Skip navigation

Hello, the Roses was, for me, one of those poetry collections that works well as a collection, where the style has a cumulative effect (that was not meant to be a cloud / weather pun, but it is now) – that is to say, that while I was straining to get through the first few poems, by somewhere halfway or two-thirds through the book, it was finally starting to have a pleasurable effect on me, and by the end of the collection I was disappointed it was the end. I think this may speak to some of the effects of accumulation in the work, and that one could likely make the argument that this works on a narrower level as well, within the specific poem as well as within the collection.

Dorothy Wang’s chapter on Berssenbrugge makes a similar argument across a career, with her list of “certain patterns, recurrent images, themes, one might even say obsessions, [which] gradually become apparent.” (253) Wang notes that they can “roughly be divided into those that describe phenomena or the natural world and those that describe states of consciousness and feeling,” and, too, that they are “states that are both embodied and disembodied . . . concrete and curiously abstracted” — and while I think this is correct, its focus is on ontologically characterizing Berssenbrugge’s obsessions, trying to determine what the nature (again, not intended to be a pun, but here we all are) of the content is and what claim this can make about her poetics. In the spirit of attention to form as much as content, I’d like to draw attention to the formal effects of repetition as well, and in particular the (botanical, meterological, etc.) specificity of the things being repeated.

To be clear, this functions on a book level better than it could across a career: we have the broad favorites Wang points out (light, cloud, presence, absence, dawn, sunset, color, form, and so on) but the collection has its own that – as far as I can tell – are more specific to the landscape of this book: saxifrage, green, rosettes, violet, glitter, artemisia, pine, forest, lady slippers, lavender. These are natural phenomena, and they are imbued with energy, but they don’t span the material/immaterial gap Wang is interested to see in Berssenbrugge, and I wonder whether one could reasonably say they contribute to any sense that “human consciousness and natural phenomena are not discontinuous” (254). Rather, I think they provide a counterpoint to the broader energies, flux, and dissolving borders of Berssenbrugge’s poetics; perhaps a specific setting for a broader epistemological drama. What could it mean, then, to say that sometimes nature flows and shifts into (and with) human identity, while other times it seems to stand as a force more to itself?

Perhaps I sound too much like a Romanticist (or a Miltonist) here, and in fact it has been a struggle not to shout about flower catalogs in this post, but I don’t want to list too hard in that direction either: I’m not suggesting that it’s wrong to view that flux in Berssenbrugge’s work. Rather, that it exists along with, interstitched with, the sense of a landscape as an exterior and almost traditionally sublime thing — but that this force is achieved through the specificity of natural language and its accumulation across the whole.

-MJ

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *