Many have experienced poetic punk rock fall out, but few have written it as a bomb in and of itself. In Sermons and Lectures Both Blank and Relentless, Matt Hart’s got an unabashed grandiose vision, a hard low end, a slew of unlikely ancestors to consume from white holes in the backs of hands, and Rimbaud’s Ethiopia in his acid-washed jeans pockets. He rewrites Ohio snowscapes, leaving a trail of teeth lost on tours, and calls them constellations. This is important cartography. A legacy the lot of us aging counterculture intellectuals need, since we burnt most of our maps and can’t read the stars for the chem trails. How do we live the moments after the X-Ray Spex and between Coleridge, Corso, and taking the dog for a walk after dinner? How are words our revolution now? If Hart’s right and “A universe is born every second when you scream it,” what do we scream back and how do we get there? The answer in Sermons and Lectures is so perplexing it must be honest: “Always do the opposite of anything I tell you/I’ll do it too Whatever you say.” This is a line that you can smash and it still says the same damn thing. Physicists and mystics have been trying to convince us that this is the only truth.
As Hart wails, “I want as much as possible for the carnival of what is,” we can hear him stomp into the white space in Greil Marcus’s Lipstick Traces, spitting some hair from his daughter’s head into Johnny Rotten’s mouth. Whether Hart wants to own it or not, Sermons and Lectures falls keenly into the bruise and shriek glory of the great lineage of Marcus’s heretic avant-garde saints that took up the right to name, smash, and invent new tongues after burning their old ones back at the beginning of the end of the world in 1917 Zurich, Switzerland. Someone did and did not name it DADA Someone boiled it down to Situationist International slogans in ’68. Someone screamed “Let’s go!” filling it with dollars and power chords in the 1980s. That’s when most of us caught it on the tips of our tongues when the itch of there’s something not quite right here, why do I want to shout until my ears bleed hit us in adolescence.
It’s a slow process, realizing one’s place in a heat death universe, and here Hart makes a rope of his findings. He tugs us into whitened backyard gardens once we’re sweaty, jumping, diving in mosh pits, so that we don’t turn to ice, or, worse yet, get bored. Sermons and Lectures opens with a quote from Jawbreaker/Jets to Brazil vocalist and guitarist Blake Schwarzenbach: “I believe in desperate acts, the kind that make me look stupid.” Later in the book, Hart comes back to this quote, replaces “stupid” with “Both ways when crossing my fingers behind my back” in a poem that rips apart syntax with the best of the Futurists. He closes it with a shirtless Jawbreaker dance party, then asks us what we’d all like to do now in our snow covered dead time, driving back from a job interview with a “twelve pack of something, or light bulbs or toilet paper/…Is anybody happy?” And we wonder whether these shadows of colliding bodies are a purgatory we need to vomit ourselves out of again. Too civilized. Too Cincinnati to spit at anyone. Meet the contradictions, “the mess,” and “monkey mechanics and wrenches in the logic” that Hart alchemizes to imagery with all due grace and irreverence.
The first four poems of Sermons and Lectures (two shorter pieces and two sequences) read with a solid bass line in the background and enough disjointed rhyme and rhythm to stomp into the floor of an old Pittsburgh warehouse, paying no mind to the beer spilling on the floor. Each caesura reads like the deep breath before a scream. The rush is exhausting. The final sequence, “Blood Brothers and Weird Sisters,” hands you form like a glass of water along with a cool towel of “A constant repetition.” Here Hart revises, connects, inverts, and builds wormholes through his own collection of magic words. Yet he reminds us that these are not sonnets. These forms are pure invention, even with the standard syntax. There are other means of revolt in language. Other ways to make it new.
Hart knows his cycles. Snow and then connect. Snow and then disconnect. “Screwing our faces/when can’t make a difference Turn up the music/and disappear forever.” Have a seat with evil on the porch watching “wet grass panties,” and join him in the shout of “Fuck is dusk,” and you’ve got yourself a front-row seat to the punk poets’ apocalypse or the birth of your first child. Probably both.
And Hart fell in, cracked his jaw on his last album, and picked up that dropped piece of Dada, spun in a series of world tours, and wove that thread through this five-part book. String theory now a given, Hart can play it: C major— snow, his daughter’s teddy bear, a hole in his sweater; E minor—The Minutemen, Bowie, Gang of Four, sweat dripping, cuts filling with pus; G—particle physics dipped in red wine, white hole bursting from your belly, each star telling you run…run, damn it, or the past has a way of filling your old combat boots with enough stones to sink you.
Crystal Hoffman teaches Creative Writing at the American University of Beirut. Having spent five years stirring poetic anarchy through her poetry cabaret, The TypewriterGirls, she is now Marcel Janco-style attempting to induce the Cabaret Voltaire spirit in the Middle East.