Matthea Harvey is the author of five books of poetry–If the Tabloids are True What Are You?,Of Lamb (an illustrated erasure with images by Amy Jean Porter), Modern Life (a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and a New York Times Notable Book), Sad Little Breathing Machine and Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form. She has also published two children’s books, Cecil the Pet Glacier, illustrated by Giselle Potter and The Little General and the Giant Snowflake, illustrated by Elizabeth Zechel. She teaches poetry at Sarah Lawrence.
Here, she talks bizarre sandwiches, a long-term relationship with pineapple, and why she’ll be ready for Bolognese on her death-bed.
On her all-time favorite meal:
I love toasted cheese and pineapple sandwiches. I lived in Marnhull, England until I was eight and the Crown (the pub right down the street which Thomas Hardy used at the start of Tess of the D’Urbervilles) served them. My husband, Rob, has a weird pressed sandwich he also grew up eating (the Casper Family Sandwich) and it’s a truly awful combination (toasted white bread filled with American cheese, pickle relish and peanut butter then dipped in tomato soup). We once had a ping-pong/sandwich competition party and to my amazement his sandwich trounced my delicious one (I think there was some intense lobbying on his part).
On what the light looks like during her favorite meal of the day:
I’m working on a book about clouds and photographing clouds obsessively so I’ve recently been very aware of the light… I think my favorite light is sunset rain followed by a bright sky with all types of clouds in the sky. I recently saw a double rainbow from my roof in Brooklyn followed by my first golden mammatus clouds (they look a bit like breasts, hence the name). They looked truly alien, so that might put me off food, but it would seem appropriate to eat some kind of pouch-like meat pie underneath them—perhaps a Cornish Pasty or a sausage roll.
On snacking while writing:
I drink gallons of seltzer.
On her go-to late-night snack:
I don’t have a go-to. I have go-to-sometimes candidates though… popcorn, a frozen mango bar, licorice, or a glass of red wine.
On her food quirks and habits:
For about five years I ate pineapple every day. Then I stopped. I hesitate to admit the next one, but since it featured heavily in my sisters’ toast at my wedding, I suppose I should confess. I won’t eat food that’s served in its own environment. For example, bouillabaisse, which is basically a bowl of boiled ocean. Or a steak salad, since it’s too easy to picture the cows grazing on grass. I’ve had this quirk for such a long time that it’s a very quick calculation when I look at a menu.
On her final meal request:
I’d have my other favorite foods—gemelli or strozzapretti Bolognese (I can’t decide on which shape of noodle) followed by Baked Alaska (I love a complicated contradictory dessert). I’d be siting on a glacier (in case I haven’t seen one yet—I wrote a children’s book about a pet glacier) with Rob and Vamos and Meucci, our two cats (in insulated beds or watching puffins—their choice). There’s a poem in my second book of poems, Sad Little Breathing Machine, titled “Meat Ravioli vs. Spaghetti Bolognese,” and it’s a thinking-through of those two foods and what they might mean as a way of living, i.e. “self as discrete package or self in the world.” I tend towards the former and aim for the latter, but on my deathbed hopefully I’ll be ready to shed the packaging of my body and join the many molecules of the world.