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Modern Life

3.99  ·  Rating Details ·  692 Ratings  ·  64 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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Jan 04, 2009 karen rated it it was amazing
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!
Oct 16, 2007 Juliet rated it liked it
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?


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
Nov 15, 2007 Amy rated it it was amazing
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".
Ryo Yamaguchi
Jun 29, 2010 Ryo Yamaguchi rated it it was amazing
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:

The Futur
Oct 11, 2007 Peter rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
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
Sean Endymion
Oct 10, 2012 Sean Endymion rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
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
Jan 14, 2008 Michael rated it really liked it
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
Weston Richey
Jun 06, 2016 Weston Richey rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who like surreal imagery, people who are drawn to playfulness with language
Matthea Harvey is one of my, if not my absolute, favorite poets, and Modern Life is absolutely a testament to why. Harvey's playfulness with language, and most notably, her ability to turn the surreal into the deeply sad with startling suddenness, are what have always drawn me to her work. She knows how to conjure up images that are both powerful and strange, creating mini-tableaux of the unfamiliar that somehow seems familiar enough.

However, the thing that makes me knock off a star, unlike the
Nov 16, 2009 Steven rated it really liked it
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
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
Jun 29, 2016 Margaret rated it liked it
The poems in this collection were really hit and miss for me, more so than in any other collection I've ever read. And, well, they're also much more modern than I'm used to, lacking the nostalgia (both in terms of form and content) of most collections I read. Obviously, given the title, that was Harvey's intent, but honestly, a poem about ham flowers? (Look it up if you don't know.) And she opens with that poem as well.

The Future of Terror series is one of my favorites, though I notice most revi
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
Aug 04, 2014 Helen rated it it was amazing
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
May 03, 2011 Terry rated it it was amazing
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
Shawn (ThatOneEnglishGradStudent)
This collection definitely lives up to its title, as these poems are distinctly modern. The majority of the poems are prose poems, which is one of my favorite forms. Harvey's use of imagery and language are so original, particularly the ingenious poems "The Future of Terror" and "Terror of the Future" which make use of a super cool abecedarian style that's not too in-your-face. There are some almost science fiction elements to this collection as well, which bumps up the cool factor even more. Sh ...more
Jul 10, 2013 Cary rated it really liked it
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
Dec 13, 2008 Kimberly rated it really liked it
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
Dec 01, 2007 Stephanie rated it really liked it
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
Summers Baker
Nov 02, 2014 Summers Baker rated it it was amazing
This is the strongest book of contemporary poetry I have read in recent memory. The poet, through her words alone (How the hell?), produces a visceral splitting effect in regards to image, concepts, THINGS. Dichotomies and Binaries are cut, halved, and ripped apart, and yet the language remains the connection that can't be severed. There is such a strange tension in these poems! Many of her poems function as Hass-like epiphanies. They turn on themselves in stunning ways. I can't wait to read thi ...more
Nov 17, 2007 Nicola rated it it was amazing
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!!
Aug 18, 2014 Joyce rated it it was amazing
Jun 21, 2009 Tess rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
This must be one of my favorites -- and Oni Buchanan's Spring.
mel burkeet
Jan 07, 2014 mel burkeet rated it really liked it
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
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
Michael Palkowski
Feb 18, 2015 Michael Palkowski rated it liked it
These poems have stuck with me longer than I anticipated they would and come up in everyday life. I think about dotted lines along the canal when I am walking outside. I think about the city being cut out and folded in and out like a complicated piece of origami. I think of the imagery of ham flowers in the opening poem and see the meatiness of nature all around me. Some of these pieces are wonderful in their construction and others are simply there, they fill out the book and offer next to noth ...more
Christina Rau
Jan 04, 2012 Christina Rau rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
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
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
Nov 08, 2012 Emma Bolden rated it liked it
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
Feb 27, 2009 Michael rated it liked it
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.
Dec 16, 2015 Robin rated it liked it
Shelves: owned
After reading If the Tabloids Are True, I was really excited to read something else from Matthea Harvey. In a lot of ways, this collection didn't disappoint, but I feel that it didn't hold up to the other collection. There's all the things in this that I love from Harvey - the strange presented as mundane, the soundplay, the playing with form - but overall, a few sections fell a little flat for me.
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  • Cocktails
  • The Ghost Soldiers
  • Elegy On Toy Piano
  • Mosquito
  • Wind in a Box
  • Elegy
  • Awe
  • Rising, Falling, Hovering
  • Lug Your Careless Body out of the Careful Dusk: A Poem in Fragments
  • Facts for Visitors
  • Insomnia Diary
  • The Pajamaist
  • Song
  • My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry
  • Zirconia
  • Angle of Yaw
  • The Difficult Farm
  • Sleeping With the Dictionary
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.
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