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Modern Life

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4.03 of 5 stars 4.03  ·  rating details  ·  567 ratings  ·  56 reviews
Matthea Harvey's Modern Life introduces a new voice that tries to exist in the gray area between good and evil, love and hate. In the central sequences, "The Future of Terror" and "The Terror of the Future," Harvey imagines citizens and soldiers at the end of their wits at the impending end of the world. Her prose pieces and lyrics examine the divided, halved self in poems...more
Paperback, 80 pages
Published October 2nd 2007 by Graywolf Press
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karen
Jan 04, 2009 karen rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people who have just read littlest hitler
Shelves: pomes, favorites
these are poems that even a non-poetry lover can appreciate. most of them read like little bite-sized prose pieces with accessible imagery and just enough quirk to get my attention. i seem to have a knack for subconsciously selecting things to read that are somehow similar in tone and vibe, because it was a really great follow-up to littlest hitler. yay, me!
Juliet
Jun 04, 2008 Juliet rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people who like clever yet random experimentation; people who like quirkily charming scenery
Shelves: poetry
Overall, this book fluctuated between two stars and three and one half stars for me.

One more pro: a few of the poems at the end made me envision rather quirkily charming Amelie-esque scenes.

One more con: What kind of a poem is this?

YOU HAVE MY EYES

Give them back.

(And that's the entire poem. Seriously, what the heck is that? It's silly, stupid, and annoying.)

*************************************************************
I am still not quite finshed with this book, but after reading more of it, I ha...more
Diann Blakely
A runner-up for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award, Harvey offers a mixture of prose poems and standard verse in *Modern Life*, which accurately reflects the sense of foreboding terror that fills any serious news-watcher. Without her dazzling skill for accuracy and imagery, her poems would be heavy with the turgidity and portentousness that sinks so much contemporary poetry along these lines.

Her closeness of observation manifests itself in “Ode to the Double-Sided Nature of Things,” a Gothi...more
Amy
Nov 15, 2007 Amy rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: poetry
I heard Matthea Harvey read at Open Books last night. She was disarmingly down-to-earth: charming & funny, & her reading kicked ass! This book is likely her best yet, from what I've heard/read so far. There is something for everyone in here: prose poems, strange lyric poems, grotesque animal poems ("Dinna'Pig"!) and flower petals like "little meat sunsets".
Helen
This is the third book of Harvey's I've read this summer, and I have to say, while I wasn't hugely keen on the first book, I've really grown to love her.

These poems are surreal, mostly prose poems teetering very close to the edge of flash fiction. The Robo-Boy ones are my favorites, because of lines like this from Minotaur, No Maze:

At the DMV Robo-Boy presents his hands. It makes you wonder.
Why would they bother to engrave on each palm a life line (deep and
long), a head line (joined to his life...more
Melissa Barrett
Half of this book I lovelovelove (the Future of Terror poems and Terror of Future poems especially)--but there are a good number that I don't care for (the Roboboy poems, & the very short ones). I admire the diversity presented in the book, but am guilty have my favorite sections & styles.

