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Poems by Matt Hart. BlazeVOX [books], 2011.

Matt Hart's Light-headed is a structural "Frankenstein" of tribute and parody, a precisely built installation of poetic legacy and originality. The book exists not as a collection of singular poems thrown together and called a manuscript, but as a complete thought, a whole project, with each separate leg, arm, and head constructed with the finished work in mind, the resulting sum being much greater than its parts. With only eleven poems, consisting of mostly sonnet-cycles, the book sustains an almost mathematical symmetry in the table of contents alone, and provides the necessary skeleton for the delicate flesh of the words themselves.

In the book's first poem, "Waking Fit," Hart begins his contemplation of the intentions of the artist, and explores the difficulty of existing in such a conscious space: "Epistemology irks me, so I swim / in not knowing, even in the clearing // and the clearly where it hurts me…" It's these always-raw spaces of an artist's life that Light-headed kicks through, pushing the irksome to its most painful levels, exploring that empty space of "not knowing" and the injury-laden "clearing." Hart does not start readers off easy, throwing them headfirst into the book's major conflict: juggling the artist's responsibility and unstoppable urge to explore and discover, all in spite of the rueful inconclusions of this constant search.

It is soon revealed that Light-headed approaches this theoretical complication through the contemplation on a new artist's place in the entire history of art. As he comments on in his first sonnet-cycle, aptly named "Sonnet": "Light-weight sure, but these are my poems, / which really are like the poems of so many / others." Borrowing a cue from the neo-formalists and conceptualists, Hart re-imagines the intentions of the classic sonnet, folding the form back on itself and into the past, begging of art and futility: "Bare with me Truth."

The intention is driven further by the constant repetition of themes and images that Hart continues to ruminate upon in the book. We are repeatedly visited by a wounded Cyclops, three dancing oranges, a parking lot full of kittens, and the promise of a safe-haven in the raccoon’s treetops, among others. The persistence of these images never bores the reader, as it is made obvious that the importance lies not with the things themselves, but with the idea of them as "image." With their echoes and returns, the reader begins to share in Hart’s foggy hindsight, where the poet remembers and misremembers not coming up with the initial image, but thinking about the invention of the image, de-legitimatizing the image, and reconstructing his initial thoughts. It is much like repeating a word until it loses its cognitive meaning; in the image's new-found "lacking," there opens a wide probability and possibility of countless other meanings. It's this definitionless space of potential that Matt Hart is constantly exploring and extracting from, teaching and being taught by, and a supposedly empty space that is slowly driving him mad.

This is where the book unfortunately might lose a reader or two. It is a complicated text and begs the reader know much of the literary canon and contemporary literary theory. It's a book for teachers and students, but mostly for people who read a lot of poetry. However, with Light-headed being his fourth of five books to be published in two years, an artist will understand a necessary trip through the whys and wherefores of artistic attempt.

This book has come from a difficult, complicated, and artistically integral moment in Matt Hart's career, and brightly stands as a blazing flagship of contemporary poetry. Light-headed's is an unfinished quest, an unresolved cadence, and a perfect comment on an artist’s never-ending search for Truth and Beauty (and a coming-to-terms with the apparent futility in such a journey). As all good artists must ask themselves when on this trek, so does Matt Hart: "where's Matt / and what could he possibly think / he’s proving and to whom / in the clutter of the worms' whitest light..."

Jeffrey Allen, poetry reader, A CAPPELLA ZOO