Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form

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Comic, elegaic, and always formally intricate, using political allegory and painterly landscape, philosophic story and dramatic monologue, these poems describe a moment when something marvelous and unforeseen alters the course of a single day, a year, or an entire life.

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From Publishers Weekly:

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 feetAall 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.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From The New Yorker:

In Harvey's intensely visual début collection of poems, a painter says of his self-portrait, "It was bigger than me. The perspective was not mine." Throughout, we meet artists and eccentrics obsessed with the reflections they cast, often shaping the world to match their private illusions: a gardener "crows with / delight" as his sugar maple takes the form of a rooster; a woman paints her baseboards the color of her dachshund. Mournfully comic and syntactically inventive, Harvey's poems are both pleas for attentiveness ("Amaze me with / what you know. Do the barnacles really look / like ancient daisies, did the starfish really / turn orange & purple from holding on?") and elegies for the images we try, but fail, to capture.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

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