Silk Poems by Jen Bervin
Silk Poems
Poetry | $15.95
paperback, 200 pages, 5 x 7 in
Publication Date: 2017
ISBN: 978-1-937-65872-4

Silk is compatible with body tissues; our immune system accepts it on surfaces as sensitive as the human brain. In conjunction with Tufts University’s cutting edge research on liquefied silk, Jen Bervin mixes poetry with medical technology in the form of a silk bio-sensor. Silk Poems explores the cultural, scientific, and linguistic complexities of silk written nanoscale inside the body. 

Bervin’s poem stems from the belief that reading such a sensor inside the body is not a neutral context, rather one pre-inscribed with concern, written in a material with a 5,000 year old international history. In her research, Bervin consulted over thirty international bioengineering labs, textile archives, medical libraries, and sericulture sites in North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Silk Poems premiered at MASS MoCA in the yearlong exhibition Explode Every Day: An Inquiry into the Phenomena of Wonder and is supported by a grant from Creative Capital.

Silk Poems seem to unspool magically from ancient burial practice and philosophy into the future of emerging nanotechnology. This beautiful multi-disciplinary text becomes a meditation on desire and embodiment, on cultural and personal transformation, on the genetic coding of language and the enduring connection of poetic practice to other forms of making.  —Elizabeth Willis

Two filaments of silk combine to form a single thread. In poems of delicate beauty Bervin inventories multiple strands of a 5,000-year legacy spun from the carapace of a silkworm. To read is to inhabit the continuous reeling of an ancient insect / human tale and to emerge forever changed.  —Ann Hamilton

Read Jen Bervin's fascinating Silk Poems one hundred times and you will be given one hundred gifts. A first reading draws the mother silkworm as a metaphor for creativity and resilience. Another reading reveals an elegant letter to Infinity. This sensational book addresses both the past and the future; art and science; the earth and the stars. Everywhere Silk Poems is in incomparable conversation with us.  —Terrance Hayes

“She makes connections between things that most of us would leave unconnected. Her artistry is vast and inclusive, by finesse and intelligence, by curiosity, wonder, forbearance, and vision.” —Mary Ruefle

"The speaker of Bervin’s poem acts as both sage and comic, exploring the text and the textile, the sense of the union of the silkworm and the poet: "AREYOUSURPRISED / IQUOTEAPOET // DONTBE / WEINVENTEDLANGUAGE.” Reflecting Bervin’s project as an interdisciplinary one—where she consulted and researched across many fields—Silk Poems asks to be read through various lenses, so its reader can return to it again and again for a newly charmed and deeper understanding."—The Arkansas International

"Silk Poems, in its small, delicate package, is monumental in scope, in its place as one part of Jen Bervin’s larger research project and also in its wide-ranging suggestiveness. The material book itself has a shiny gray cover, garment-like and silken to the touch, imprinted with reproduced strands of silk composed of tiny letters. The pages are filmy and transparent. Each page contains a poem and a small corner image of a strand that loops into longer and longer strands throughout the book. Like all of Bervin’s projects, this one is based on the fusion of text and the material world, and on careful, extensive research (a short bibliography is at the end) and travel. She makes “interdisciplinary” seem too narrow a word to describe the scope of the work, and her singular fabrication of wonder."—Martha Ronk, Constant Critic
"For poet and artist Jen Bervin, whose irreducible projects unstitch the seam between text and textile, Su Hui’s labyrinthine Xuanji Tu elicited an immediate sense of creative affinity. One of the earliest extant poems by a woman—also among the most complex and unsung—the Xuanji Tu takes the form of a 29 x 29 character grid, embroidered or woven in five colors in silk, written in classical Chinese in the fourth century. An intrepid research trip, spanning four continents and culminating in Silk Poems—a Bervin piece written nanoscale and imprinted on a silk film biosensor—led her to the Suzhou Silk Museum in 2013, where a facsimile of Su Hui’s poem caught her eye. Far more elaborate than the facsimile’s English caption, “Poem to Be Read in a Circular Turn,” would imply, the reversible Xuanji Tu can be read horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. A dizzying system of signifying vectors—the colors, for one, which map onto an ancient Chinese cosmological schema of planets, elements, cardinal directions, seasons, and numbers—gives rise to a multitude of interpretations: 7,958 discrete readings as of the last count, way back in the Ming dynasty."—Henry Ace Knight, Asymptote