Rising Currents
July 7, 2010  |  Events & Programs, Rising Currents
Poet Matthea Harvey’s Plans to Slow Rising Currents

Installation view of Rising Currents: Projects for New York’s Waterfront (on view through October 11). Photo: Jason Mandella

Early this summer, I was asked by MoMA educator Laura Beiles to write a poem responding to the show Rising Currents for a Modern Poets reading that took place aboard the New York Water Taxi on June 29. When I first walked into the gallery space, I was struck by the measuring sticks painted on the walls, showing how much the water will rise in the next century.

Seeing a mark that indicates how high the water will be in, say, 2080 made the exhibition’s goals particularly vivid and intimate. This idea of measuring the water rising ended up being the backbone for my poem (titled with an image of a ruler underwater), in which a speaker talks to her lover about the water rising at a greatly accelerated rate and—along with other New Yorkers—tries to implement plans to slow the water rising, when it’s already much too late.

I used details from some of the plans in the poem—the retired subway cars, the artificial islands, and the sunken forest (my own bonsai version)—and invented a few others, the least practical of which is, perhaps, the lobster boats piled with biscuits. As a poet, I was very drawn to SCAPE ’s Oyster-Tecture, because linguistically it was so charming. I didn’t manage to get their invented word, “flupsy” (a dual-purpose oyster nursery and raft), into my poem, but I referenced their plan in the “oyster extravaganza”—one of the dioramas that gets washed away at the end of the poem, right before everyone drowns.

Unwedge the ruler you use to prop up your
window and meet me in the street. I’ll bring
the measuring tape curled in the desk drawer
like a sullen snail, and hand in hand, we’ll watch
as the water creeps up an inch, then two.
The river’s a baby, it’s a toddler, it’s grown.
The lecture series never made it past Puddles.
When the water is at our knees, will someone
please pick a plan? Plan A: A fleet of sunken
subway car reefs where fish with oil-clogged gills
can find some relief—hovering in the newly-calm water
as eels coil around silver poles still smeared with
commuters’ coughs and fingerprints. When the water
is at our waists, Plan B: Let loose the artificial islands,
one squirrel per. Also, the giant lilypads and the piles
of ash some of us have been saving for this occasion.
When the water is at our shoulders, the officials will
roll out the boulders and we’ll throw our bonsais in
the river to simulate that underground forest they said
might help—a miniature, misplaced effort, it’s true.
Our codicil to Plan C’s a bust. Years of scrupulous snipping
(my bristly little juniper, your tiny sugar maple) sink
with nary a bubble or clank of ceramic pot hitting rock.
Someone’s child goes bobbing by in a flotation device
made of empty milk jugs and waterwings. A dog, no two, go
under. Now, as the last bit of ice melts and the water laps at
the balconies, I can see in your eyes that it’s too late for Plans D
through Z, the oyster extravaganza, the lobster boats piled with
biscuits, all those dear dioramas with their rescue dramas
and baby-blue waves the size of a doll’s hand, that approach,
but never reach our once-dry land.


Thank you so much for such a great and inspiring post!

I work on the Climate Team at World Wildlife Fund US. This exhibit has great power in the way it informs people about impacts and adaptation strategy. It should be replicated for every coastal city in America. Washington, DC would be a logical next place. Perhaps the exhibit could be displayed in the new Capital Visitors Ctr. The Congress should see this.

The nexus of science and architecture is incredibly compelling.

Thanks for the innovation and creativity to address an important challenge we must confront.

Matt Banks

This exhibition is both entertaining and informative. One is able to explore the modern art movement from it’s beginings in the early 20th century to the very contemporary art being produced in todays modern times.

Excellent collection with both the classics and the unknowns.

C tres bien !!!

This bio fuel stuff is so cool especially when incorporated with wind and solar infrastructure. Drop the Arab oil and go for green. Make abetter America.

this exhibition was very very interesting, i think was very creativity..

very cool

este lugar es demasiado grande, tiene cinco pisos de pura creatividad y esculturas de alta calidad. es uno de los mejores museos del mundo

Thanks you very much

That is so wonderful for you. I hope you have a great time.

me gusto mucho el museo tengo 9 years y me ha gustado mucho

this is sick u rock2

This arts was weird i didn’t understand the arts meaning
good art musement

c est tres bien le moma

It s a beautiful place

sehr sehr gut ist wirklich erstaunlich

great exhibition(:

very cool
great exhibion=)

very good hahaha

cool exhibition!!!

So good! She actually has a lot of poems about water so this is so fitting. And yes, such irony to have written this before Sandy.

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