If the Tabloids Are True What Are You?

Kingsley Tufts Award–winner Matthea Harvey’s newest book combines her love of poetry and visual art to reinvent the forms as we know them. The book’s opening section—a series of mermaid prose poems accompanied by cut-out silhouettes—feels almost like an artist’s statement of sorts. These mermaids, like Harvey’s prose poems, are already hybrids on the surface, yet stranger still. In silhouette, these creatures are revealed to have household tools for tails, and the poems describe “mergirls” all named for their dispositions or unusual conditions (“The Morbid Mermaid,” “drawn to maggots as if by a magnet,” and “The Inside Out Mermaid,” who’s “fine letting it all hang out,” to name a few). Like her “Straightforward Mermaid,” Harvey’s work often “feels like a third gender, preferring primary colors to pastels, the radio to singing.” Harvey is also capable of conjuring pathos from the most delightfully absurd conceits—a Ray Bradbury text erased into an encounter with a “multitentacular” Martian, William Shakespeare trapped inside the Michelin Man (and delivering a perfect sonnet), an extended family of fabulistic animals and other fancies of image and imagination. The book’s final work, “Telettrofono,” mashes up the real-life misfortunes of Antonio Meucci, the original inventor of the telephone, with a doomed mermaid love affair and embroidered illustrations of patents.

This book review originally appeared in American Poets, Fall-Winter 2014.