I’m Late to the Party, but I Brought Spinach Dip: A Review of Mei-mei Berssenbrugge’s HELLO, THE ROSES

Elizabeth Breese
July 31, 2014
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There’s a pattern developing here in the blogosphere, or a simple preference to start at the beginning (I need a few creature comforts in prose and chronology does the trick). It was June, I was at Niagara Falls. Then, I was in a car. Then, I was in Buffalo. Then, I was in a bookstore called Talking Leaves Books where I bought a few titles from their eclectic and well-stocked poetry section–one of these was Hello, the Roses by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge (New Directions, 2013). Then, I read it.

I know that I’m not breaking any punctuality records (who can aspire to such greatness), but a striking book like this one deserves our attention however delayed. And it may be delayed a bit further by my slow writing, because Berssenbrugge’s poetry isn’t easy. You don’t just dip your toes in this pond. First, because it’s not a pond. It’s an arroyo. Secondly, you don’t have toes. You have only something you call toes and a familiar sensation.

This is a collection of/from/with reality; the speaker experiences it, evaluates it, considers its limits and pushes at them. This evaluation is sometimes done explicitly, as in Pure Immanance, 1:

I don’t feel connected to what I experience, and I speak with him about it.

I try to connect through the outline of an animal, starting with our dog, then / turn to a black wing against the sky.

When I see a picture of the beloved animal, I think of that animal who isn’t here.

The principle of association moves me beyond an image to belief, and passion / fixes my mind on Chaco.

A flash to other reality associates to other life, other environment, also filled with / precious belongings and loved ones, so immediate.

________

Elsewhere, like in Glitter, the evaluation takes place quietly, playfully: “In fairyland, all violets are simultaneous.” These poems which focus so intently on the mind (its categorizing and creative role in forming reality), are also for the mind, which must be lithe to wind its way through the gauzy canyons woven by Berssenbrugge.

 The book is exclusively in sentence form (with a few tiny exceptions). I mean, the form of sentences, not just their necessary parts (after all, many poets use sentences), but their shape; after each period or question mark there is a stanza break, making each sentence its own distinct unit. The result is a form that mirrors the speaker’s deliberate consideration and reconsideration of boundaries, however fluid.

Reading Hello, the Roses, I have the sensation of sitting in the middle of three-angled mirror, the department store variety. In the center, I see myself seeing myself. In the seductive periphery, there are different, seldom seen angles. When I turn to see one more clearly, it disappears. I lean in, looking intently at twenty of me, each blinking, each a bit more green than the last, and not one can turn fast enough to see its own ear. I am mystified, whiplashed and smiling.

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