What I value most about this collection is how it is both a book of narrative poems and a book of lyric poems. Though Harvey delights in word play, there's a narrative backbone to each poem that makes g...more
Margaryta
Another case of a poetry book where I loved many of the images found scattered throughout the entire book but when it came to actually diving in and enjoying an entire poem problems started. I did manage to really get into ones like "You Know This Too", "Waitressing in the Room with a Thousand Moons", and "Strawberry on the Drawbridge" - not only did the imagery move me but also the way with which each of the topics was approached. I wish I could say the same for the remainder of the book. The p...more
Sean Endymion
While I did not hate Pity the Bathtub... as much as others in my workshop, I did find its density frustrating. Two things have helped to alleviate that pressure put on me as a reader: one, hearing and seeing Harvey read her own poetry, and two, reading the more practiced and loose poetry of Modern Life. For the former – I was surprised at how calmly, reflectively, and cleanly the poems appeared when read aloud, and that gave me an insight into how her imagination works and how her poetry should...more
Mike Gross
Matthea Harvey’s world depicted in Modern Life is raw and broke: a system, and all of its implications, gone awry. The metal of machines, once new and useful, has rusted; the scientific discoveries, once progressive and optimistic, have devolved into hideous creatures: hollowed out carcasses (“The Empty Pet Factory”), spliced and mutilated (“How We Learned to Hold Hands”) for human needs; the ancient notion of freedom and free will has collapsed into a crippling fear of terror. Modern Life is wr...more
Steven
Before picking up this collection, I had read a few of Matthea Harvey's poems in literary journals and I was struck by their playful use of language (akin to Harryette Mullen), humor and humanity. All of those skills play out well in this book and the variety of forms is refreshing, ranging from prose poems to the loose abecedarians of the two "future"/"terror" sections. But, like Ms. Mullen's work, it's only when all of this playfulness somehow connects to actual human experience that the poems...more
Michael
A reader of Harvey’s previous collections will no doubt find familiar ground in Modern Life: dream-like narratives, the frequent appearance of horses, an inventive playfulness (“Pug owners are 90% more likely to deny that they look like their pets than other dog owners,” for instance). Harvey is attracted to the proper noun and in her poems we encounter “Ghost Morse Code” for the stripes on the road (“not the new ones but the ones the wheels had worn away”), the representation of the sun as a “G...more
Robert Beveridge
Matthea Harvey, Modern Life (Graywolf Press, 2007)

“The ham flowers have veins and are rimmed in rind, a little meat sunset.”
(“Implications for Modern Life”)

I opened Matthea Harvey's Modern Life, turned to the first page, and was greeted with this as an introduction to her work. How could I not immediately fall in love? And I'm happy to say that as the collection progresses, it pretty much stay this good. Of course, the pit- and pratfalls of this sort of comic-grotesque brilliance do appear along...more
Ryo Yamaguchi
In a bit of a rush, but I want to get this quick review off to you. Modern Life is the third in Harvey's collections of poems and is most notable for the two sections, "The Future of Terror," and "The Terror of the Future," which anchor the book like two firm columns running through this seven sectioned collection. Please pick up a copy at Graywolf. Like much of Harvey's work, the book as a whole is extremely organized, with a parallel section structure that runs roughly like this:

Intro
The Futur...more
Peter
Matthea Harvey, during her reading on September 16, stated that her new collection of poetry, Modern Life, dealt with the notion of halving. This trope of halves is well-established in the book's imagery, as centaurs, the Berlin Wall, a half-robot/half-boy, and other halves and halving mechanisms appear intermittently. These halves contribute to her book's rhythm, as well as its proportions and sense of space. The blank pages diving the book into sections seemed to pose questions concerning each...more
Terry
In her third book of poetry titled Modern Life Harvey comes back with what seems to be an even balance between her previous two books, at least in terms of style. Again she touches on love, but with a hint of wry humor : “Your horoscope read: /You have an infectious smile. Mine said:/ Check the glove compartment” (68). Again with the paint imagery: “Dip that tiny brush into your paintbox and mix up something nice and muddy for me” (28).
She returns to using titles as the set point for her poems a...more
Christina Marie Rau
Matthea Harvey's Modern Life contains prose poetry that completely legitimizes the form. Her poetic blocks take one instance, flesh it out, and sum it up, all while maintaining a poetic voice.

