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Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form

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4.09  ·  Rating Details ·  558 Ratings  ·  40 Reviews
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.
Paperback, 80 pages
Published July 1st 2002 by Alice James Books (first published 2000)
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karen
Nov 09, 2008 karen rated it really liked it
Shelves: pomes
these are really beautiful poems. they are playful and image-heavy and inventive - very pleasing to a girl whose strengths/interests are not in poetry, but would like to be convinced.
Peter Derk
Mar 19, 2014 Peter Derk marked it as did-not-finish
I couldn't finish it. I'm sorry.

The author enjoyed playing with the line breaks like so:

At their hems that seem to map out coastlines left far
Behind the new songs are the old absurd hopes

I don't understand, really, how one is meant to read this. "Coastlines left far behind"? "Far behind the new songs are the old absurd hopes"? Both of those phrases work for me, but using the "far" and "Behind" twice and with a line break between the two words, this just doesn't make for a pleasurable reading e
...more
Ryo Yamaguchi
Sep 05, 2009 Ryo Yamaguchi rated it it was amazing

I came to "Pity..." after having read "Sad Little Breathing Machine," so my thoughts on the collection are a bit in reverse. Dean Young's string-of-similes blurb, "this book astonishes me the way I am astonished by jeweled clockworks, siege machinery, the musculature of the shark and hummingbird," thus, in hindsight, seems more fitting for Harvey's second collection, which is much more a collection of little machines of ornament and maneuvers (not pejorative!). Thus, I am in fact struck by the c
...more
Heather June Gibbons
Jul 17, 2008 Heather June Gibbons rated it really liked it
Because I'm futzing with my own sectioned book, I'm particularly attuned to how contemporary poets use the unit of the section in a collection. I'm not totally sure I understand the hows and whys of Harvey's sectioning vision here, though I do appreciate the break and breath it provides.

In the first section, the title poem has wonderful dynamism and a strange, jerky music, and the persona of the Self Portraits sequence I found compelling and the sense of form that felt very sure to me. I could
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Melissa
Nov 21, 2008 Melissa rated it it was ok
Picked this up because David Foster Wallace had it on his syllabus. And, because of his recommendation, this part made me sad:

The bath has a place in our lives and our place is
Within it we have control of how much hot how much cold
What to pour in how long we want to stay when to
Return is inevitable because we need something
To define ourselves against even if we know that
Whenever we want we can pull the plug and get out
Which is not the case with our own tighter confinement
Inside the body oh pity
...more
Kayla
Nov 01, 2014 Kayla rated it liked it
This is a somewhat difficult book of poetry to go though simply because of the stylistic approach Harvey takes. Most of her poems have sentences that blend into each other, as the word that completes a previous sentence is used to begin a new sentence. Reading the poems can leave the meaning a little disjointed if you lose your place; reading them aloud sometimes doesn't help because you don't know where to stop to catch a breath. But Harvey's fantastical ideas still shine through in this collec ...more
Mark Desrosiers
Sep 23, 2008 Mark Desrosiers marked it as to-read
The title reminds me of how writers named them clunky yet beautiful olden SF novels: Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said; I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream; There Beneath the Silky-Trees and Whelmed in Deeper Gulphs Than Me etc.
Chris McCracken
Dec 23, 2007 Chris McCracken rated it really liked it
Longer more "ladylike" poems from Matthea. Still playful. She uses words like hinges from one line to the next and still keeps the poems steady. Very very pretty stuff. See: "One Filament Against the Firmament".
David Jordan
Dec 31, 2015 David Jordan rated it really liked it
Matthea Harvey is one of those spectacularly gifted writers who can manipulate the English language so dexterously that I find myself more often amazed with her technical prowess than the content of the poems themselves (although that is often fantastic as well). I find myself especially drawn to the poems where the first word of a line finishes the thought of the preceding line, but starts a completely new idea for the line it begins. I'm sure there must be a technical poetic term for this exer ...more
Milo
Apr 18, 2015 Milo rated it really liked it
Wordplay-esque/intensely structural poetry (obviously all poetry is structural, but do you know what I mean?) will sometimes read as gratuitous and distancing to me, but the way Harvey brings it into (some of) her writing--whoaaa. The craft/structure/voice(s) here are incredible and new and A+.

In terms of the collection, the poems were a bit hit-or-miss for me, but the ones that got me, GOT ME.

