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Work Samples

A Poet Sits Down to Write After a Massacre

Writing this poem was gut-wrenching. The shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue happened in Squirrel Hill, the neighborhood in Pittsburgh where my father-in-law's family lived for a time. While I was deeply honored when this poem won the Doolin Writers' Weekend International Poetry Prize, the truly humbling honor came when Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, from Tree of Life, contacted me over the summer to ask permission to share my poem in a pamphlet he was planning to hand out during Yom Kippur services later this year. Of course, I said yes, and immediately broke down in tears, knowing my work would be used as part of the healing process for his congregation after such a horrendous event. This is the greatest honor I could ever earn as a poet. This is why I write, to connect with others, share in our human experience, let others know they are not alone via my one small voice out here in the cacophony of everyday living.

A few days after Yom Kippur, a poet friend here in Baltimore informed me that his rabbi shared my poem at his Yom Kippur service, too! It turns out my poem has been shared on a database of material for rabbis all over the U.S. I am floored by the reach of a poem I struggled simply to write through my grief and anguish after that hateful, murderous event. Through this poem, I have learned the true power of the culture work we poets do.

PDF icon A Poet Sits Down to Write After a Massacre

Saratoga Passage, August 2014

Poet Lisa Bickmore writes, "In 'Saratoga Passage, August 2014' the speaker says, 'I have known this pulling-to and letting go / I have known the searing white heat of entry into this world alone, / the profound momentary ripples, the lonely stillness that follows.' The stir, and the stillness, are the gifts these poems give us."

This poem is my attempt at conveying the rootlessness of being adopted. That night, composing the first draft of the poem on scraps of note paper on the deck of our hotel room on an island in the Puget Sound two days before my forty-third birthday, I thought of the person who, knowingly or not, showed heroic strength, courage, and faith in casting me into the universe to be raised and loved by a family that could do for me what she could not. While the end of the poem might come across as a bit bleak, the poem also serves as a sort of thank you note to my birth mother for making the toughest choice a mother could make. Things do work out.

PDF icon Saratoga Passage, August 2014


In selecting my poem "Curfew" as the winner of the 2016 Oberon Poetry Award, poet Mark Wagenaar writes, "I chose 'Curfew' for a few reasons. This is a subtle poem that begins in etymology--in other words, the poem's scope immediately widens to the implied history of the word. Yet, line by line the poem's lens draws in tighter & tighter, until the reader is viewing the streets as they burn, then listening to the eerie quiet. The soundscape of the poem is rich, yet the poet dampens the sound when silence is called for. The poem manages to reckon with racial violence and the tension between authority & protestor, between security & liberty, between the state and the people's right to assemble, yet it does so with a light touch, through well-brushed rendering of detail & precision of language. Perhaps more importantly, it avoids the cheap moralizing & finger-pointing so common to political poems. The poem surprises us. It will not look away, & demands that we do not look away.” I will add that while finding the right tone and approach while writing "Curfew," I seethed with anger, heartbreak, and bewilderment that my beloved city could be besieged by race riots in the 21st Century. With the light of truth coming in the years following the riots, those perilous days somehow make more sense now. Through the lens of understanding and common experience, grievance, too, can be shared.

PDF icon Curfew

How to Unpack a Bomb Vest

"How to Unpack a Bomb Vest" is my response to the suicide bombing of a concert in Manchester, England, attended by mostly young girls and women. Lately, as atrocity after violent atrocity both at home here in the States and abroad leave me increasingly bitter and searching for answers, revenge, solutions, and reason in such madness, I find myself wanting to do the impossible: reverse time itself, to go back before someone decides to kill and destroy innocent life, and understand the exact moment when such an act could have been prevented. This poem is one of several I have written in some sort of poetic attempt to make everything better, to bring back the dead from their graves, to unzip the countless body bags and help the living up off the coroners' slabs so they can reunite with their loved ones. Unfortunately, I know too well that I will be writing more poems in the future in response to more bloodshed. Evil is what we humans do to each other all too efficiently. At times it's a grim and seemingly pointless task to face the horrors of the world with only words, but it's why I write. I have no choice.

