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In Part II of Hello, the Roses Mei-mei Berssenbrugge interrogates and elaborates vision as a creative modality. I draw out her embedded framework through exhaustive close-readings of “Glitter,” “Slow Down, Now,” “Verdant Heart,” and “Hello, the Roses.”

“Glitter” documents dissolution of the subject-object dichotomy occurring during a mutual regard between the poet and a flower that both opens and closes the poem. Vision initiates a communicative channel between entities, allowing for the possibility of a form of thinking that is not limited to sentient beings. Thoughts may arrive nonverbally, but they do not resist transfiguration into verbal form (as the poem).

In “Slow Down, Now,” Berssenbrugge engages the animating spirit of “Glitter” while introducing more specific language that condenses into a paradigm including the key terms perception, image, and meaning.

“Verdant Heart” continues the sequence and begins with an evocation of synthesis and synchronization. Perception, with its layers of accrued complexity, offers access to the constitutive elements of the universe: “What you call matter, flowers, represents tones held together in a harmonic spectrum we can sense.” As in “Glitter” when the seen and seeing violet “loses objectivity,” this poem pursues the implications of just such an encounter between human and flower: “Communication flows back and forth between the rose and myself, and I begin perceiving through the plant.”

The final poem in the section, for which the book is named, also revolves around the visual modality. Though these poems occur in a sequence, they resist being interpreted as a progression of Berssenbrugge’s understanding of perception. No statement is definitive, and each use of a recurring term deepens the weaving of its meaning. The stakes are high for the poet, and sometimes clarity feels within reach as when Berssenbrugge writes: “I’m saying physical perception is the data of my embodiment, whereas for the rose, scarlet itself is matter.”

Much of what Berssenbrugge suggests in these poems resonates with the extended study in perception Etel Adnan documents in Journey to Mount Tamalpais. Adnan renders her vision into both text and image, painting the mountain hundreds of times and describing that visual translation. She cites Ann O’Hanlon’s definition: “To perceive is to be both objective and subjective. It is to be in the process of becoming one with whatever it is, while also becoming separated from it.” What is most useful here is not the gesture toward or even beyond a sort of intersubjectivity, it is the way she locates perception “in the process.” Adnan insists on the kinetic nature of seeing, revealed to her by her own meditative painting practice. She writes, “To perceive is to be the movement, not the object,” and, “There is no rest in any kind of perception. The fluidity of the mind is of the same family as the fluidity of being.” This fluidity of being recalls Berssenbrugge’s account of “perceiving through the plant” (among other moments). Adnan calls it, “an exchange of energies,” a notion that permeates Hello, the Roses.

The exchange of energies does not restrict itself to the perceptual loop Adnan and Berssenbrugge work within. We too, as readers, perceive through the poem. Maurice Merleau-Ponty says, “an artist must not only create and express an idea, but must also awaken the experiences which will make the idea take root in the consciousness of others. If a work is successful, it has the strange power of being self-teaching.” It is this capacity of perception in its molten form that I wish to reach toward in Berssenbrugge with Adnan’s help.

 

-=- Austin

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