"Matthea Harvey's vision of America is spooky, apocalyptic, and beautiful: proof that there is wonder in even a dark time like ours." -George Saunders says on the back cover of Modern Life put out by Graywolf Press.
-Spooky & apocalyptic: the chilling indifference and casual reference to the horrible in the sequences "The Future of Terror" and "Terror of the Future":
When we got jaded / about joyrides, we could always play games / in the kitchen garden with the prisoners. / Jump the Gun, Fine Kettle of Fish and Kick / the Kidney were our favorites.and
It was time to make a home / in the hedge and try not to hear the gunshots. / So what if the grass was really green glass?
-Beautiful and Defiantly Wondrous: As stilting an image of green glass being confused with grass is, the gesture of the narrator to be aware and still making a home is touching. In another sequence of poems, we follow Robo-Boy and see the difficulty in being human as well as the difficulty of being anything else once that humanness has been imbued. Figureheads of ships without sailors, on their own and finding a truer existence; a room full of moons yearning for planets to orbit as the waiters endlessly circle the tables below.
Modern Life is a mixture of imagination in the face of desolation. The bleak, rather than being ignored or covered up is embraced as being part of the experience. In "Estamos En Vivo, No Hay Alternativo" this impulse of making the best of what we have because there is no other choice is illustrated with the request to
Dip that tiny brush into / your paintbox and mix up something nice / and muddy for me.That is then tempered by the violent commodification of sex. Tenderness, innocence, playfulness all exist with brutality and detachment.
Harvey's writing stays aware of the lush possibilities in language as well as seeking ways to demonstrate nuanced gestures and surprising turns in the flow of an idea. In some of her prose poems, she creates new worlds, not unlike Russell Edson but not as jarring. Modern Life succeeds at making a complex statement on where we are going through the use of various voices and techniques - a very engaging read.
I first came across Matthea Harvey's poetry several years ago when I became very much engrossed in the anthology Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century eds. Michael Dumanis & Cate Marvin. Her images, gestures and attention to language has always caught my attention. In addition to Modern Life, she has also written Sad Little Breathing Machine (also by Graywolf) and Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form (Alice James Books) (two of the finest titles I've come across!).