Here's one of my favorite pieces:

“here I am the trapper littering the landscape with corpses
no longe
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SmarterLilac
Apr 25, 2014 SmarterLilac rated it liked it
Charming.

I was first attracted to this book because of the title--I've been reading a lot of social justice blogs and some are a little over the top in their quest to make sure that every last thing on earth is treated with respect. (I can actually picture some of the blogs using the title for a serious post about the ethics of furniture use.)

This book was a pleasant surprise; its unpretentious writing encourages us to take our environments, physical and emotional, more seriously, (but not too
...more
Sean Endymion
Oct 08, 2012 Sean Endymion rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
Frustrating and compelling at the same time, this collection expects patience from the audience and yet the style is not conducive to eliciting it. Thematically, these pieces are tight-knit and woven well as a whole, but the lack of punctuation and “bleeding” of lines in individual poems creates discord on the micro scale. Quite unique images and turns-of-phrase pepper these pieces to give them great flavor, but as a reader, I do not feel that I am able to savor the taste because Harvey’s sea of ...more
Terry
May 03, 2011 Terry rated it it was amazing
In her first book Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form, I was delighted to find poems that were not only beautiful and eloquent, but also cheeky and fantastical as well. Much of her first book utilizes narrative, but not in ways that one would expect. For example, in “Outside the Russian-Turkish Baths,” (8) she is able to inject vibrancy into the poems by creating narrative yet introducing images and sounds to set the scene: “A child surveys the street for a lost toy,/ goes insi ...more
Leif
Jun 13, 2013 Leif rated it really liked it
Matthea Harvey isn't the blushing poet shyly sliding handwritten poems in pure, handwritten manuscript across the table at you. And we should all be glad about that. Her blocky forms and shuddering rhythms --- "Liked it because his barks got better reactions & it was / Easier to sneak up on the servants & steal bits of their / Dinner was always served at seven & though she hid her / Lovers in cupboards & made them tiptoe past the trellises / They never lasted long because..." --- ...more
Robert Beveridge
Aug 05, 2010 Robert Beveridge rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone. No, seriously, everyone.
Matthea Harvey, Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form (Alice James Books, 2000)

My crush on Matthea Harvey grows with each of her books I read. Pity the Bathtub... is her first collection, and it's incredible. There's so much wow factor here that I'm not sure quite where to begin. There are two basic types of poems here, so we'll start there. The first type takes enjambment to its absurdist conclusion; this type of poem comprises about three-quarters of the book. The only thing to
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Craig
Jul 01, 2009 Craig rated it liked it
A couple of things that I don't personally care for in poetry:

1.) seemingly impenetrable walls of text. -- Though I do like a longer, meandering line break system sometimes, I am not a fan of bricks of text - that is, not unless it is prose poetry.

2.) Lack of punctuation. This, I'm just not a fan of in any way. I realize that it can be used for many different purposes.

These both greeted me while reading this collection. Those gripes aside, I still found much to like about this collection...

I lov
...more
Michael Vagnetti
Apr 28, 2013 Michael Vagnetti rated it it was ok
A myth of reading: retrieve the work from a marketplace, then engage it somewhere else (the languagesphere, time, memory, theory). This book left strong contrails of the market: how it was published, rather than how it made meaning.

Some technical features read as more arty than artful. Bleeding phrases into one another so that the last word of one phrase is the beginning of another, encourages the circularity of a subject, or her letting go. Combined with a lack of punctuation, it feels aggress
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Molly
Nov 20, 2007 Molly rated it really liked it
Impossible to ignore this perfect title--I remember first finding it in the bookstore. The poems were lovely, playful. I particularly enjoyed the series of portrait poems as well as the ornamental poem, which surprised me as I don't often like concrete poetry--but the words and phrases were so well done, it was hard to not enjoy them. I had difficulty with her frequent device of carry-over; I'm not sure how to describe it technically, but she writes one line where the next word or phrase connect ...more
graham
Jun 10, 2008 graham rated it liked it
I like Matthea Harvey a lot; she's got great imagery and her sense of flow is beautiful. Except after a while. She has this technique, which I'm sure there's a word for but I don't know it, in which the beginning word of each line attaches to the line previous. So you have to read each poem in two ways: as a thru-poem where it all flows linearly, and each line as it's own. It's fun, but does get tiring.

