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Hart: Background Reading

Congratulations to Hickman Professor Henry Hart, whose third book of poetry, Background Radiation, has just appeared (1/07) through Salt Publishing.

From the Publisher

Many of the poems in Background Radiation deal with mystery and history. The characters in the poems often possess a “double vision,” as if one eye were focused on the mystery of the cosmos, the other eye on the cycle of human creation and destruction that is history. Some of the poems are contemplative or mystical in the sense that they try to express—or at least to suggest—the inexpressible and inconceivable origin of the universe. The title Background Radiation refers to the radiation that’s left over from the Big Bang. The radiation is a kind of language—a set of signals—that represents the distant past and the mysterious creation itself. The poems bear witness to numerous incidents from the more recent past, such as the violent conflicts between Native Americans and European settlers in early America, Cold War face-offs between the U.S. and U.S.S.R, that attacks of September 11th, and the Iraq War. Some of the more personal poems recount the history of my ancestors who were missionaries and explorers in China and Mongolia during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many of the poems offer an ecological perspective of the world as a small planet full of natural beauty that is gradually being destroyed for the sake of “progress.”

Reviews

In his most recent collection, Background Radiation, Henry Hart’s method often involves a matter-of-fact presentation of weird events – a gorilla pulling off his head – alongside the weirdly sublime – quiet as Gabriel at the Annunciation. The emotional resonance of these poems is undeniable, powerful, and unsettling. Its humor is serious, and the rigor of its absurdity is compelling. This is an amazing book.     -Bin Ramke

 I’ve been reading Henry Hart’s poems with admiration for many years, always impressed by his concreteness of language and by the hauntingly personal music in his work: the poetry of a true artist and spiritual seeker. In Background Radiation, his latest collection, he extends the range of his work considerably, with poems of dark wit that reveal a busy intelligence and deep exploration into the nether regions of his own past and that of the human race. He digs into his grandparents’ lives in Mongolia, for example, in a marvelous sequence at the heart of this volume, and into his own experience as a father. As ever, he retains a strong sense of form, with an easy commerce in his work between past and present. These shapely poems summon a vision of reality as vibrant as that of any contemporary poet. In ‘Funeral Directions,’ he puts forward a suggestion for his own epigraph: ‘Let the light fall / evenly on brindled cow and satellite dish, / maggot and mullioned glass.’ In these marvelous poems, the light does indeed fall evenly over the world as he finds it.   -Jay Parini