Matthea Harvey’s “The Oboe Player”

This month’s Music Poem post, Matthea Harvey’s “The Oboe Player” from her 2000 collection Pity the Bathtub its Forced Embrace of the Human Form.

“His lips are full, but to play he must fold them in, / make a tight line of those wet curves” begins Matthea Harvey‘s sensual “The Oboe Player”. “It is shocking to see / them sprout out again when he finishes playing a long note” it continues, opening a poem full of luxurious descriptions.

The poem moves between the audience’s reactions to the power of the oboe player (“Those who pick / at their programs wish his solo were over, others look down / thinking he would only have to look at a bundle of green twine / and it would burst into flower”), the other musicians’ and the conductor’s reactions (“The conductor who approached the podium resolving / to rein him in abandons his brisk baton strokes, succumbs / to swaying”).

And the oboe player’s relationship with his own playing:

[…] The sound he produces is never thin enough,
cannot express I am a lost nymph in the woods without adding,
a voluptuous nymph at that. He has tried to take the wink
out of his playing, read the most obscure books on the subject,
one filled with circus metaphors: think tightrope
but he is always down in the sawdust, slapping a seal,
pinching the plump curves of an acrobat. […]

Bringing nature into a metaphor for classical music is nothing new, but the sprouting, the green twine bursting into flower, in combination with the circus images creates a delightfully fun, vibrant atmosphere. But the oboeist’s struggles are real, he “has been whispering / his sins into that dark wooden tube” and when the house lights come up he hears “want / echoed back in each footstamp, each clap.” I love the bit of darkness, all the fun and color tempered by the oboe player’s temperament.

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