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a review of Modern Life by Mathea Harvey
Matthea Harvey has always empathized with the objective world, introducing emotions to the world of objects. We were taught by her first book to pity the bathtub’s forced embrace of the human form, in her second book she blurred humanity and machinery into a sad little breathing machine. In Modern Life she expands on her thesis, showing us the strange world made stranger still by the world itself, a sort of “taxidermist’s version of the world” as she says in one poem, nature in an unnatural way. There’s a playful aspect to the poems, one side is that she is making the world strange, with ham-flowers and girls sprouting electrical outlets ( or –from the cover– dominoes with blackberries rather than dots), but the other side of it is admitting that much of the strangeness, some of the more horrifying bits of modern life, is our own doing.
She organizes her long series of poems, “The Future of Terror” and “The Terror of the Future” in a sort of abecedaria, using the words “future” and “terror” as guideposts in getting her vocabulary, achieving a sort of sprung rhythm. “The Future of Terror” is militaristic and male while “The Terror of the Future” is more personal, female, but both are ill-at-ease in the current state of things. In the center of the book is a series of seven poems about Robo-boy. These poems, far from being a fanciful sci-fi digression, exemplify her empathy for objects as she goes about making a robot more alive than the people who populate her poems, people who have “glass-faces” and “slot-machine mouths” who get their words from teleprompters rather than as Robo-boy who learns about the word “subjectivity” by creating art. This also introduces her fascination with duality, of halving, of making one like the other or snipping this world from that in a sort of poetic shadowbox, even centaur-ing drawbridges and strawberries inventing strawbridges and drawberries.
You read Matthea Harvey not to help you understand the world, but to feel how strange it is, similar to the reasons for riding a teeter-totter. And like any partner in that noble endeavor she too will lean down on her end and leave you stranded in the air. The kicking and screaming will do you no good, but afterwards, when the wooziness is gone, you feel that there was something awfully fun in being there.
[in no order]
2. O Brother Where Art Thou?
3. Moulin Rouge