No single term can contain Mikko Harvey’s delightful, cheeky, absurdist, inimitable debut collection, Unstable Neighbourhood Rabbit. Without the perfect word, we turned to images, and asked Mikko to create a photo story of things that inspired him while writing. The result is a collection of photos that take us from the MacDowell Colony, to the basketball court, to the Vassar College Library, and more.
Here is where I edited Unstable Neighbourhood Rabbit — Irving Fine studio at the MacDowell Colony. I would receive Kevin Connolly’s wonderful edits, handwritten and mailed, in my cubby in Colony Hall then bring them back to this little sanctuary to pore over.
I grew up watching episodes of Muumipeikko (or The Moomins) on repeat, picking up useful tips such as this along the way. If you haven’t experienced it, Muumipeikko is a world — taking both television and book form — in which a group of quiet, sensitive, vaguely hippopotamus-like creatures go on adventures in their pastoral homeland. It’s a classic, and it was the first art of any kind to capture (and probably shape, in some way) my imagination.
This picture has a few layers. First, there is The Eternal Ones of the Dream, the selected poems from the latter part of James Tate’s career. There are certain writers you revisit so often that it becomes a challenge NOT to imitate them — Tate is one of those writers for me. And then there is Chewie, cryptically pawing at the book. In graduate school I lived with the poet Jake Bauer, who is Chewie’s human. Jake helped edit all of the poems in Unstable Neighbourhood Rabbit, including salvaging “Sick Goat” from the junkyard I had left it in, and basically rewriting “During the Emergency” and “Third Date.”
Basketball and poetry are linked in my mind. When I’m stuck on a poem, or feeling down on poetry in general, playing basketball often helps bring me back to a place of possibility. This is a court in Columbus, Ohio, where I spent hundreds of hours. Also, the novelist Andrew Battershill and I competed in numerous, ferocious, sweaty, trash-talking games of one-on-one here.
Here I am as a child standing in a sandpit in Johannislund, Finland, which for me is an archetypal place of play and wonder. I would be walking through the dense woods, then suddenly this giant sandpit would open up before me, seemingly out of nowhere, like something out of a Miyazaki film (in fact, the sandpit used to be connected to a now-abandoned glass factory). I liked jumping off the edge of the pit and how the sand was so soft it didn’t hurt you no matter how far you fell from.
“Squinting assists in measuring the essence of nature,” the artist Paul Klee once said. I had a print of his painting hanging on the cat wall of my bedroom in Ohio, alongside paintings by my grandfather and great-aunt. After I read that phrase, it bounced around in my brain for a few years as a kind of surrealist mantra, a suggestion that the effect of nature might be more accurately felt in art through transformation than through reproduction.
I spent many evenings here, in the poetry section, in the basement, of the Vassar College library. Back then I had the sense that I loved poetry, but I hadn’t discovered any poets whose writing I loved yet. My solution to this condition was to pull books randomly off the shelf, sit down on the floor, and read until I found something that felt right. It was an inefficient, lonely, but in retrospect beautiful process. I recently visited Vassar and felt happy and odd to be back in that poetry section, years later, with my own book in hand.
Mikko Harvey was born in Boston, Massachusetts. His poems have been published in DIAGRAM, Iowa Review, Kenyon Review, and Maisonneuve. He attended Vassar College and the Ohio State University, and he currently serves as a digital poetry editor for Fairy Tale Review. He currently lives in Berkeley, California.