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  • Maria Sledmere


A black and white ink drawing of an abstract rose emerging from a chequered semi circle. The drawing is laid on a deep red, velvety fabric-effect background.
Illustration: Maria Sledmere

Maria Sledmere finds a bouquet of hybridity, possibility and identity in Sarala Estruch’s poem ‘I RESEARCH THE ORIGINS OF THE MODERN ROSE AND DISCOVER’, recently published in amberflora issue ten.

This SPAM Cut is a grafting, a trimming of stems, an attempt to boost plant circulation, a short document in nourishment, a long story told short. I’ll be taking cuts from Sarala Estruch’s poem, ‘I RESEARCH THE ORIGINS OF THE MODERN ROSE AND DISCOVER’, recently published in amberflora’s tenth issue. This is a list poem of numbered statements, forming offshoots of history, poetry, musing and botanical terminology. The title leads into a run-on first line, a scientific declaration: ‘1. she is a crossbreed’. This is a poem ‘about’ hybridity, about the rose as a trade commodity, ‘shipped from China, India, France’. Where Steinian recursion –– ‘a rose is a rose is a rose’ –– collapses the rose into a looping singularity, Estruch expands and problematises the rose’s multiple stories of origin. The modern rose is addressed as ‘Flower with a thousand faces, six thousand five hundred […] tongues’; the modern rose speaks a whorling mass of intricate languages, expressions, identities, layers.

I think of the lines of this poem as petals a person would cast to the wind to ask intimate questions. The lines of this poem are also desire-lines: accretions of thought, inclination, swerves of historical incident. I think of this poem as an example of ‘geohaptics’ (‘geo: relating to the earth; haptics: relating to the sense of touch’, as described in Linda Russo and Marthe Reed’s Counter-Desecration Phrasebook: A Glossary for Writing Within the Anthropocene (2018)). The act of naming performs the speaker’s research: we linger on the list of species at mix within the modern rose: ‘Rosa chinensis, Rosa gigantea […] Rosa gallica and Rosa canina’. If the red Tudor rose is a symbol for England, its national flower, we should note as the speaker does that only one of these species ‘is native to the British Isles’. Problematic, essentialist definitions of nativity come up against the entangled complexities of migration, becoming and mixed heritage. Anything ‘natural’ about the rose is also a cultural construction. Often a girl is named Rose; a rose is a fair-skinned girl of England — see The Jam’s ‘English Rose’ for an exemplary lyric of homecoming and national identity which conflates the rose of England for a feminised, much-missed, stable lover. The speaker of Estruch’s poem runs with this feminising of the rose to dramatise a more plural, expansive and open tale of ‘origin’ and journey.

The speaker asks starkly, ‘To where does she return?’ What happens when we hit the return key and find ourselves on a new line of flight, a new direction? As the rose is ‘Unable to pinpoint a single motherland or “home”’, the speaker makes the parenthetical aside, ‘(except – perhaps – the globe?)’, which feels like a rejoinder to Theresa May’s chilling assertion, ‘if you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere’. Estruch’s modern rose is a rose of the world: a Chinese rose, a climbing rose, a Greek and Roman rose, a dog rose, a briar rose, a wild rose — a roaming rose. ‘she becomes what she is: / 14. 玫瑰, गुलाब, rose’: named in Chinese, in Hindi, in French. The scales of multiple origin inherent within the modern rose have no recourse to the closures of nationalistic metaphor. Histories of adaptation, evolution and transport are held in ‘et cetera, et cetera’ — the ongoingness of a project of naming and identifying, a project of studied excess. If Stein’s tautology doesn’t really get us anywhere, Estruch’s ellipsis is a delicious plenitude of abundant, entangled, material and cultural histories. The numbered list form feels generous and instructional: it invites recitation and self-questioning. Implying linear order, the list nevertheless makes space for the hidden dynamics of its speaker’s research. Between the lines, I google the names of species: I conduct further investigation into the modern rose, her extensive histories.

‘Could we succeed in shaping a language that is not only parallel to the living world but is itself living and participates in cultivating life?’ asks Luce Irigaray in Through Vegetal Being: Two Philosophical Perspectives (2016). ‘I RESEARCH THE ORIGINS OF THE MODERN ROSE AND DISCOVER’ is a poem that cultivates active, participatory thought towards plant and human life in its ceaseless drift across entities, spaces, borders and times. What the speaker discovers resists paraphrase: it is an essaying poetics of the multiple, the many; if rose also symbolises love, the undersong of this poem is a love for curiosity, difference, discovery, crossing. History becomes something we touch, after reading, as we grasp the vivid image of the rose — will it prick us? ‘Modern’ is no mere cut or temporal break but the result of millennia of entwined roots, re-growths, rhizomatic intimacies and flows. The poem is able to think at this deep scale of estimation, of ‘thirty-five million years’, but also in the lyric present-tense of the burning question: ‘To where does she return?’ And if the rose tautologically ‘becomes what she is’, she does so in different languages — she sprawls across cultures, she remains simultaneous.


Text & illustration: Maria Sledmere

Published: 4/5/21


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