’t think that what I think is important is important, for example, or don’t understand me, or whom I don’t understand).
A story that I hope you’ll see as relevant: Here in Chicago there’s a very old orthodox catholic man named Matthew who has an office in the Fourth Presbyterian Church downtown. He does healing energy work (like a mix of Qigong and praying to the saints) for the seniors (people from the community, age 60 and up) who take classes in the building. I was teaching a creative writing/ memoir class there and (in the late spring when a lot of things were happening in my life that were exhausting me so much that I got out of breath just holding my head upright on the train) I went to see him.
At the beginning of our first session he laid me on a table and turned out all the lights. He put on a small crocheted hat that looked like the ones that Muslim men wear. He put his hands on my shoulders, feet, and head and, at some point, I just completely went away. It wasn’t like sleep. It was just going away and being nothing. And while I know that people usually have negative associations with the word “nothing,” it was wonderful, peace-inducing, and restorative. I “woke up” mystified and grateful and feeling much better.
Matthew asked to write about my experience, and I wrote that the best thing was that I had reached a point where there was nothing. Matthew said later, “I think, when you wrote ‘there was nothing,’ you meant ‘nothing else’.” (Nothing, in other words, besides the me that wasn’t thinking about being me, nothing that I was aware of needing, because when you lose your identity you lose all the awareness of intra- as well as inter-personal deficits.)
Being in a city can be lonely. Being with a person who loves you but is so angry that she doesn’t want to look at your face is lonely. But forgetting who you are is not lonely. So I try to think about myself less these days, and when I do that, I am less lonely.
KLL: At times your poems compare humans to animals or reference people as “animals”, either blatantly or by insinuating. Can you tell us more about this repeating metaphor and why you are drawn to use it?
HG: I think it has a lot to do with way I was raised, which was in a very conservative Christian community in Tennessee. [Let me just explain where I’m headed by saying that, for me, bodies are the most animal thing about humans] In Nashville, Tennessee it seemed that no one was supposed to show their bodies, or talk about the things they wanted to do with their bodies, or with other people’s bodies. I remember going to a summer camp where a woman delivered an afternoon lecture on how girls shouldn’t wear solid-color shirts with horizontal striped across the chest because it made boys looks at our chests.
At the time, I didn’t value my body because my body was a natural thing that often did or wanted to do things that animals’ bodies do. I was constantly being told, in effect, that my body was the thing I should be fighting against, and that my mind and my soul were the good things. Essentially: “We are not animals. We are better than them. We rule over them. We might have bodies and certain survival-based instincts like them, but with the help of God and moral advisors/ supporters, we must overcome (rule over) those parts of ourselves.”
I’m no longer a part of that community, but even in a community of academics, you’ll notice that what being adult is, what being sophisticated is, is having some design, some cunning, some savvy about you– knowing what to conceal, what to reinterpret to make yourself look good, how to rationalize your brief moments of unfiltered hurt, fear, or libido. If a person is honest even most of the time, we might view them as clueless [or think], “Why don’t they understand that they should keep those thought and feelings to themselves?”, or [consider them] crazy. I’ve been judgmental in that way and I’ve been judged in that way.
I love the people who recognize that they’re animals: they cry when they are hurt; they fight back when someone threatens their family; they are unashamed of wanting sex; they want to sniff each other and tackle and nuzzle and muss the hair of the people they love…
Of course, the tricky thing is that I really value cunning and savvy and tact as well. I think, in the end, that it’s great to be human; I just want to be a human who recognizes that I’m part of the natural world, not better than it.
KLL: In an issue of Gulf Coast (where you used to work as an editor), you ask several poets how they feel when their work is labeled as “surrealist”. The resulting conversation waxes a bit on the origins and use of the term, and also addresses things that the author’s consider “surrealist” in their own work. I also see in your poems surrealist qualities where something physical defies our laws of physics, and I think the result is an altered reality which takes hold of or otherwise changes your character(s). To what purpose do you employ “surrealist” elements, and how do you feel about the label?
HG: One of the things I love best about that interview is that someone (I think it was one of the Matthews) is very insistent about how “surrealist” is not a synonym for “weird,” though that’s pretty much how everyone uses the term these days.
I haven’t thought about surrealism in a while, but I do remember that when I first read about it in college I was pleased to learn that “surreal” didn’t mean “unreal” (as someone looking at paintings of giant clocks melting in the desert might conclude), but instead “extra-real,” or “real-in-a-way-that-trangresses-what-most-people-accept-as-the-limits-of-the-real.” In my poems I’m trying to say the truest thing, and often this means trying to let subconscious things bubble up– a situation in which things can get (quote-unquote) wacky.