When I read the sections The Future of Terror and Terror of The Future, not only did I fully appreciate the chiasmus, but I also thought, Wow she's got a way with alliteration. Each poem grows from alliteration and some assonance with a bit of internal rhyming. Then I read an end-note that explains that tho...more
Lightsey
You can always read a book as an example of its author's psychological state, but I haven't come across many books that beg so fiercely for such a reading. Some readers seem to be finding Modern Life great tripping fun, but I confess I'm not laughing. Instead, I'm (unfashionably, I know) worried for Harvey. She/her poetic voice seems trapped in a bubble of isolation and craving, fear of emotion and desperate need. A shifting and elusive "you" moves through the book, never satisfying the "I"--and...more
Emma Bolden
I feel really bad about giving this three stars, and therefore I feel compelled to explain myself: the three stars here are in comparison to other Matthea Harvey books. I mean, Pity the Bathtub and Sad Little Breathing Machine are like books constructed by a god. This one just wasn't my favorite, and that might just be because it's so different, and therefore I am unfairly dissing Matthea Harvey for doing exactly what a poet should do: growing and changing and changing again. Though I'm not sure...more
Kimberly
I wish this were a book of short stories but otherwise I'm ok. Very inventive, sometimes beautiful. Perhaps more beautiful in the middle (to me at least, where I thought there were people, that I might relate to) and less beautiful when I realized that "The Future of Terror" and "Terror of the Future" were meant to be abecedarian, and then all I could do was struggle not to alphabetize while reading. I sense she would get along well with Jesse Ball. I sense I want to impose some limits on both o...more
Cary
If the greatest poem in a book is the book itself, then this book is. The 'Terror of the Future' sequence is startling and sorrowful and powerful. Some words sound the same but mean different things, and that is a concept I think Matthea Harvey appreciates quite heavily. This is not a heavy book, but it's blackish-green blood runs deep into the next life.

Where O where is the God who let these poems happen?

Not as polished as the surrealist prose-poems of others, but still smart and taut.

Make yo...more
Stephanie
I am in love with everything about this book, except for the "terror of the future", "future of terror" sections. Those sections felt like a departure from the beautiful explorations/examinations that take place in the other poems. The Roboboy poems were my favorite - "No One Will See Themselves in You" is probably my favorite poem in the whole collection.

I have only read through the book once. I want to spend some more time with the "terror" sections. They are appealing on some level - but the...more
Nicola
like the cover of this book (designed by Harvey), the poems have a strange math to them: the halving of the dominoe's division; the multiplication of dominoes in rows; the blackberry bruise of defaced, once-ordered numbers; deranged co-ordinates: horizontals (x-axis) and verticals (y-axis) stepping on each other...and somehow this relates to all her wonderful alliteration (an overused device that usually annoys me to no end). readreadread this!!
Michael
Hmm... I'm torn. I want to love this book, as I love Matthea. But I found the book as a whole somewhat disjointed. I didn't like the Robo-boy deviations. Everything else was pure opium.

I'm still trying to get my hands on Sad Little Breathing Machine, as the idea of having a poetic engine is quite genius. And I wanna see how she carries it beyond the one poem I came across.

I have a feeling I'll enjoy it more than Modern Life.
Kristin
Harvey's third book of poetry veers off from her first two, into a future at once as strange and familiar as our own. Though some of the work is written in form and can get a bit tedious (especially "The Future of Terror" and "Terror of the Future"), this seems purposeful, and her focus in this work is broad and sensory, and much of the poetry is deeply poignant, particularly in a time as uncertain as ours.
Rob the Obscure
Harvey is pushing the limits. It's refreshing to see a skilled poet that is not resting in safe, comfortable waters.

She is pushing the boundaries - the boundaries between poetry and fiction, the boundaries between romance and sex, the boundaries between comedy and alienation, and the boundaries between depth and humor.

It's an education in writing for the 21st century.
Brian
Matthea Harvey writes with sparkle and delight, even when her theme turns dark. Because of the style--what I'd call something like surrealism or magical realism--there is an emotional distance that limits my connection with the work. Still, some delightful lines, like: "Our first protests were tentative:/ we tapped on their taillights with teaspoons,".
Gary McDowell
The "Future" poems (both sequences) are incredible, some of the best, most exhilirating stuff I've read this year. But the sections surrounding them, while they contain some fantastic poems, don't seem 'larger than life' like the "Future" poems. I don't know. I'm working on a review of this book... hopefully I can be more articulate in that format!
maria
Later, when your lungs filed with liquid, you might have said love, you might have said leave. I said I love you too and left the room. There was no ice storm, no helicoptered-in help, no Hollywood end. Just a gasp and then no more you, which meant the end of me too. (p.54)
Karlo Mikhail
Read lots of good reviews but unfortunately I wasn't able to appreciate Harvey's poems when I read them myself. Must be all the Western pop culture intertexts that ring no bell to me (Robo-boy who? End of the world what?)
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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...
Sad Little Breathing Machine Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form Cecil the Pet Glacier Of Lamb The Little General and the Giant Snowflake

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