Anyway: still a great book of poetry, though that particular choice wasn't my favorite. Check
...more
lia
Mar 07, 2008 lia rated it really liked it
I ended up just skimming this, since I had to hang out in the reading room of my library using the foam book stand while being watched closely with my one piece of paper and pencil..But these are lovely poems.

In Defense of Our Overgrown Garden (an excerpt)

" Last night the apple trees shook and gave each lettuce a heart...
If there is no fog on the day you come home I will build a bonfire so the smoke will make the cedars look the way you like
To close I'm sorry there won't be any salad and I love
...more
Kevin Fanning
Feb 25, 2010 Kevin Fanning added it
Shelves: poetry
The blurb from Jorie Graham on the back was probably a sign that this might not be quite up my alley. I was glad to read it though, but it was a little overwhelming. I think I'm not the student of poetry this books requires you to be. Her work is very dense--run on sentences that bang into each other, or like a mashup of found diary clippings. Interesting intellectually but not emotionally. I did really like "In Defense of Our Overgrown Garden."
TinHouseBooks
Dec 20, 2013 TinHouseBooks rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-we-love
Lauren Perez (Publicity Intern, Tin House Books): I just picked up Matthea Harvey’s Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form and I’m in love with it. Phrases and words bleed into each other, double in meaning, turn slippery on the page. Better still, Harvey is unexpectedly funny, and this collection is an absorptive read. A great companion for nights spent huddled next to the electric wall heater.
Stephany Joy
Apr 28, 2008 Stephany Joy rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Stephany by: Jade Brooks
Matthea Harvey is a craftsman. The construction of these poems are so meticulous yet read so haphazardly. She plays with restraint so well that I found myself reading the same three words over and over again because it felt so good. She tells the most grand stories in a handful of words, and then takes her time conveying the minutia of ordinary acts, and the result is so gratifying. Yum yum yum.
LP
Nov 19, 2008 LP rated it really liked it
This was a book I didn't want to like. At first, I had a hard time reading the line and was distracted by odd appearances and disappearances of rhyme. But after struggling through the first few poems, I caught up with the line and settled in for a pretty damn good read. She's doing smart things here that I can't yet articulate. Totally worth a go or three.
Mark Ballinger
Aug 14, 2015 Mark Ballinger rated it it was ok
Recommended to Mark by: DFW Syllabus
A frustrating example of poetry that's more clever than thoughtful. I slogged all the way to the second-to-last piece, a cycle called "Ceiling Unlimited Series" which worked really well. It may be I liked that one because it actually used punctuation and didn't try to cleverly swerve meanings on each line. This last technique was way overused.
cassandra
Mar 14, 2012 cassandra rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
favorites: pity the bathtub its forced embrace of the human form; nude on a horsehair sofa by the sea; the festival of giovedi grasso; objective fatigue; the need for consistency; memento mori; napoleon's gardens; the gem is on page sixty-four; image cast by a body intercepting light; ceiling unlimited series.
James
May 25, 2009 James rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry-poetics
The unpunctuated enjambment poems never come off gimmicky because she makes the form so adaptable. I loved the series of letters, and the Illuminated Manuscript series. And I hate series! Matthea Harvey had me liking a lot of things I'd normally be bored by. Great book.
Helen
Jun 21, 2013 Helen rated it it was ok
The enjambment and solid walls of text are exhausting and frustrating, getting in the way of lovely word play and worthy themes. A book that tries too hard to be clever and witty.
Sue
Aug 02, 2010 Sue rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
I picked up this collection simply because of the very catchy title. I really enjoyed the clever but elegant poems & I'll try to read more of Ms.Harvey's poetry.
Ian
Sep 14, 2016 Ian rated it liked it
Didn't do it for me, but I could see that there's something there. Complex and full o' wordplay, I just couldn't get into the flow.

My fault, probably.
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Matthea Harvey is the author of three books of poetry--Modern Life, Sad Little Breathing Machine and Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form, and one children's book, The Little General and the Giant Snowflake. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence and lives in Brooklyn.
More about Matthea Harvey...

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“Return is inevitable because we need something
To define ourselves against even if we know that
Whenever we want we can pull the plug and get out
Which is not the case with our own tighter confinement
Inside the body oh pity the bathtub but pity us too”
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