KLL: In your poem “Think About a Knot of Twine”, the knot of twine is immediately likened to the female sex organ and subsequently becomes the womb, at one point even addressing an umbilical attachment to one’s mother by “a length of twine”, assumedly unraveled from her womb. This is the most striking, as well as the most direct and the longest surrealist trope I saw in your work. Could you tell us a little about the function of surrealist images in this poem and how they may tie in with specific life experiences as well as the universal?
HG: You know, I guess this poem is surreal, at least by the provisional definition I gave that word in my previous answer…Hopefully the poem feels extra-real (by using images that come from my subconscious so maybe are truer than more filtered/ tampered with images or ideas?)…Though some of the things in that poem are just flat out, journalistically true: I had a boyfriend in college with whom, before he was my boyfriend, I went camping. At some point, I fell asleep sitting at a picnic table, and when I woke up there were white ducks all around my feet because he (Paul) had put breadcrumbs around me so that I would get to wake up surrounded by a large number of really attractive water fowl.
On the other hand, there are other things in that poem feel true because the part of my brain so-deep-and-hidden-in-me-that-I-don’t-even-know-what’s-going-on-in-there thought them up, like the part at the end of the poem where the newborn talks to the mother to whom she’s still attached by cord and says that her (the newborn’s) organs appear to be on the outside (which, I think, is what I would think if I were a baby with fully developed consciousness, and I slid out of my mother’s vagina and saw a placenta come out right after me– but I really wasn’t aware of that thought until I saw I’d written it).
I recall now that I wrote the poem in a manner that maybe the actual French surrealists would have approved of, in that I had no idea what I was going to write when I started; my friends and I were hanging out in one friend’s living room writing imitations of Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” but with things assigned to us by one another. So I think one of us had to write about a kidney bean, but I got lucky and was assigned twine.
KLL: Perhaps one day we will have express-train service between Chicago and Louisville, but until then I bet more than a few literary Louisvillians will make the trek up to your city. What enticing/exciting things can you tell us about the literary community in Chicago?
HG: There’s a ton of great reading series here. Honestly, Louisville is only about 5 hours from Chicago, so why not head up here sometime and hear some great poets read?
Dolly Lemke, Holly Amos, and Ryan Spooner curate The Dollhouse reading series which is fairly new to the scene but got national recognition pretty quickly.
What I like about it:It’s in an apartment, my friends go there, and everybody’s all squished together on the floor/ coffee table/ windowsills; before and after the reading it feels like a big ol’ house party. Recent readers include Zach Schomberg, Jenny Zhang, Anthony Madrid, Marcus Wicker, Matt Hart, Cathy Wagner, Adam Fell, and Glenn Shaheen.
I’m also a big fan of the Danny’s reading series curated by Joel Craig.
What I like about it: It’s in a very low-lit tavern with orange-ish floral cloth stretched over the windows and nice bar tenders; mostly everyone in the bar is there to hear poetry, and the setting is very calm and intimate; Joel is incredibly tall and verbally economical.
Recent readers includeCathy Park Hong, Sandra Simonds, Nick Demske, Gabriel Gudding, and Ashley Capps.
KLL: Now for the generic wrap-up question: Literature is a (if not the) powerful, transportive medium, formative and informative to us all. So, what books/author’s have had your attention lately?
HG: Okay, did you know that the advice columnist Anne Landers wrote her own encyclopedia? I bought, at a thrift store, Volume 2 (which starts with Hiccups and ends at Zoonoses, which are, apparently: “diseases of man which are transmitted to him from animals”. Some of her entries include “Marriage Between Jew and Non-Jew,” “Sex for the Handicapped,” and “Thin People.” I’m hoping that this book will be kind of like Pliny’s Natural History, but with more rigid hairstyling.
I’m also reading Twice-Told Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorn (who I’ve been told is very cynical, so I’m looking forward to that), little erotic poems by Gāthā Saptaśatī, and also poems written by the kids I used to teach through Writers in the Schools (WITS) in Houston. All of their poems have been bound in these little anthologies with very colorful covers, my favorite of which has a sloppy drawing of the earth “on fire with coolness.”
Hannah Gamble has received writing and teaching fellowships from Rice University, The University of Houston, and The Edward F. Albee Foundation. Her poems and interviews appear or are forthcoming in APR, jubilat, The Laurel Review, Indiana Review, Ecotone, and elsewhere. She teaches English at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and lives in Chicago.