Meeting the Wondermentalist - Matt Harvey
PUBLISHED: 09:58 20 September 2010 | UPDATED: 17:51 20 February 2013
Totnes poet Matt Harvey tells Anna Turns why he finds the simple things in life so fascinating
Describing his new poetry book, Where Earwigs Dare, Matt Harvey says that there is a definite green tinge to the book. Pitched as horticultural, ecological, political or just plain funny, Matt has written about various rural countryside subjects including slugs, bees, leeks and cows.
My poem about cows stems from years of leaning on gates watching cows in fields. When they come up close and you see their mouths, it conjures up phrases in my head like slumbery lumbering, so my poetry tries to be true to what a cow is actually like.
I always loved writing nonsense, odd stories and humorous poetry!
Matts poetry offers a cheeky, playful look at the normal things in life. I always loved writing nonsense, odd stories and humorous poetry! he says, and his work certainly will have you chuckling away.
Matt thinks of some of the poems in Where Earwigs Dare as songs. Amanda, the editor at Green Books, calls them comfort poems. They are just there to make you feel happy, rather than trying to be clever. Other poems in Matts new book are more rambling than usual. There are definitely more words in this book, apart from one three-word poem about Botox: early onset taxidermy. Horrible really, but I liked the thought so much, I find it very painful!
Matt explains that poetry is a healing, redemptive thing to do. He says: I do want to open up doors so people think arent things strange when you look at them? Ultimately, his mission as a writer is to give pleasure, to engage and to entertain.
Entertainment is the mainstay of Villages in Action (VIA), a rural touring scheme for which Matt is a patron and a regular performer. Based in Crediton, the VIA organises a menu of professional performances, gigs and acts such as Matt Harvey, which village halls across Devon can book out. Money raised on the door goes towards the scheme, so ultimately people get to see things they never would otherwise see.
Its a great scheme with community spirit, and the villagers even put up the performers for the night, explains Matt. I always take my sound system but if the village hall cant find lights Ill use the most powerful angle poised light I can find so we get by.
Always one for direct community involvement, Matt is a keen supporter of the Transition Town movement in his local home town, Totnes. I think Transition Towns are brilliant and Im keen to support them.
Matt and his wife, Heather, have recently joined a monthly Transition Streets group through which locals are successfully obtaining grants for photovoltaic cells to harness solar electricity, for example. Because we have the technology to harness these energies that wont run out, it is just madness not to make the transition across to use these energies, says Matt who is excited about getting his PV cell. We cant organise ourselves collectively to share what resources we do have there would be enough food to feed everyone if things were more balanced.
How does this relate to Matts poetry?
In a quiet way, poetry tries to address ongoing issues like this. From environmental issues to those of a more personal nature, Matts poetry is a welcome tonic when tackling tricky subjects.
One of Matts favourite characters, Empath Man, originates from his days living in a psychotherapy residential community years ago where he met Heather. My experiences made me overaware of emotions and the language people use to express themselves. Coming from that environment, those were my references. Empath Man has at last found his way into print in Matt Harveys latest book. Empath Man clearly comes out of my experiences and I wouldnt have written them otherwise.
Matt now regularly works at mental health conferences for professionals and service-users, relating poetry to their specific issues. Im not sure it increases anyones understanding, but I think it might comfort people in their lack of understanding. Im not adding to the wisdom but I am keeping these subjects on the table.
Matt often uses his special random word box, a collection of 20 nouns or verbs, as a starting point.
People come to writing groups to express themselves, and to communicate the burning issues in the chambers of their hearts through poetry or prose, explains Matt. When I come up with these random words, they might say well I dont want to write about feet, I want to write about human relationships. So I say, trust me, start with feet and all the burning issues (about human relationships, for example) will find their way into whatever odd starting points we give you. And with these odd starting points, these subjects appear in mysterious and quirky, imaginative ways.
I do want to open up doors so people think arent things strange when you look at them?
As we talk, Matt admits he has a habit of making up his own words. It is something I like to do, and often they make sense.
Matt Harveys name often goes in association with Wondermentalism. It is set up in opposition to fundamentalism. But ironically, it is fundamentally uncertain and wonder-filled rather than fundamentally certain.
So Matt enjoys being as sceptical about the mundane explanation as people are about the more fanciful explanation.
Just as Matt can be heard regularly on Radio 4s Saturday Live, so will the Wondermentalist Cabaret soon be on the air waves, with four shows being recorded (one in Totnes) this autumn for BBC Radio 4. The line-up includes all the old favourites from the Dead Poets slam to Empath Man. Wondermentalism has now evolved into much more of a phenomenon than Matt Harvey the Wondermentalist could have imagined.
Where Earwigs Dare
By Matt Harvey
A silver trail across the monitor;
fresh mouse-droppings beneath the swivel-chair;
the view obscured by rogue japonica.
Released into the wild, where earwigs dare
you first went freelance and then gently feral.
You worked from home then wandered out again,
roughed it with spider, ant, shrew, blackbird, squirrel
in your own realm, your micro-Vatican.
No name conveys exactly what it is
Chalet? Gazebo? You were not misled
by studios, snugs, garden offices,
workshops or outhouses. A sheds a shed
and proud of it. You wouldnt want to hide it.
Wi-Fi-enabled rain-proof wooden box
a box to sit in while you think outside it.
Self-rattling cage, den, poop-deck, paradox,
hutch with home-rule, cramped cubicle of freedom,
laboratory, thought-palace, bodgers bower,
plot both to sow seeds and to go to seed in,
cobwebbed, Cuprinol-scented, Seat of Power.
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