Bouncing between life and death, facts and fictions

The cover of Jennica Harper’s Bounce House, published in late 2019, evokes the image of Carl Fredricksen’s house from the movie Up — carried from the Earth by balloons. The image alone encapsulates shared themes between Harper’s book of poetry and the children’s movie — that of heartbreaking departures set against the enthusiasm of youth.

But that is where the similarities end. Harper’s long poem — though it deals mainly with the winding road of grief — summarizes the struggles of finding hope in darkness, even in our current reality.

A Vancouver-based Canadian author, Harper is an award-winning poet and is a figure who should be better known to the wider Canadian public.

Producer and co-creator of the television series Jann — a story that examines the life of daughters taking care of their aging mothers — Harper pushes important representations of women’s stories into the mainstream spotlight.

Bounce House features these same experiences of womanhood and motherhood while also taking on everything from flat-Earthers to the patriarchal history of philosophy and science.

By doing so, Harper contemplates how perception becomes fact through the social contract. She juxtaposes the perception that each peak of a tortoise shell could be seen as the “ridge[s] of a mountain” — playing with the myth of the “world turtle,” — against the absurdity of the flat-Earthers argument, forcing us to examine the stories humans have invented to understand our place in the cosmos.

Harper also takes on Schrödinger’s cat as a patriarchal scientific and philosophic story limited to the world of binaries and seemingly unaware of liminal spaces. The line “There is no cat. Only men and their theories” questions the status and story of what is considered life or death, especially amongst death in infancy and stillborn ideas.

However, Bounce House is more than meditative thoughts. The poem makes a case for a universal Canadian experience consisting of geese and unstable weather.

Responding with “vile motherfuckers” to a goose attack, the line brings a familiar reality to Canadian readers. And Canada’s other universal phenomenon — our penchant for cold and snowy weather — receives the same treatment.

One of Harper’s stanzas recounts a car accident “en route to a Spring Break beach” where “a slick sudden snow” bears down on the vehicle. This episode may remind readers how and why Canada received its stereotypical nomenclature for being a snowy winter-scape.

For the tentative poetry reader, Harper’s book is a great starting point, each stanza consisting of four accessible couplets. The stanzas themselves feel like individual, open ended stories, each one composed of a focused theme.

In fact, the book is divided into sections by illustrations from Andrea Bennett — including a basketball for the flat-Earthers, a roulette wheel to signify the randomness of reality and a house of holiday cards delicately placed on top of each other to symbolize the delicate existence of loved ones in our lives.

Even the text itself evokes visual depictions of experience — fractured thoughts are composed with large spaces in between the words.

The simplicity of language and visuals used in the long poem leaves plenty of room for self-awareness and contemplation amongst a blend of shared human experience and the humour that can be found in our day-to-day world.

Where Bounce House succeeds most is the poem’s encapsulation of our lives as a bounce — from the liminal space we exist in between our own birth and death, and the small, liminal existence of humanity in history, space and time.

 

Bounce House is available at major retailers.