Bounce House grapples with grief & motherly love

Author Jennica Harper talks latest collection of poetry

Jennica Harper
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Photo by Pardeep Singh

Jennica Harper’s Bounce House explores the highs and lows of mother and daughter relationships with sensitivity and focus.

“The mother who is gone and the daughter who is here: those are the people it’s dedicated to,” Harper said in an interview with The Journal.

Harper wrote poetry about her mother before she died. This book shows the writer grappling with how their relationship has changed since her passing, and how she continues to navigate her grief.

“One of the motifs that runs throughout the book is this idea of jumping and bouncing and trying to leave the earth, but being tethered back to it,” Harper said. “Once I realized that was one of the key feelings—images—running throughout the book, I started thinking about trampolines and other images that do appear in the book.”

Another motif that runs throughout the book is the idea of the earth being flat. Harper played with the idea of jumping and leaving the earth in various forms. Visualizing the earth as flat allowed Harper to manipulate traditional concepts and ideologies.

This also relates to the effect grief can have on a person’s perception of the world around them. It can make familiar territory seem unfamiliar.

“I thought that was a good way to reflect that idea […] of the home and the house. Do you ever really leave it?”

This collection of poetry, Harper explained, can be thought of as one long piece of poetry that’s broken into smaller poems.

“They’re exploring one idea through a variety of different goals and perspectives, but they really are a whole thought,” Harper said. “In my dream world, […] somebody might sit down for an hour and read the whole thing.”

From start to finish, the writing process took a year. Harper didn’t work on it constantly throughout the year. Because it began with so much grief, she wrote an initial draft, then set it aside before returning to it later.

She wasn’t even sure she wanted to publish it for the world to read.

When she finished the book, Harper commissioned artist Andrea Bennett to illustrate the cover and some pictures for the poems within.

When it came to her poetry’s form, Harper tried to scale her emotions down into packages, saying, “These huge feelings, these impossible feelings that I’m trying to reckon with, I’m trying to fit them in boxes. I tried to make simple, neat little boxes on each page that were not over flowing and messy and full of extraneous constrictions.”

The poet said she asked herself, “Can you put your grief in a neat little box?” Then, she forced herself to do exactly that, though she didn’t want to let all her emotions reveal themselves. She wanted to show that grief can’t be restrained, even when restraints are imposed. Whether it’s from friends, family, or co-workers, external pressures to stop grieving can make someone feel like they’re supposed to get back to normal life—but grief doesn’t work that way.

 This form isn’t one she sticks to in all of her poetry writing. She’s experimented with more formal styles, writing villanelles and sonnets, but this exercise was perfect for what she was exploring in Bounce House.

Harper’s main job is writing for television shows. Currently she’s working on Jann, a show about Canadian singer and songwriter Jann Arden.

Working in television allows Harper to maintain her love of writing poetry. It’s more of a hobby—one she only turns to when inspiration strikes.

“The poetry I write, I need something to make itself known to me, that there’s something I need to start writing about. Otherwise, I don’t make a habit of trying to write poetry whether it’s coming or not. I just wait.”

“I just want to do it if I believe in it,” Harper said. “It remains personal to me.”

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