Jennifer Habel’s ‘Good Reason’
by Jennifer Habel
NFSPS, $13.50 paperback, 80 pp.
The surface of Jennifer Habel’s writing is clear and tranquil like a shallow cove. Her poems pull the reader in with jewel-toned clarity, and it is only upon drifting into the depths that one realizes the riptide undertow, the surrounding white-capped ocean. Surely, we meet the “blue shock of sky” (“This Week’s Sign Asks What the Lord Requires” 3) and “dancers and skaters [spinning] / from boughs” (“A Steady Surprise of Stars” 20-21). And yet this youthful reverence is often met with skinned-knee discovery: “he learns / not to touch. I learn not to ask” (“Little History” 11-12).
In Good Reason, Habel explores what it means to become a wife and a mother, a self whose very identity is bound up in others, a self who, “forgets the missing parts of herself” (“Where All the Words Were Grass” 12). She balances this loss by illustrating the anticipation and thrill the speaker feels toward motherhood. In “Delivery,” she notes the surreal nature of labor:
Someone knit the cap; someone took
a picture. I have it in place
of what I might have remembered. (5-6)
She depicts the experience as a voyeur in the same way that the speaker describes sex from the third person in “Aubade”—with acceptance:
The point is silence. Doing and being
done to, legs like this then that.
Is there something wrong
that she pictures him
inside her when he’s inside her? (1-2)
Yet amidst these moments—these unwieldy, human moments—Habel’s poems rise out of their humanity into something more sacred. In “Delivery (2),” the speaker explains,
Like a handler watches a tiger
I watch her. Like a water bug
she moves upon the surface. (1-3)
There is a surprising swiftness in Habel’s compact poems that stems from the quick cadence of her syllables. Her punctuation often comes earlier than anticipated, asserting each phrase. Reading these poems has the effect of renting a tidy room where even an “egg cracks like heaven / into the clean white dish” (“Reading Goodnight Moon After News of Suicide” 1-2). It is this accuracy that is most compelling about her poems and also what makes us so willing to take bold leaps into the abstract, where love can be “like minnows that turn and turn again” (“God Wouldn’t Take Him” 19-20). It is just as Habel warns, “Permission is a vow / we did not know we’d made” (“At the Wedding” 10-11). It is this permission that Habel earns with her reader, turning us, like the minnows, again and again.
Good Reason is Habel’s first collection and is the winner of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies’ 2011 Stevens Poetry Manuscript Competition.