The Written Image: Matthea Harvey’s If the Tabloids Are True What Are You?

In an October 2007 interview published in the online magazine Bookslut, poet Matthea Harvey cited the work of visual artists Amy Cutler and Julie Morstad and photographer Gabriel Orozco as particularly influential. A fan of graphic novels whose poetry has been featured as part of art and multimedia exhibitions in New York City, Harvey also creates visual art, some of which is included alongside new poems in her fourth full-length collection, If the Tabloids Are True What Are You?, published by Graywolf Press in August. While Harvey’s interest in visual art has been apparent in her earlier books—the cover of her 2009 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award–winning collection Modern Life featured a photograph taken by the author, and she collaborated with painter Amy Jean Porter on the 2011 illustrated erasure Of Lamb—her poetry has always been at the fore. Now, the illustrations and artwork in her new collection exhibit Harvey’s skill as an artist whose visual work embodies the kind of playful imaginings and deep foreboding present in much of her written work. Prose poems about mermaids who eat tourists’ trash, teach younger mermaids to impersonate rocks, and hang around the deathbeds of their neighbors appear next to illustrated mermaid silhouettes whose lower halves consist of grandfather clocks, Swiss Army knives, and hammers. Images of miniature figurines trapped in ice, like the ones pictured above—which Harvey created and photographed for the collection—appear without accompanying text. Photographs of Harvey’s embroidered works, which accompany poems from the “Telettrofono” sequence, detail fanciful patents inspired by the work of the nineteenth-century, Staten Island–based inventor Antonio Meucci. More of Harvey’s visual art can be found on her website,