by Heloisa Buarque de Hollanda
I was startled by Mana Bernardes’ poetry. With more than thirty years as a poetry critic, within and outside the university, I was at once fascinated and paralyzed by the poet’s texts. Little by little, I discovered why. It is difficult to assume Mana’s poetry as simple literary fact. Her texts are, without a doubt, beautiful, well constructed, and demonstrate clear lyrical and philosophical talent. But that is not enough. It is apparent to me, that these poems are not limited to the text. There is some plasticity that invades and dominates the imagery within the poems as well as their accomplished calligraphy. A rendering that does not abide by the classic separation of words but makes sculptures of them, now a continuous and nervous flow of letters and symbols, now carrying us on a voyage through curves that are at times welcoming, sometimes dangerous’. But there is more. The letters and their unexpected design are not without material, also laden with meaning and magic. It is the finest paper, or the most heavy weight, or of the lightest colors or of aggressively white luminosity. Poetic pentimentos. The text, the letters, the paper, the pen or pencil’s mark, exhaustively investigated for its textural possibilities, shine, opacity, groove. The surprise and enchantment of seeing the poetic fact come to life, surpassing the limits of the formal text. At once, it is sufficiently clear that this poetry is meant to be read, and that becomes further attuned when performed, accompanied by instrumental sounds. This was what I saw and heard at the launch of her published poems for uma’s designer pieces, in São Paulo. A stool, sound, and Mana, translucent, reading the text inscribed on infinite fragments of paper, rolls, and posters in sotto vocce.
Intrigued, I interviewed the poet. First question: Why are you called Mana? First response: Mana, in the indigenous world, refers to the magic in objects. There are objects that contain, or don’t contain mana. Is it coincidental? Or was I only placing the final pieces in a puzzle? The interview went on for a long time on a Sunday afternoon, but I won’t reproduce it here. A few points were clarified, however. Mana’s work with jewelry began very early, at the age of seven, and she soon perceived that there was no creativity (or in this case, poetry) without research and methodology, these being the true creative axis of great art. She discovered that the immediate environment surrounding her and within her reach was precious. Seeds, cuttings, cracked shells, fish scales, industrial waste, the universe of school notebooks, with the power of their fantasies and the pleasure of calligraphy. Like someone without a choice, Mana invested in everything. She professionalized at 12 years of age, her products already selling in stores, and with prestigious designers. But, is what Mana makes simply jewels? Or would they be a personal and poetic interpretation of her environment? Radical readings “of the magic that comes from objects”? Once again, her research into materials and methodology, her care regarding utilization and recreation, are her poetry. I observed her most recent jewelry production up close and perceived the sparse texts, giving title to the pieces, included in their packaging. These are the poems that I have just read in her papers. Another coincidence? The poetry is dominant. It seems as though it cannot be separated from Mana’s diverse artistic practices. Poems float in jewels; poems suggest mirror images, poems written in linen and silk, in clothing and accessories. Poetry becomes method in her intense pedagogic activity for ngo’s and cooperatives. Poetry on the white paper’s surface. Deceptive. As though it were equal to all the other poems by all the other poets who have passed us.
From the instantaneous startled admiration I felt in my first encounter with Mana Bernardes’ work, I am now fully seduced by the possibility of publishing this, her – necessarily subtle and inventive – work in poetry, my area of affection.
Heloisa Buarque de Hollanda is a writer, professor of Critical Theory and Cultural Studies at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), and director of Aeroplano Editora e Consultoria Ltda.