I picked up Mathea Harvey’s collection Modern Life from Graywolf Press, published in 2007, at my local library. The cover features a set of dominoes with the dots melting towards the center. Normally I don’t talk about covers but I was seduced by the cover originally and was happy to be seduced by the poems and prose within.
The prose poem “The Golden Age of Figureheads” is a journey you take with the poet in the waters of the Pacific. “First we sloughed off the sailors—when a storm hit we’d lean into it and watch as they slipped into the water.” It’s a scary first line to read, but read on you must as you learn more about the adventure. “Sometimes we’ll peer into the water to catch a glimpse of our old enemies, the anchors, glinting at the bottom of the ocean,…” Are anchors enemies for holding back the boat from adventure? That is the feeling I get as I read on to learn “The ship with a bird’s head wants to squawk with the gulls that forage its sails, would follow them into the water when they dive for fish if only it could.” I love that line because you can imagine the rolling waves and the ship’s personification of a bird diving for fish rather than plunging for the sake of the waves. Then there is the rain: “When it falls hard enough we can’t tell which way is up, which way is down./Then we’re like the earth before the equator was invented…” Those are beautiful lines as well and I can’t help contemplate the idea of the earth before an equator was invented. Beautiful prose and a lively adventure.
You can find a link to the next prose poem titled “Wac-A-Mole Realism” if you will click below and read it first:
I love the idea of a Robo-Boy at a carnival and the Flirt Program installed in him results in “tilting at the school librarian which caused him to wheel in reverse into the Civil War section knocking over a cart of books that were waiting to be shelved under B.” What a wonderful and random anecdote for a robot boy. At a carnival, Robo-Boy seeks refuge at the Wac-A-Mole game where “He wins bear after bear./It’s only when he’s lugging them home, the largest one skidding face-down along the sidewalk getting dirt on its white nose and light blue belly, that he remembers the program: Wac-A-Mole Realism –the disc on the installer’s desk./Suddenly it all fits together: the way a deliciously strange thought will start wafting out of his consciousness—the then WHAM, it disappears.”
I love the visual of the teddy bear skidding along just like any other little boy dragging his carnival prize and then the “wake-up” Robo-Boy experiences in a very human-like way when he realizes he beat the game because he already knew the answers from the disc. It’s a very surreal prose poem that is futuristic in its idea but is so close we’re almost there today technology-wise. A spooky prediction of the future on behalf of Mrs. Harvey.
A third prose poem is ominous in its own right, “Dinna’ Pig.” A family that is obviously dysfunctional adopts a pig that is ultimately headed for doom. It’s a disturbing poem all around and like a car accident you can’t look away. The beginning line sets the tone with “Members of the Family rarely spoke to each other, but when they did, they studied each other’s throats.” A short time later, “Pa found the pig in a stall at market…/He felt something welling up inside him—love—and spat it onto the tin where it glistened like a chrysalis./That didn’t get rid of the feeling so he brought the pig home.” Isn’t that a strange reaction for a human being to have in regards to love? Ma gave the pig his name as it was headed for dinner and the poet explains her character this way: “She liked to call a spade a spade, hence her children: Mistake, Mistake 2 and Goddamit.” While you get a sick feeling as you smile at the names, the poem dives even deeper into the fascinating muck. “In any other farmyard, love would have slid off Dinna’ Pig’s oily hair, seeped from his watery eyes, bounced off the coil of his tail and landed on something fluffier./But the family couldn’t help itself—their love was stirred into the gray slop he was fed daily.” The oldest child shows his love in a way I won’t mention here, you may find and read the poem for yourself. The youngest child, Goddammit, leaves us with this ending: “She was having a beautiful dream./It was Sunday dinner and she was the only one at the table cramming handfuls of love into her enormous mouth.” You wonder if the only way the family can experience love is through dysfunctional means or if the only tenderness is through the consumption of this creature. This poem grabs my attention in a grotesque way but I bet you’ll find you can’t tear yourself away when you read it either. I dare you to find this poem in her collection and read it as soon as you can get your hands on a copy.
Mathea Harvey’s poems are blunt in their various subjects and I have always enjoyed the company of blunt talkers and writers alike. I hope you’ll pick up a copy of her book the next time you are able and hope you are also seduced by the poems within.
Mathea Harvey has her own site where you can find links and news items so please click below to find out more about her:
Thanks always for reading, please stop by tomorrow for more Poems Found by Poet Hound…