Poems You Might Have Missed: Emphasis on Mister or Peanut, Robo or Boy by Matthea Harvey

If you’ve never read Matthea Harvey‘s work, you’re missing one of the most insightful and fascinating imaginations in contemporary poetry. Reading Harvey’s work reminds me of the words of the French poet Rimbaud: “Woman will discover the unknown! Will her world of ideas differ from ours? She will discover strange things, unfathomable, repulsive, delightful; we will accept and understand them.” While Harvey has published several books, Rimbaud’s words most aptly describe Modern Life, .

Image Credit: poetryfoundation.org
Image Credit: Doug McNamara, poetryfoundation.org

Modern Life, like much of her other work, includes a hybridity motif, splitting and splicing together objects, animals, and language. It includes a series of poems including the bionic Robo-Boy, perhaps my favorite portion of this serious yet decidedly playful work. This series of poems are a good example of Harvey’s ability to fuse a sense of humanity into the premise of a futuristic creature that in fact doesn’t feel that futuristic, progress being progress. And while the vast majority of readers and real-lifers will undoubtedly frown upon the humanness of a bionic creature, Robo-Boy is not so unlike us in the series’ final poem, in which “he’ll sit on a fence and look at the clouds, through exhilaration, hysteria, delight, despair.”

Emphasis on Mister or Peanut, Robo or Boy 

In the chapters on Special Children, the parenting books stress
the need for role models. Hence the silver-framed portraits of Mr.
Peanut, the Michelin Man and Mrs. Butterworth in silver frames
on Robo-Boy’s bureau. Robo-Boy has never quite known what
to do with them. For a while he thought they might be estranged
relatives, especially since his parents never mentioned them. Mr.
Peanut, debonair as Fred Astaire, looks like the kind of uncle who
might tell you over steak and a cigar that with a pair of gloves and
a monocle slotted over your eyesocket, you can have your pick of
the ladies. Mrs. Butterworth figured more in Robo-Boy’s brief religious
phase–there’s something holy in her maple syrup glow, and
in her shape, something of the Buddha. The Michelin Man is the
one who worries him. With his perpetual thumbs-up and cheerful
expression he looks like he might be hoping to hitchhike his way the
hell out of here–

– from Modern Life by Matthea Harvey, published by Graywolf Press, 2007.

Harvey’s newest collection If the Tabloids Are True What Are You? has already garnered numerous positive reviews and will be released 19 August 2014.

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