Matthea Harvey is one of America’s quirkiest poets. So it is no surprise that her illustrated tale THE LITTLE GENERAL AND THE GIANT SNOWFLAKE is completely charming. In the tradition of an Oscar Wilde fairy tale–suitable for children yet pointedly amusing for adults–the story’s hero is a small but Mussolini-esque general, a person who wants order. The appearance of a giant snowflake interrupts the existence of a man who is reading about how to alphabetize his attic. It results in change, understanding, peace, and lunch.
The book is tender-hearted but delivers a real message about the power of imagination. Illustrations by Elizabeth Zechel include some very cuddly lemmings and some very crystalline flakes.
From Tin House Books.
Miam Sagan held the following interview with Matthea Harvey. As posted on Our Descent Into Madness Blog on September 22, 2007.
1. HOW DO YOU DO IT? That is, what makes your mind so quirky? How do you let it dash around like that? And what makes you so brave you can put it into poems?
It’s hard to describe the view when you’re the porthole. I certainly can’t see the whole ship. I think poems, those little neuron-traps, give the most accurate pictures of what’s going on in a particular head and/or heart.
2. Daisy Bond said she thought the first book–BATH TUB–was more about poetry and MODERN LIFE more about politics–or reaching out beyond the usual poetry audience. What do you think?
Daisy’s right in that Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form was more about the act of making. I was thinking about how art and reality do or do not match up (although I couldn’t have told you that while I was writing the poems). With Modern Life, I wasn’t thinking about audience—I was just testing my internal tuning forks, trying to hear their humming. The notes of terror I began to explore are certainly ones that seem to be sounding in more people since 9/11. I was already writing poems about dividing lines and the series of poems “The Future of Terror” and “Terror of the Future” continued that idea. The series is set in an apocalyptic landscape, but “The Future of Terror” poems focus on the military and “Terror of the Future” poems describe civilians. The two groups are divided and rarely interact, but they’re both equally lost, looking for order or meaning anywhere they can.
3. Are there events that trigger the poems, like 9/11 seemingly buried in some of these, or are you tracking something inward–perception, language?
After seeing the first tower fall on 9/11, I remember walking into the East Village with my then boyfriend (now husband) Rob and thinking/feeling that it might really be the end of the world. I’m sure that changed me, but how, I’m not sure. Different poems had different triggers. “Bird Park” had a simple linguistic trigger—I liked the idea of transforming a “bird park” into a “word park. “Dinna’ Pig” is a phrase that just appeared in my head, so then I spent a long time thinking about what that name might mean and what poem might emerge from it. Others start with a curiosity—what would it be like to be one of the men sitting inside the Trojan Horse, what would it be like if you could hear what every single person in the park was thinking?
4. What question do you never get asked that you would like to answer?
Q: What frivolous thing would you invest in if you had millions of dollars?
A: Animal miniaturization.