SAD LITTLE BREATHING MACHINE

Matthea Harvey, Author . Graywolf $14 (79p) ISBN 978-1-55597-396-4

Taut and up-to-the-minute in its intellectual and its formal concerns, Harvey's sophomore effort seems sure to consolidate her status as a young poet to watch. In acute unrhymed couplets, typographically teasing experiments and titles as oddly audacious as the poems themselves ("O the Zoetrope & the Periscope Should Be Friends"), Harvey explores the possibility that people are nothing more than desiring machines; the chance that she and her friends are as predictable as physical law or ephemeral as gossip; and the countervailing weight of love and want. An early poem propositions readers, "Invent the sun & edition the trees": later she explains "I am no relation/ to the sky but to the mechanical// dragon wrapped in tissue paper," or exclaims enticingly, "Frond-fond & pond-proud/ we sugar the obstacle dark." Harvey characteristically combines childhood (or teen) scenes with material from philosophical or literary theory: "Girls who could see around/ corners whispered 'or'/ to one another." Though many younger poets share her interests, few match her verbal assurance, nor her skill in knowing when to stop. Harvey (Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form ) also includes a series of prose poems constructed like fairy tales (such as "The Transparent Heir Apparent"); these allegorical stories ballast what might otherwise seem an overexcited, or overly elliptical, collection. Admirers of Brenda Hillman, or even Anne Carson, may find here a new favorite. And although fans of Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus– based desiring machines may find the scale here claustrophobic, reduction is precisely the poet's problematic, explored with force and imagination. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 02/02/2004
Release date: 03/01/2004
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