“Let the World have You” Mikko Harvey (House of Anansi Press) – book review

Mikko Harvey Let the World Have You book cover

Mikko Harvey wants to tell readers small, surreal fictions and observations that encourage them to reflect on the world around us, our situation in it and the psychological environments carried by us. It also reveals in a wry humour so the poems don’t take themselves too seriously. In the opening poem “Spring” the narrator sees a sparrow sitting in the passenger seat of a car,

“And I drove for eleven hours, through three states, attended the funeral,
slept on the couch, heard the whispers, ate the brunch, folded the sheet,
hugged, hugged,

and opened the car door and noticed
a sparrow sitting in the passenger seat.

Howdy, I said.”

It’s not known how the sparrow got in or whether the narrator at any point opened the window so it could get out if it chose or even if the sparrow was real. What it represents is how, in the aftermath of a funeral, nothing seems to have changed. The narrator gets back in his car and drives back to his life. The extraordinary, the funeral, constrasts with the mundane, the sparrow is still in the car, unchanged.

In “Wind-related Ripple in the Wheatfield” a man remembers walking through an apartment in the near-darkness, trying to avoid bumping into things and “lingering instead the perspective/ of the spider I noticed crawling”, when he realises someone should be in the picture he’s creating,

“Thank you for serving me cups of lemon tea
with honey in it. Even though
such copious amounts of liquid
would no doubt drown the insect
I imagined myself to be, that was kind
of you.”

The narrator is too preoccupied with his concerns and perspectives to notice those of the woman he’d lived with. A ‘didn’t appreciate what I had until it was gone’ moment. She shimmers on the edge of focus: she nurtures – the honey in the lemon tea – and gives him sustanence but he was too busy avoiding the bumps and wary of the spider’s trap to reciprocate or notice her kindness. He’s grateful for the lesson, but she’s too nebulous to fully describe. Another poem, “Wet Fur” explorers this kind of relationship where the people in it focus on the wrong details, asking “What’s your moon sign?” or “your Myers-Briggs personality type?” as if these can give answers when a couple can lie

“side-by-side in this grass, the whole field
so American, all of our kings
somewhere else recovering
from microdermabrasion,
our personal wolves
playing around in the brook together under
our imprecise supervision.”

There’s a sense of regret. If the wolves had been given more attention, might the couple still be together? Regrets pop up in the “Department of the Interior”,

“There is a footbridge
in a forest

almost no one
ever crosses.
………………..The human mind is the moss
growing on its stonework.
I wish

I told
you the truth more.”

The footbridge makes the reader sit up and take notice. It’s not a regular feature of a forest and there’s no mention of a stream, river or ditch that it might have been built to span. Perhaps there was once, but whatever it crosses is no longer there so it’s fallen into disuse and become home to moss. Despite it’s lack of use, no one’s dismantled it either. Bridges suggest connections, offering a way for two sides to interact. But the connection’s been lost. The final line isn’t clear whether the connection broke because the narrator actively told lies or simply omitted truths. It is about lying or lack of communication? Was the deception deliberate or simply a habitual failure to connect?

In “Liability”, set in a cafe, a representative from Tidy Solutions Plumbing Inc watches people trip on the wellhead that sticks out from the sidewalk

“people do trip over the wellhead, but the truth is
nearly all of them merely stumble then steady themselves
rather than falling down. Which is why it was strange
when a woman tripped and fell hard to the sidewalk
this morning. She remained on the concrete for a full minute
while passersby flowed around her. She was something of
an island in a stream
. . . One man offered his hand to help,
but she refused it. I myself was tempted to rush
to her aid, except I am obligated not to. I am invisible
and, if anybody asks, unaffiliated with Tidy Solutions
Plumbing Inc. Her elegant black hat had fallen off in the fall.”

Despite the drama, the woman manages to get up and walk away but leaves her hat behind, which gets kicked about a bit by other pedestrians,

“Then a dog sniffed it, a good sniff too: nuanced, probing,
unhurried. The dogs’ eyes closed in concentration.
From behind the café window, I watched this happen
and felt a measure of relief — knowing, at least,
the lonely hat had told its story to somebody.”

Something marked this hat-wearer as lonely: she is the only one to actually fall from tripping on the wellhead (most correct their step before falling), she remains still while other walk around her and refuses the offer of help. An “elegant black hat” is not everyday wear, something kept for an occasion or to suggest there’s something special about the wearer, perhaps a distraction to hide a feature the wearer doesn’t want noticed, a misjudged hairstyle or thinning or lack of hair. The hair is not mentioned although the fallen hat would have revealed it. It’s also left behind. An odd thing to do if it was a quality hat. Either the wearer was too flustered by the fall to retrieve it or felt the memory of falling was too shameful to continue wearing a momento of that trip. It’s not a human who learns the woman’s/hat’s story but a dog. Perhaps allowing the observer from Tidy Solutions Plumbing Inc to assuage his guilt at not helping.

Mikko Harvey’s wry observations and surreal vignettes pose recognisable situations that ask indirect questions about what the reader notices and decides to take away. There are no wrong answers, but at it’s heart “Let the World Have You” is concerned with connections, how readers move and relate to each other and their environments, real, imagined and psychological.

“Let the World Have You” is available from House of Anansi Press.

Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection. It is also available as an eBook.

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