One morning, out of the blue, I found myself listening to poet Mei-mei Berssenbrugge reading Wonder from her book A Treatise on Stars. I was transfixed, calmed, transported by her voice and the story it told. “And now I see stars”, a line from her book, is how I felt.
I knew of Bersenbrugge through my friend J. Speed Carroll, who started wearing a pin that said “I don’t know” after his wife Martha died. It was his answer to the many people who asked him what he was going to do now that Martha had passed away. Like a tiny, powerful piece of conceptual art, it stated the heart of the matter: I don’t know.
It had had been given to him years before by Brussenbrugge, who’d had it made for an exhibition of her husband Richard Tuttle’s work. She knew the resonance of those three words and how radical a statement it is in a culture that deeply values control, and having answers.
But somehow, I’d never read her poems although she is a 2020 Poetry National Book Award Finalist and winner of Yale’s 2021 Bollingen Prize for American Poetry. Hearing her read Wonder, made me seek out A Treatise on Stars.
“I wanted my book to express one, unified ecosystem between the stars and earth, in order for our feelings and aspirations to extend their reach, so that our actions might have greater possibility and effect, through realizing our connectedness with others.
This hunk from the poem, Wonder, took my breath away. (You can read a long with it here).
It reminded me of the vast, intricate night skies artist Vija Celmins painted for decades (at top). I imagined Celmins becoming one with the stars as she painted, intimate. Berssenbrugge too achieves a remarkable intimacy.
For a shorter experience of A Treatise on Stars, I recommend this fragment of the poem, Lux. (To read along, turn on CC on the video for captions to appear).
…It got me thinking about how much of wonder is not knowing…
Top image: Vija Celmins, Night Sky #12, 1995 – 1996. Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh: The Henry L. Hillman Fund, 1996.37. © Vija Celmins