The first time I heard about Cecil was over 10 years ago. My friend Matthea, who was visiting from NYC, told me she planned to write a children’s book about a little girl with a pet glacier named Cecil. I was captivated and continued to pester her about Cecil over the years that followed. Have you written the story about Cecil yet? This character captured my imagination long before the story was written and the book itself is even more wonderful than I could have imagined!
Matthea is a poet in every sense of the word.
She has published several books, teaches at Sarah Lawrence, has published poems in the New Yorker, but also in the way she lives her life. For example, Matthea’s wish when she got married was to have a striped dress, a striped cake and have topiaries all around the wedding site. For Halloween one year, she dressed as a bruise. Her cat is named Wednesday.
See what I mean? Her life is poetry. She is one of the most brilliant humans I know, and she is also one of the kindest. I love Matthea and I am a huge fan of Cecil the Pet Glacier. You will love them both too!
What is your superpower?
Making dogs in the city stop and pull their owners towards me. This is a very useful skill since I love petting people’s dogs! Also, making robots out of things I find on the street.
What are your obsessions and how do they make their way into your creative work?
If you look at my children’s books and photographs, apparently I’m obsessed with ice. I wrote Cecil the Pet Glacier (illustrated by Giselle Potter), then The Little General and the Giant Snowflake (illustrated by Elizabeth Zechel) and for years I’ve been freezing miniatures in ice cubes and photographing them, but it was only last year that I noticed those connections.
Often it’s the reverse of how you framed the question—my obsessions make their way in sneakily from my creative work into my life! I’ll write a poem about something (say, robots or mermaids) and then those things come into my life, so it’s almost the reverse. After I wrote “The Straightforward Mermaid”, I was invited to go to the first international mermaid conference in Las Vegas, so I found myself at a pool party with lots of people wearing tails!
Other things I’m obsessed with: graphic novels, my cat, silhouettes and most recently, embroidery. I wrote the text for a soundwalk, Telettrofono, and in it one of the characters, Esterre Meucci, was sewing handkerchiefs, so I started embroidering what I thought she would embroider (real and invented patents by her husband, like a wave metronome or a bone xylophone).
What are the top 5 things you’ve learned so far as a creative entrepreneur?
1. If you love someone’s work, tell them. I dithered for about a year before I contacted Amy Jean Porter to see if she would do paintings for my book of erasure poetry, Of Lamb, and she’s now a dear friend and collaborator.
2. Do projects you love even if you they don’t make you any money.
3. Sometimes you have to say no to protect your time—I’m still working on this one.
4. If an artist or musician you respect asks to use your work, say yes! Ani Simon-Kennedy made this film inspired by my poem “The Straightforward Mermaid” and I adore it!
5. When writing or making things isn’t going well, go to a museum, walk around the city or get into bed with a book.
Tell us about a time when you had to practice courage.
This is something I have to do every day. Right now I’m finishing a book of poems, titled If the Tabloids are True, What are You? In it I combine text and image in a number of ways (photographs as titles, silhouettes as illustrations)… It’s scary to put myself out into the world as an artist as well as a writer, but I’m about to make the plunge! Joseph Quintela offered to make me a dress out of my book, Of Lamb, and I was both terrified and excited by the prospect (I usually wear all black and I don’t like being photographed). I screwed up all my courage, and said “yes.” He and Gabriel Don (who took photographs), came over, we drank some wine, and the result can be seen above! I’m so glad I said yes.
I believe that vulnerability is a superpower. Tell us a story about how embracing your vulnerability. What were the gifts on the other side?
I recently discovered that a children’s book that shaped who I am today (Fantastic Toys by Monika Beisner) was written by a school friend of my mother’s in Germany, so I was able to get her address—I used to lie in bed at night deciding whether I’d rather have wings, a glowing teddy bear or a heated sheep toboggan. I wrote her an effusive fan letter and sent her my recent books. When she wrote back to me I felt completely starstruck. She sent me her phone number and after a lot of deep breathing and battling of shyness, I called her and we had the most wonderful conversation.
What are a few things people wouldn’t know by looking at you?
That’s hard to say—I feel pretty transparent. Let’s see…I dislike the adjectives “quirky” and “whimsical” because they seem to only ever be used to describe work by women and gay men. Also, it might not be apparent that I’m a huge tennis fan or that I recently watched all the episodes of Torchwood. In one the first episodes, you meet “the last human being” and she’s had so much plastic surgery that she’s basically a pink trampoline with eyes and a mouth.
What did you believe as a kid that you no longer believe?
That I could shrink things with my eyes.
What is your current mantra? Tell us about the last time you used it.
In the midst of writing a series of poems called “The Future of Terror,” this line appeared: “I invented / a motto for myself: Never Say Mayday / While There’s Still Marzipan.” The other day was National Marzipan Day, so I thought of it then!
Matthea Harvey is the author of four books of poetry, most recently, Of Lamb (an illustrated erasure with Amy Jean Porter), and Modern Life, as well as a fable for children and adults, The Little General and the Giant Snowflake, illustrated by Elizabeth Zechel and a picture book, Cecil the Pet Glacier, illustrated by Giselle Potter. She teaches poetry at Sarah Lawrence and lives in Brooklyn with her husband and Wednesday the cat.