Stephanie L. Harper’s debut chapbook This Being Done dives into the human experience, specifically her human experience. She writes about her experiences, from raising a son and “slinging around terms like high-functioning autism, echolalia, sensory integration dysfunction, perfect pitch and freaking genius,” to dealing with sexual harassment. She places raw emotion on the page and walks us through her experience as a mother and wife.
Her collection starts off with “How to Be a Malacologist,” a poem that takes you into her childhood before moving into personal stories about raising her children. Already in her first poem, a reader can relate to the idea that, if people could hide in their shells like snails, “how many times / you would have done exactly that.”
Nature imagery is abundant throughout each poem. In “Anatomy of a Fustercluck,” an ekphrastic piece chosen for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge in January 2016, she applies an abundance of bird description (about a piece of art with no birds in it, which makes the piece even more intriguing). She writes about how people “flock to orange pylons, / fluster in clumps like maimed birds, / and hatch out stories, / which are always either parbroiled in half-truths, / or scrambled by hypocrisy.”
In other poems, she’s specific about birds she’s referencing, such as a white dove or the northern flicker, a bird with a distinctive call not always seen in the open. As a writer who also frequently uses nature imagery, I found the continuation of the avian imagery welcoming and thought-provoking, while providing thematic consistency.
The second half of the collection moves from the free-verse raw, direct human experience into more focus on poetic form, such as sestinas. However, Harper maintains the themes of motherhood, nature imagery, and a tint of feminism throughout the collection. We see her honesty in “How to Take an Amazing Photo of a Solar Eclipse,” where she writes of her son, “Never try to propagandize him / into a semblance of societal expectation.”
Harper reminds readers of what it means to love your children when reading lines like: “My child you burst open my heart like the sun / bursts infinitely open each fountain drop.” Her debut book will appeal to any reader, and speak to the journeys we all go on throughout life (parenthood, moving, companionship, and more).
Reviewed by Emily Walling
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.
Available for preorder here from Finishing Line Press, here: https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/this-being-done-by-stephanie-l-harper/