PDF icon How to Unpack a Bomb Vest


About Matt

Baltimore City

Matt Hohner's picture
Matt Hohner, a Baltimore native, holds an M.F.A. in Writing and Poetics from Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including The Baltimore Review, September Eleven: Maryland Voices, The Potomac (online), Lily (online), The Mom Egg Review, Truck (online), Rattle: Poets Respond, The Moth, The Irish Times, Free State Review, Rise Up Review (online), Califragile (online), and Crab... more

Thresholds and Other Poems (Apprentice House Press, Fall 2018)

"'Take the familiar and make it strange.’ (Thus spake short-story story writer Lydia Davis.) This is what poet Matt Hohner has done. Hohner hits the imaginative, intuitive nail on the head again and again in his collection Thresholds and Other Poems. Imagination leaps over time and space: for example, a poem’s two footnotes cite rock supergroup U2 and the second century Chinese poet Lu Chi. Here is poetry for readers who admire intellect that works at gut level. For readers who love poetry. And readers who don’t." --Clarinda Harriss, author of The White Rail, a short story collection, six poetry collections, and The Innumerable Moons, a collection of poetry and short fiction (forthcoming)

"In a distinct luminous voice, Matt Hohner's poems are a clairaudient cartography of the silent currents orbiting our lives. These poems map the tragic and profound events and memories that come not just to define us but to propel us toward hope. Charting the stars, the sea floors, the streets of Baltimore, the history raging around us,' Thresholds and Other Poems will carve its atlas on your heart." --Edgar Silex, poet, author of Through All the Displacements and Acts of Love (Northwestern University Press), and Even the Dead Have Memories (New Sins Press)

"The world, and Baltimore in particular, has been waiting for Thresholds and Other Poems for years, and Thresholds has been waiting for us . . . as friends, relatives, mentors, spouses, teachers, students, neighbors, victims, addicts, killers . . . as readers. Matt Hohner's stunning collection is an immeasurable account of history, landscape, and humanity that is only visible through verse, where wars are simultaneously waged—internally and externally, where loss and love meet in the small ripple of a hidden river, where poetry is as painful as birth. Thresholds brings us a blueprint made of 'simple wooden boats and carts' and 'acrid cloudsmoke scraping across an impossible sky,' a place for remembrance, for validation, for mourning, longing, and fear. Here, we are given the chance to cross lines and limits, returning and moving forward, instinctually and unapologetically, toward home." --Katherine Cottle, author of three books with Apprentice House Press, I Remain Yours, Halfway, and My Father's Speech

"In Thresholds and Other Poems, Matt Hohner’s muscular, clear-eyed poems draw a densely textured map: one reads, slipping into the poems’ loci, their creeks and gorges, streets and dark skies. These are poems of deep fidelity: to memory and to place; to past hurts and the scars they’ve left; and to love. Hohner is unafraid of brutal truths: in one poem, the speaker says, of a mother, that he grows “no closer to her now/ than I would to a marble headstone, or a lie.” But the poems do not shrink from the great beauties either, and this is their power. In “Saratoga Passage,” the speaker says, “I have known this pulling-to and letting go / I have known the searing white heat of entry into this world alone, / the profound momentary ripples, the lonely stillness that follows.” The stir, and the stillness, are the gifts these poems give us." --Lisa Bickmore, author of Ephemerist (Red Mountain Press) and flicker (Elixir Press)

"Matt Hohner’s Thresholds and Other Poems is an extraordinary collection of poems steeped in an awareness of history and culture and the natural world. With unflinching attention to detail, in a voice both angry and tinged with sadness, the poet decries the horrifying behavior of human beings in the contemporary world. In other poems, he explores the depths of friendship and family, personal loss and longing, and the healing that can best be found in love and nature. Thresholds reminds the reader that only by contemplating darkness can we truly appreciate the light." --Bill Jones, poet, author of Swimming at Night (winner of the Artscape 1992 literary award) and At Sunset, Looking East (Apprentice House Press)

