A Backward Glance or Two


Mikko Harvey’s poetry might be described as experiential stand-up comedy. In fact, it was a stand-up comic who introduced me to Harvey’s first collection of poems, Unstable Neighbourhood Rabbit. It’s the sort of collection you read through and then hope a sequel is soon in the works. And it is: Harvey’s second collection, Let the World Have You (Anansi), picks up where Rabbit left off. The title poem consists of five segments that at first seem disconnected, but upon closer reading you find they flow together seamlessly, not to mention comically. At one point, a joke is wondering how it feels to be a joke that doesn’t work: “Knock knock. / Who’s—help, please, / I’m trapped inside / a script I wrote / for myself.” A shorter poem, “Personhood,” beckons us to make peace with our past before we are doomed to repeat it: “I regret / 96% of my backward glances, / but to regret is to glance backward / and thus we proceed toward 97.” In “The Best Bread in the World,” a self-promoting baker at the farmers’ market brings to mind this minuscule poem by Richard Brautigan, from Brautigan’s mid-1970s work, Loading Mercury with a Pitchfork: “I wonder if eighty-four-year-old Colonel Sanders / ever gets tired of traveling all around America / talking about fried chicken.” Smack-dab in the centre of Let the World Have You is “Fly Flying into a Mirror,” with its atmospheric finale: “when you fall / asleep is when / I need you / most desperately, because / without your eyes on it this / whole town disappears.” In both poetry and stand-up, the catch is to use as few words as feasible to deliver an ultimate punch; in Harvey’s case, a punch both astonishing and mirthful.
Jill Mandrake

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Jill Mandrake writes strange but true stories and leads Sister DJ’s Radio Band, featuring rhythm and blues covers, post-vaudeville original tunes and occasional comedy bits. https://hido.bandcamp.com/album/the-neti-pot


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