Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human F

Matthea Harvey, Author Alice James Books $14.95 (68p) ISBN 978-1-882295-26-5
The fussy title of Harvey's distinctive, substantial debut gives a pretty good idea of the Victorian-style cathexes within, swooning with ""Objective Fatigue"" and clutching ""More Sketches for a Beautiful Hat."" Many poems issue from a space of Wonderland-like decadence, where ""tiny tin gutters would be gauche,/ pathetically mimetic"" and ""irritated he would play with his/ Chameleon putting her on a paisley pillow or tartan/ Scarf."" There is a foreboding to such scenes, and a toughness to Harvey's speakers: one ""can't be coy after all I've done"" and another has ""killed one pride only to have another replace it."" Pervasive longings are often compressed into a verbal device Harvey may have imported from Turkish poetry, in which the start of a line (here always unpunctuated) is at once the end of one sentence and the start of the next: ""this village is closer to the glacier than/ The volcano emits a tiny rumble & drools lava every few/ Years go by..."" It's used too often, but the people and pursuits within the poems as a whole certainly vary: a male poet proceeds from the ""Vestibulum"" to the ""Frigidarium"" to find his muse within domestic ""Thermae""; ""Frederick Courtney Selous"" exhorts a lover to make a necklace of the stamps from his letters; one poor lover of the title poem casts a bathtub for his beloved only to burn his feet--all with the craft and care of miniature portraiture. While the results, despite watchful self-inoculation, can be precious, the imagination and syntactic dexterity they display are remarkable. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 01/03/2000
Release date: 07/01/2002
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