Photo by Matthew Harper
Published by Finishing Line Press
ISBN 978-1-63534-551-3 (anticipated)
The book is available for order via https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/this-being-done-by-stephanie-l-harper/ (cover price is $14.99), and is scheduled to ship on (or about) July 13, at which time it will also be available through Ingram Book Group (i.e., Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, etc.).
Review submitted by Andrea Walker
When I finished my first reading of Stephanie L. Harper’s chapbook This Being Done, I exhaled and thought this is amazing. I enjoyed the seventeen poems for their imaginative language, the insight into self and others they offer, and their expression of wonder and pain. Although each poem is different in style and subject matter, threads run throughout, introduced in one poem, then surprising the reader by showing up in another seemingly unrelated poem.
Harper’s opening poem “How to Be a Malacologist” echoes of Ann Sexton’s “Courage.” “Remember when your child’s heart led your head . . .” While Sexton leads the reader to think of life’s small events that require courage, Harper’s speaker looks back in wonder at one childhood phase, the discovery and awareness brought about by the study of a mollusk. To “pull yourself outside-in,” becomes clear on a later page in “Brave.”
In the unlikely ekphrastic “Anatomy of a Fustercluck” the speaker describes the annoying way spectators flock to a crime scene, morbidly curious, creating a toxic environment of speculation. Throughout the poem, she extends a bird metaphor with words like “flock,” “pecking order,” and “stork’s swift delivery,” cleverly alluding to the title. This amusing poem concludes with the insightful observation “Meanwhile, that blond-haired man . . . pacing this whole time on the cluster’s fringe . . . If you ask me, he’s as guilty as the day is long.”
There is much to do in this collection with nature, and another thread of connection includes references to birds and bees. Sometimes the poems seem linked like “Fight or Flight” to “Brave.” Several poems have instances of watching: from a hidden place in “Fight or Flight” to the desperate suggestion that “Somebody should be watching!” in “Brave.”
From “Prologue to My Birth” Harper honors (or questions) her history and our history all the way back to ancient times. Subtle allusions to the “Divine Queen,” “fairytales of heavenly salvation,” “Life that was severed from our psyches when it was reduced to a Word and uttered bereft of melody—” connect one creation story to a different one. Again, we have themes of nature, of birds and bees woven into the memory of the speaker.
Three poems about children grouped together address passions of motherhood. “Matthew in the Fountain” eternalizes a moment of his childhood along with the almost unbearable love of the mother as the toddler plays “In the spray’s scattering of afternoon rays.” “In Response to My 13-Year-Old Daughter’s Letter,” the bird shows up again, this time in the form of “the white dove of sarcasm.” “How to Take an Amazing Photo of a Solar Eclipse,” epic in scope, illustrates how every event is built on preceding events. The compounding effect of years of moments, of raising children, and the brutality of ignorance shows nothing happens spontaneously. The speaker admonishes herself to “strain . . . to grasp how his world is wholly un-glossed over by super-imposed paradigms.” These poems of motherhood express unending awe and awareness.
The children poems segue into “An Elegy to Birds & Bees.” Here is the phrase that becomes the collection’s title This Being Done. Remembering that an elegy is typically a lament to the dead, the reader must ponder and decide what is being done. “In this breath of finality” the reader travels from scenes of the children to “the relentlessly heavy gnawing red slough of losing myself to nothing for nothing” and “untold stories.”
The most difficult story in the collection, “Brave” is a heartbreaking narrative of childhood fear, deprivation, sexual assault, trying to get away, of those who should be watching, and eventually of fighting back. Here the reader is connected back to “Fight or Flight.”
Most of the poetry in this collection is free verse. However, written in iambic pentameter cinquains, “Rhapsody in Bone” flows naturally with ease recounting a tragic folk tale. Legendary in content, the eleven-stanza poem tells the story of a maiden drowned “beneath the frozen fathoms of the sea” whose “body belts a rhapsody.”
In a collection of quite serious subject matter, “Instead” sums up the essence of and passion for writing, as writers try to coax meaning onto the page. Universally, though, the poem can show anyone’s passion for anything. Where there is passion, the mundane is often neglected.
Interpretation of poetry is often up to the reader because poetry is valid when an idea is stated or implied that is meaningful to the reader. This Being Done develops the sensitivities, whether joyful or maddening, that the human condition bestows upon us. Harper’s amazing poems will wring you out.
Stephanie L. Harper grew up in California, attended college in Iowa and Germany, completed graduate studies and gave birth to her first child in Wisconsin, and lives with her husband and children in Oregon.
To read previous chapbook reviews, please visit:
Previous Chapbook Reviews