On its journey to publication, Thresholds and Other Poems garnered the following recognition: semi-finalist in the 2015 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award, finalist in the 2015 Backwaters Press Prize for Full-length Book Manuscript, runner-up for the 2017 Brick Road Poetry Press Book Contest, and honorable mention in the 2017 Broadkill River Press Dogfish Head Poetry Prize. All of the poems offered here as samples from Thresholds and Other Poems were first published individually and / or won awards.

A review of Thresholds and Other Poems by poet Harvey Lillywhite can be found here:

  • Saratoga Passage, August 2014

    I must have been / like these: a brief interrupter of cycles, growing for nine moons, released out / of you and away into space, gone but for an umbilical scar, fading into the sea / of darkness and memory, covered by the rhythm of tides, washed by time / into something smooth you carry, but cannot touch.

    PDF icon Saratoga Passage, August 2014
  • How to Unpack a Bomb Vest.pdf

    Dig a hole six millennia / down through generations of soldiers’ bones and sacrifices
    to God, deep in the cool earth between two ancient rivers, / and get in it. This is where you will find the directions / for grace written in carbon, written in breath, written / in songs whose lyrics the dead have long since forgotten.

    PDF icon How to Unpack a Bomb Vest.pdf
  • Oysters

    On a February rainy night in Annapolis you beckon / from ice in market stalls and raw bars barnacled in your / old-man skin, haired by algae, moist protein bodies inside, / dressed ugly, but the locals’ lusty gazes shuck you with their eyes.

    PDF icon Oysters
  • Curfew

    From the Old French, "covrefeu," literally, [it] covers /
    [the] fire. See "cover." See "fire." Hear the church bell /
    toll the hour to cover the hearth fire with ashes /
    "to prevent conflagrations from untended fires." /
    His eyelids swollen shut; the police van a sealed casket.

    PDF icon Curfew
  • Confirmation

    Penance / What is the sound / of regret through the wind / at sixteen feet per second? / Absolution / Your feet, empty / as beams of light. / Your smile a dead / giveaway.

    PDF icon Confirmation
  • Toward Pittsburgh

    Light by quiet light, Edward Hopper’s America / nestles into its small, white, box houses, / blue glow of computer and TV screens / spilling out through upstairs bedroom curtains. [. . .] Thin fog hugs the farm fields’ edges; / fireflies glitter the treetops: / hold this moment, a little longer.

    PDF icon Toward Pittsburgh
  • Please Refrain from Celebratory Gunfire

    Tomorrow night I will listen in the charged air /
    and wait for the stars to fall from holes / where they were shot out / of the night like the eyes of gods....

    PDF icon Please Refrain from Celebratory Gunfire
  • May Day

    I carve right, hard, wheels sliding, and haul ass / down the street, shoving the earth away with each push, / spinning the planet faster in reverse with each kick, raging / time backwards like Superman, to right before the sky / over me turned tornado green, and I understood at ten, / the end of love, the wreck of family, the limits of God.

    PDF icon May Day
  • The Maximum Effective Range

    . . . the old man who holds the door closed against the fury, / inches and moments from death, sixty-two years removed / from the six million dead of Auschwitz, of Buchenwald, / reduces the maximum effective range in a classroom considerably, / while the echoes of the shots and the moans of the dying / [. . .] reach distant shores far across an ocean named for peace, / and the maximum effective range of the sounds / [. . .] washes over the ears of an unrelenting God.

    PDF icon The Maximum Effective Range
  • Saudade: 1983

    High school and college and real / work loomed like cops and grandfathers, but we / held the years before us at arms’ length, shut our / eyes, floated across those waning hours like / milkweed silk....

