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Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  680 ratings  ·  49 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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Nov 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.

come to my blog!
Mark Desrosiers
Sep 23, 2008 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. ...more
Sheldon Compton
Dec 19, 2020 rated it did not like it
This is just not my kind of poetry. It is surely somebody's kind because Matthea Harvey is a contemporary poet who is highly heralded. Beloved's not too strong a word at this point.

So my one star is because I don't like how she approaches poetry, her style, her leanings when dealing with language, enjambments playing double duty so that the first word in the line has to be repeated in order to make the next line work so that the two lines make sense as your reading. It feels pretentious; it fee
Steven Godin
Jun 18, 2022 rated it liked it

I can mock the debonair pose of hand on hip,
casual grip of cigarette stub, but I only masked the body.
It was the one time I asked myself, truly,
what face I saw in the mirror, then answered
with a storm of brushstrokes on my forehead,
a shadow lapping my eye with its dark tongue,
misery marking my mouth. One is not the same
after such clarity. You liked my stance. Said if I
were a stranger leaning on a wall at a party you would
ask me to dance, would rashly press against me.
I did not point out the sm
Ryo Yamaguchi
Aug 25, 2009 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
Bailey :)
Jan 21, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Loved this collection! Matthea Harvey's formal obsessions & innovations ring through down to even the level of the line break. The title poem is one of my favorites I've read, and it makes for a phenomenal collection title as well! Just lent this book to a friend after being so excited about it :) ...more
Peter Derk
Jul 10, 2012 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
Jun 13, 2013 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..." --- hide their own ...more
Heather Gibbons
Jul 17, 2008 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
Sep 23, 2008 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
Chris McCracken
Dec 23, 2007 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". ...more
Dusie Press
Jun 30, 2007 marked it as to-read
i have been wanting to read this b0ook forever...the title has haunted me for years now!
Ramzzi Fariñas
Aug 02, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
Though I believe what Ezra Pound said: “The poet must never infringe upon the painter's function; the picture must exist around the words; the words must not attempt too far to play at being brush strokes”—Matthea Harvey did well enough; there was not much, for me to question. For most part, she could convey the subtlety of her subjectivity, and the linguistic innovations, though well-crafted, were at times, a mismatch to the rhythm and cadence yearned by the ear. Nevertheless, some passages sho ...more
Janée Baugher
Aug 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Where ekphrasis is a happy excuse for the long plight of the non-sequitur imaginings. Lyrical, long-lined, pushing, pushing, a progression not seen often in poetry (but rather fiction). It's a reminder for poets to ask themselves, "Am I reining in the natural lyrical, lengthy progression of my Muse's hand?" Here's an example of being clearly imaginative and trusting the strange hand that guides you onward, regardless of the constraints of the painting that prompted you to the paper's stark white ...more
Rachel Becerra
Sep 27, 2017 rated it liked it
some good poems. there was such range that it doesn't all seem written by the same person. ...more
Hansen Hillary
Sep 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The title really speaks for the book itself - well situated and climatized to what it means to subjugate onself
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A voyage to the senses...
Chelsey Wade
Jul 15, 2022 rated it it was amazing
This is one of my favorite collections of poetry. It is one of the few books I return to often to re-read different poems. I discovered Matthea Harvey in college and have been a fan ever since.
May 03, 2011 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
Robert Beveridge
Aug 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
D'Argo Agathon
Oct 07, 2012 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
Milo R.
Jan 18, 2015 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
Nov 01, 2014 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
Oct 11, 2013 rated it liked it

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
Jul 01, 2009 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
Michael Vagnetti
Apr 25, 2013 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
Nov 20, 2007 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
David Jordan
Dec 31, 2015 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
Mar 05, 2008 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
Jun 03, 2008 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
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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

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“In Defense of Our Overgrown Garden"

Last night the apple trees shook and gave each lettuce a heart
Six hard red apples broke through the greenhouse glass and
Landed in the middle of those ever-so-slightly green leaves
That seem no mix of seeds and soil but of pastels and light and
Chalk x’s mark our oaks that are supposed to be cut down
I’ve seen the neighbors frown when they look over the fence
And see our espalier pear trees bowing out of shape I did like that
They looked like candelabras against the wall but what’s the sense
In swooning over pruning I said as much to Mrs. Jones and I swear
She threw her cane at me and walked off down the street without
It has always puzzled me that people coo over bonsai trees when
You can squint your eyes and shrink anything without much of
A struggle ensued with some starlings and the strawberry nets
So after untangling the two I took the nets off and watched birds
With red beaks fly by all morning at the window I reread your letter
About how the castles you flew over made crenellated shadows on
The water in the rainbarrel has overflowed and made a small swamp
I think the potatoes might turn out slightly damp don’t worry
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 them
To close I’m sorry there won’t be any salad and I love you”
“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”
More quotes…