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Work Samples

Saratoga Passage, August 2014

"Saratoga Passage, August 2014" is my attempt at capturing the unrootedness of being adopted. I was given up at birth by a mother I have never met, whose name is a blank. My genetic make-up is hearsay, and I have no stories of blood relatives from before I was conceived. That night, composing 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 impermanence of things, the loneliness of the stars, the steady rhythm of time as the Perseid meteor shower sparked and blazed overhead and the tides shifted over growing plant life and rotting fish. My metaphors and imagery were all around me. It was the right moment to write a poem to 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 (indeed, I was rejected at birth by my own mother), 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

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 us 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 now, 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 all too efficiently. Imagination--seeing the possibility of life triumphing over death, is the work of the poet. 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

Ground Rules

Several years ago, when I learned of a close childhood friend's suicide, I felt as if much of my adolescence was suddenly gone with him. "Ground Rules" was written as a personal historic document of sorts. I'd never written about growing up in the suburbs until I realized how precious those years and formative moments were. It took my friend's death to shake me into getting it all down before those times were lost to the ages. More important than the recognition and publication that this poem has garnered, "Ground Rules" has helped me reconnect with my two other friends who appear in this poem. This is the essence of art and culture. We are given the gift of art to give it away, and in doing so, become immeasurably rich with the precious dividend of human connection.
PDF icon Ground Rules

Curfew

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. In hindsight, those perilous days make more sense now; through the lens of understanding and common experience, grievance, too, can be shared.
PDF icon Curfew

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About Matt

Baltimore City

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, and Free State Review. His chapbook States was published by Third Ear Books... more

Thresholds (Apprentice House Press, forthcoming, Fall 2018)

Thresholds is a full-length poetry manuscript, from which I offer ten sample poems. These poems explore the passage of time, persistence of memory, the natural world, the pain of losing a friend to suicide, the complexities of being adopted, and the anger and hurt from being a child of divorce. In some cases, the physical landscapes where these moments took place, where relationships grew and waned, have not withstood the beat of the clock. For a man halfway through his life, though, these landscapes and places are both as they are in the present and, in the case of old haunts, as they used to be, as I knew them long ago. The landscapes are also emotional ones: I find myself revisiting my adoption as an infant, my parents' divorce when I was ten years old, and the deaths of loved ones. As a poet, I seek to lift what's seemingly ordinary into the realm of the crucial; to unleash my howl into the wide firmament, and listen with hope for an answer that replies, "Me too."

Oddly, or perhaps not surprisingly, as I get older I find myself not mellowing with age into a gracious acceptance of all things, good and bad, but getting angrier at myriad forms of injustice, and more determined to shape and influence my world in a positive way. I see wrong in the world, and it's my job as a poet to speak of it. This anger shaped by a deep love for all things sentient is the source whence my political poems and "poems of witness" arise. Of course, one might argue that all poems are political, especially in the way they manipulate the power of language, wresting it away from, and in opposition to official talking points, thinly-veiled executive branch dog-whistle clarion calls for violence against the vulnerable, jargon and double-speak, the mumbo-jumbo of avoidance word-noise, and other dialects of obfuscation used in an attempt to stupefy people into acceptance of real harm being done to them on all levels of society by the powerful. Twenty years ago, the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, one of my teachers at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University, asked us then-20-something Gen-Xers to answer the question, "What sucks?" He wanted us to delve into politics, personal experience, observation of what's wrong with America and the world and address it. Kerouac writes in Visions of Cody, "Go thou, go thou . . . and . . . report you well and truly." This has been my mission: to declare existence in the face of destruction, negation, and erasure at the highest levels; that I--and we--are here, and that, starting with my own experience and reaching outward toward others, our lives and contributions to each other are important.

For some poetic reference points to my work, read the poetry of Sam Hamill, Kenneth Rexroth, Gary Snyder, Anne Waldman, Amiri Baraka, and Sherman Alexie. Further back, go to the Chinese and Japanese poets of antiquity such as Li Po, Tu Fu, Po Chu-I, Meng Chiao, and Basho, among many others. These are poets whose words speak simple truths about the human experience elegantly, directly, with beautiful force and strength. These poets are the axes and the axe handles, to borrow from Snyder's famous poem, whose work has shaped mine.

The majority of the poems in Threhsolds, some of which have won awards, have been published individually. All of the poems offered here as samples have been published or won awards.

On its journey to publication, Thresholds 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.

Thresholds is under contract to be published by Apprentice House Press in Fall 2018.

  • 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
  • Ground Rules

    The four of us played those humid dusks / until well after the lightning bugs began to dance for mates in the infield / that last fleeting summer, before we retired our bats and gloves, the four / bases shifted from our dirt field to girls’ mysterious bodies, and the ground / rules for everything became lessons we’d spend our lives trying to unlearn.
    PDF icon Ground Rules
  • 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
  • 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

Foreclosures (Full-length Poetry Manuscript with Images)

For a year and a half after I left teaching, I inspected houses in various stages of foreclosure. Most of the time, this required simple documentation from the exterior that someone still occupied the property. Sometimes, though, the houses sat empty, having been reposessed by the bank. While performing interior inspections of those vacant houses using an app on my iPhone, most of which were located in rural Carroll, Frederick, and Howard Counties in Maryland, I took pictures off-app, knowing I'd one day sit down to write what I saw: heart-rending stories evident in the personal items left behind by the former occupants--often families, but sometimes individuals--who were evicted by the banks after they'd lost their homes.

The eerie silence and tableau-like array of clothing, children's toys, sometimes calcified food in bowls left behind on the countertops, lent a discomforting voyeuristic feeling of encroachment into someone else's financial disaster. It was as if I were witnessing the frozen last moments of someone else's nightmare. I frequently reminded myself that there but for the grace of God went I and, indeed, any of us.

My intent with these photos and poems is to bring to light, publicize, and humanize an American tragedy that continues to fester across most regions of our nation; however, where it has affected more remote parts of the rural countryside, it has often been hidden away from the consciousness of the general public.

The completion of Foreclosures was helped immensely during a residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, made possible by a grant from Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation.

Brechtje and Me: An Unexpected 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 while music plays in accompaniment. Brechtje's fluency in English made the process very smooth. 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. I have shared only a handful of measures, in deference to Brechtje and the fact that the piece has not yet been performed live. The work will be performed in early March 2018 in several venues around the Netherlands. I look forward to experiencing my poem-as-song live, and to finally meeting Brechtje in person. What a great honor for a musician to see in my poem a sonic value beyond the page and spoken voice!

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: https://thelightekphrastic.com/baltimore-hoop-love-hohner/.

  • 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.

Spoken Word Recordings

The first 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: http://www.rattle.com/how-to-unpack-a-bomb-vest-by-matt-hohner/. 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. This poem will be published in my collection Thresholds.

The second 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): http://poemsoncrime.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2014-12-15T00:01:00-...

The third poem is "Cal Ripken," which 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.

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.

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