    PDF icon Saudade: 1983

Brechtje and Me: A Transatlantic, Multidisciplinary Collaboration

After my poem "How to Unpack a Bomb Vest" was published online at Rattle: Poets Respond on May 25, 2017, Rattle editor Timothy Green put me in contact with Dutch composer Brechtje Vandiijk (she goes simply by her first name, Brechtje). Brechtje had read my poem and wanted to create an original musical composition for it. In a series of e-mails, I worked with Brechtje to edit my poem down a bit in order to fit it better into a musical score, to be sung with accompaniment. Brechtje's fluency in English made the process easy. Brechtje told me that English is the "unofficial second official language" spoken in The Netherlands. I am a little embarrassed that I cannot say the same for my understanding of Dutch. Then again, this is why we make art: to build bridges, knock down walls, shed light, encourage dialogue, and "ease the pain of living," to borrow a phrase from Allen Ginberg's poem "Memory Gardens."

The files viewable here are my revised poem, followed by a few sections of the poem as lyrics, with the musical score written by Brechtje. The work was performed in early March 2018 at several venues around the Netherlands; my wife and I flew to the Netherlands to see it performed by the avant-garde band VONK (which means "spark" in Dutch) at the Crosslinx Music Festival held at the Muziekgebouw / Bimhuis venue in Amsterdam on March 3, 2018. Recently, VONK recorded "How to Unpack a Bomb Vest" for an upcoming CD. What a great honor to have my poem set to music by a composer of Brechtje's talent and accomplishment, and to see it elevated masterfully by such skilled musicians. What's most important for me, though, is that I've made new friends half a world away, and have stayed in touch with them since.

Spoken Word Recordings

The first poem, "Kevin," is about a former student in my tenth grade World Literature class at Towson High School. It was the featured poem for Monday, November 3, 2014 on The Five-Two, a blog of poems about crime, edited by Gerald So. (Recording credit: Jason DeFontes.) This poem will also be published in my collection Thresholds. Here is the link to the The Five-Two (scroll down to find my poem and recording):

The second poem, "Cal Ripken," was included on a CD of local Baltimore and Maryland poets reading their work, produced by Blair Ewing, entitled Word Up, Baltimore! The CD was released in 2001. I wrote it during the height of the media frenzy over "The Streak" after detecting in Cal's tone a bit of weariness over the hype surrounding what would be his eventual breaking of Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played. The poem does not mock Ripken, but pokes a little fun at the level to which people began to regard a man who happened to be excellent at what he did for a living, while going about his extraordinary and very public job as if it were an everyday paycheck like most of us have. (Scroll down to listen to the track from the CD.)

My poem "How to Unpack a Bomb Vest," is not included as a file below, but can be reached online in text and audio form here: It was featured on May 25, 2017 on the Rattle: Poets Respond website. It was written in response to the suicide bombing of a concert in Manchester, England, which was attended by mostly young girls and women.

Another poem, "Mob Hit at the Ark Ramp," winner of the 2018 Sport Literate "Anything But Baseball" Poetry Contest, can be read and heard here:

Video Performances

The first video is of me reading my poem "Cord" from my book Thresholds and Other Poems at the Mom Egg Review Vol. 16 Publication Reading, The Poets House, New York, NY (June 2, 2018).

The second video is of the Dutch band VONK performing "How to Unpack a Bomb Vest," a song collaboration with Dutch composer Brechtje using lyrics adapted from my poem of the same title, first published online at Rattle: Poets Respond, now in my book Thresholds and Other Poems (Apprentice House Press, 2018). The performance took place at the Crosslinx Festival at the Muziekgebouw / Bimhuis in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, on March 3, 2108.

Ekphrastic Poems: The Interplay of Poems and Images, Poet and Painter

When I was asked by editor Jenny O'Grady to participate in the Baltimore Ekphrasis Project, I was thrilled. I enjoy working with other writers and artists on collaborations, and this was the first time my collaborative efforts would be published, not only online, but on a giant LED billboard on Charles Street next to Penn Station in Baltimore.

