by Arnaldo Antunes
The words that Mana Bernardes uses to designscribe are not just words. They represent a dance; echo of a hand gesture. When they fill up a page (seeming to want to spill over the edges), the notebook vibrates like leaves on a tree rustling in the wind. At a time when everything happens with increasing speed, the neatness of these tracings produces a rethinking of the written word. The meaning of these words depends on their being handmade, just as the voice reassigns meaning to the lyrics in a song. Sometimes, comprehension arrives fluently and immediately but at times, we have to slow down to decipher meaning. So, we alternate the speed of our reading, accelerating or decelerating to accompany the thread of the discourse. When we come upon some kernel that is hard to decipher, our attention comes back to the sensorial aspects of the written word – a letter that elongates until it touches on the next, a term that splits into two on the fold of the page, a phrase of amalgamated words, a dislocated alignment, a shift in scale, a letter that leaps out of context, or trembles with repetition from the line above.
A dance of words that are juxtaposed in the linearity of the syntax, facilitating fragmentary readings of words that jump to our sight in no defined order, suggesting other possible meanings beyond the texts that sustain them. Simultaneously, much of this text is narrative, constructed with the same instant- gestures that disarrange it, so that it screams out its presence in time-space, rhythm, movement. In one of the texts, the story begins in the third person and then moves to the first person, as if the personage is born out of the writing, takes on body, and then assumes its own voice. “The woman of the endless hollow.” “The combining of the sea and the dizziness of the rest.” “The seamstress of untidy lines.” She “who sold vodka hidden between the folds of skirts back in the Ukraine.” There is no way not to associate this constant female presence in the prosepoemanuscript (here the borders blur) that Mana weaves together, to her own unique way of penciling words, which is reminiscent of the traditions of embroiderers, seamstresses, weavers of linen and cloth (Mana, herself, an artisan of jewelry and ideas).
“I go like the horse, though I am a woman.” Here, the choice of words, their inflexion, the spoken tone, the punctuation occur when each word is hand drawn on the page. “I go where the pen takes me.” The layering of transparencies, the type and size of each piece of paper (crumpled, lined, torn brown envelope), each pencil or pen is expressively incorporated and informs a different kind of reading – following the flow of the lines, obsessively or with pauses, or reaping words that leap from the middle of the text’s amorphous mass. Mana passes freely from narrative to reflection, from the outline of an essay to an installation design, from a poetic game to notes on an educational exercise – it all mixes, since each is an extension of the other in her work. How her text fuses with calligraphy, her jewelry extends to the packaging, to the materials she recycles, to the attitude of those who model the jewels on their own skin. Thus, the errors, stains, scribbles, scratches, and corrections also reveal the process, the genesis of her conception and confection, transforming the sketch into a final product.
The result is how the verbal poetizes by means of the visual code. It is not poetry in verse. Nor does it reproduce the non-verse of the concrete poets. It is not just prose, despite having narrative. There are no stanzas, metrics; there is no punctuation. Stains of discourse mold themselves to the material limits of the page. And, meanwhile, it becomes poetry capable of: “I thank the details for fixing themselves in my gaze”; “I waited in you”; “like a stone I stared fixedly but the butterflies passed…”; “lose the hollow and find the line”; “the ungainly kept searching for clothes”; “take leave of me, history”; “her voice was soft and her look was far away”; “behind every day”; “a echoing silence made even the clouds stand still” (I cannot help but cite them, even though I almost feel that I am insulting her by transporting these handwritten pieces to digital typeface in this post-Gutenbergian era, as if separating body from soul.).
Like Arthur Bispo do Rosário, Gentileza, or Waly Salomão dos Babilaques, Mana creates her own alphabet, maintaining a basic pattern, with variation in word extension, width, curvature, angle, size, and disposition. With these tools, rhythm and movement are suggested, joining vision to tactile perception. With delicateness or veracity (from “I write each word in fear and when the word ends, I take courage and another comes,” to “I go where the pen takes me”), Mana Bernardes restores a dimension of affection to verbal language – “In the apex of a vocabulary to find the words and bring them in a flying cradle to snuggle from each corner the significances”– so that we are re-taught how to read, so that we can learn again how to see.
Arnaldo Antunes is a poet, musician, writer, and visual artist.