by Helen Losse
Jenny Billings Beaver
Folded Word, 2012
Ordinary Things by Jenny Billings Beaver is a chapbook of short accessible poems about simple, ordinary events that occur in everyday lie. “Ordinary,” however, does not mean trivial. Careful word and detail choice, rather than her topics, makes Beaver’s poems special. Although the reader must always remember that the poet is free to draw characters and details from anywhere, one senses that the author lives an ordinary life herself, that she does those things that are known to almost everyone within American working class society.
Beaver writes about witnessing a car accident in which a car “threw [a boy’s] upper body onto the hood / … like a rag doll, then flung it to the pavement.” The “I” in the poem, which may or may not be Beaver, and her brother were children who had just come from art class and were riding in a van driven by their mother when they saw this (“Raggedy Ann”).
She also writes several poems concerning her mother’s cancer. “We knew something was wrong,” she writes of the ordinary day when she and her brother witnessed her parents talking, as they “walked up and down the driveway” (“cancer”). The subject of illness and hospitalization is continued in “Surgical Trauma Intensive Care Unit: Family Waiting Room #1501.” What reader has not been to an “ordinary” room like this?
This is a room of absence.
we sit in lines of blue
and red leather chairs
in a room split
by a vacant wooden desk
and abandoned phone.
Beaver writes about church through the eyes of a child, with “Communion’s leftover shot glasses” (“Childhood Religion”). She shows us a customer at her parents’ store, Esmeralda, who “weighs 150 pounds but hates her belly” and “after 70” gains weight “because she can’t get used to cooking for 1” (“Esmeralda”). She writes of romance, “NASCAR fast” (“Road Master”) and of dating at the movies. All ordinary, yet quite specific.
In other poems, Beaver explores a father’s relationship to his children. “Daddy” does not attend church with the mother and children. “[They] don’t fight about it— / it’s just their contract” (“Sanctuary”). The father does take his children elsewhere.
Daddy takes us to the old gas station
not far from home,…
the one with the doughnut stand
on the right,…
(Promise not to spoil your dinner.)
the one with the stagnant back room…
we never told mommy about.
(“Doughnuts and a Movie”)
Ordinary Things by Jenny Billings Beaver gathers all the secrets, fears, and wonderings about everyday life and makes them into extra-ordinary but accessible poems. This is a slim volume of poems that can be read, enjoyed, and learned from again and again. These are poems that contain an ah ha!