My poem "Pulse" was written in response to Spilly's painting "Play." Spilly, in turn, painted "Of Light and Water" in response to my poem of the same title.

There is an energizing give-and-take, a refreshing liberation in letting someone else who works in a different medium interpret and react to one's work. I would absolutely participate in this project again. Here is a link to my poems alongside work by the artist Spilly, also known as Baltimore Hoop Love:

  • Pulse

    The distant trill / of a flute dances into his ears as his empty veins collapse, / hollow heart slows, ants begin to soldier into his wounds. / If only he could climb out of the arroyo, collect his blood / clotting in the soil, walk home. [. . .] The birds are silent. / He thinks of his mother’s table, of poblanos and agave, / his last shot of tequila the night they came for him. He / thinks of Sunday morning mass, of the crucifix above / the altar, of padre’s gentle, creased palms as they placed / the Eucharist on his tongue in the old adobe chapel / with the broken wood doors.

    PDF icon Pulse
  • Play

    In deference to the integrity and autonomy of the work by the original artist, this is a smaller sample image of the larger work entitled "Play" by the artist Spilly, also known as "Baltimore Hoop Love." Click on the link in the general description of this project to see the painting in its entirely.
  • Of Light and Water

    Nearly twenty years have carved themselves into us since then: / wide arroyos of loss and lush spirals of growth; glyphs of an ancient / dialect only we can speak. We have learned to dance like this, / to give and take, each of us throwing our own light, each reflecting / the other.

    PDF icon Of Light and Water
  • Of Light and Water

    In deference to the integrity and autonomy of the work by the original artist, this is a smaller sample image of the larger work entitled "Of Light and Water" by the artist Spilly, also known as "Baltimore Hoop Love." Click on the link in the general description of this project to see the painting in its entirely.

States (Chapbook)

States is my chapbook published by Third Ear Books (ISBN #1-891051-17-2). This chapbook originally started as a series of micro cassette tapes spoken as a travel journal as I drove solo across the country to Naropa University (then called The Naropa Institute) in Boulder, Colorado to pursue my MFA in Writing at their Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. States was first transcribed verbatim from the tapes, then shaped, workshopped, and edited over the next two years. This is the final product of the creative portion of my master's thesis, which Jerry Tumlinson at Third Ear Books was gracious enough to publish.

Different Homeland (Co-Editor)

This is a collection of work by students and faculty at Naropa University, which I co-edited with friend and fellow student Laurence Paverd. We put this collection of work together to raise awareness of, and money for Students for Ethnic Inclusion, in support of the Zora Neale Hurston Scholarship for minority students in the Writing Program at Naropa.

Pasta Poetics 1 & 2 (Editor)

This is a collection of creative work and recipes by students and faculty at Naropa University. The idea for the book arose after an intense discussion during a lecture at Naropa's Summer Writing Program about the role of poetry and the arts in today's increasingly product-driven, utilitarian world (see Old Navy's latest clothing line for small children in which "Future Artist" is crossed out to read, "Future Scientist," etc.). I wanted to see if a published product of writing could both help the practical needs of people and provide a light of art and culture as well.

I used a comb binding, instead of a saddle-staple or having it perfect-bound. This way, the book would lay usefully flat, like a cookbook, which is something anyone with a knife in one hand and a turnip in the other can appreciate when trying to read the page on which the recipe is found.

Sure enough, not only did I sell out of the "poetry cookbook," I raised a small but significant amount of money from the proceeds, all of which was donated to the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless.

Pasta Poetics 1997 & 1998

These two volumes of Pasta Poetics were produced here in Baltimore after I returned from Colorado after receiving my MFA in Writing & Poetics from Naropa University. All of the proceeds raised by these two editions were donated to Beans and Bread Soup Kitchen in Fells Point.