poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

About this poet

Born in Germany on September 3, 1973, Matthea Harvey spent the first eight years of her life in Marnhull, England, before moving with her family to Milwaukee in 1981. Later, she earned her BA in literature at Harvard University and an MFA at the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

Harvey is the author of If the Tabloids Are True What Are You?  (Graywolf Press, 2014); Of Lamb (McSweeney's, 2011), a collaboration with artist Amy Jean Porter; Modern Life (Graywolf Press, 2007), winner of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award; Sad Little Breathing Machine (Graywolf Press, 2004); and Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form (Alice James Books, 2000). She is also the author of the children's books Cecil the Pet Glacier (Schwartz & Wade, 2013) and The Little General and the Giant Snowflake (Tin House Books, 2009).

Poet Dean Young has called Harvey's poems "marvelous contraptions .. that explore and present artifices in the best sense, as disclosures of fabrication into plays of significance…and [are] always ravishingly complex." Poet Jorie Graham describes Harvey's work as "generous, urgent and savingly committed to beauty."

Harvey is a contributing editor at jubilat and BOMB Magazine and has taught at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Warren Wilson College, the Pratt Institute, and the University of Houston. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, and teaches at Sarah Lawrence College.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

If the Tabloids Are True What Are You?  (Graywolf Press, 2014)
Of Lamb (McSweeney's, 2011)
Modern Life (Graywolf Press, 2007)
Sad Little Breathing Machine (Graywolf Press, 2004)
Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form (Alice James Books, 2000)

The Objectified Mermaid

Matthea Harvey, 1973

The photographer has been treating her like a spork all morning. “Wistful mouth, excited tail! Work it, work it!” He has no idea that even fake smiling spreads to her eyes and her tail and there’s nothing she can do about it short of severing her spine. Without asking, the assistant re-sprays her with glycerine. It’s gonna be hell getting all that grease off her scales tonight but she can’t scum up her tank at the bar—its weekly cleanings seem more like monthly these days, and fewer and fewer patrons have been inviting (read: paying) her for a Tankside Mertini and quick feel of her tail. There’s one regular who lapses in and out of consciousness and he’s the real reason she stays. Every once in a while he seems to have forgotten where he is and he looks at her with the kind of wonder she imagines her grandmother inspired when she first risked coming ashore. After an hour under the studio spotlights, she’s starting to smell pretty fishy. Can’t blame it (as she has before) on her standard seaweed bra because this fool of a photographer has her holding two clear fishbowls in front of her breasts so it looks like goldfish are swimming past her nipples. She’s supposed to pretend it tickles. She wants to ask if he’s heard the phrase "gilding the lily" which she recently learned at Land Berlitz. When asked if she’s tired, she lies. A downward spiral means the opposite up here.
 

About this poem:
"This is the last in a series of nine mermaid prose poems I've written. Because of the first poem, I was invited to Mercon 2011, the first international mermaid gathering, held in Las Vegas. 'The Objectified Mermaid' was inspired by the constant photographing of the girls and women in glittery tails (I was photographing them too). Mermen were few—one Neptune and just a handful of others."

Matthea Harvey

Copyright © 2013 by Matthea Harvey. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on February 25, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Copyright © 2013 by Matthea Harvey. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on February 25, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Matthea Harvey

Matthea Harvey

Born in Germany in 1973, Matthea Harvey spent the first eight years of her life in Marnhull, England, before moving with her family to Milwaukee.

by this poet

poem
For the time being
call me Home.

All the ingénues do.

Units are the engines
I understand best.

One betrayal, two.
Merrily, merrily, merrily.

Define hope.	 Machine.
Define machine.  Nope.

Like thoughts,
the geniuses race through.

If you're lucky

after a number of
revolutions, you'll

feel something catch
poem

Rain fell in a post-romantic way.
Heads in the planets, toes tucked

under carpets, that’s how we got our bodies
through. The translator made the sign

for twenty horses backing away from
a lump of sugar. Yes, you.

When I said did you want me
I meant me in the general sense.

poem

The Backyard Mermaid slumps across the birdbath, tired of fighting birds for seeds and lard. She hates those fluffed-up feathery fish imitations, but her hatred of the cat goes fathoms deeper. That beast is always twining about her tail, looking to take a little nip of what it considers a giant fish