poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

About this poet

Mei-mei Berssenbrugge was born on October 5, 1947 in her mother's native city of Beijing, in China. Her father, the son of Dutch immigrants to the U.S., met her mother while working at the American Embassy in Chungking. While Berssenbrugge was still a baby, the family moved to the U.S. where she grew up in Massachusetts. She attended Barnard College for a year before transferring to Reed College, where she earned her B.A. in 1969, followed by an M.F.A from Columbia University in 1973.

After graduate school, Berssenbrugge moved to New Mexico where she taught at the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe, and became actively involved in the local artistic community. Through frequent trips to New York City, Berssenbrugge also became deeply engaged and influenced by the city's movements of abstract artists, and New York School and Language poets, a milieu that included John Ashbery, Barbara Guest, Charles Bernstein, and Anne Waldman. Her engagement led to many rich collaborations with other artists, including the creation of artist books with Richard Tuttle and Kiki Smith, and theatre works with Shi Zhen Chen, Frank Chin, Blondell Cummings, Tan Dun, and Alvin Lucier.

Berssenbrugge is the author of numerous volumes of poetry, most recently I Love Artists: New and Selected Poems (University of California Press, 2006) and Concordance (Kelsey St. Press, 2006), a collaboration with the sculptor Kiki Smith. Her other collections include Nest (2003); The Four Year Old Girl (1998);Endocrinology (1997), a collaboration with Kiki Smith; Sphericity (1993); Empathy (1989); and The Heat Bird (1983).

Characteristic of her style is a lush mix of abstract language, collaged images, cultural and political investigation, and unexpected shifts between the meditative and the particular. A review of I Love Artists in Publishers Weekly noted: "Berssenbrugge writes what might be called proofs, working sensuously off the language of science to find the divides between elements over which one has control and those over which one does not."

Berssenbrugge is the recipient of two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, two American Book Awards, and honors from the Asian American Writers Workshop and the Western States Art Foundation. She has been a contributing editor of Conjunctions Magazine since 1978 and has taught at Brown University. She lives in New Mexico and New York City with her husband, the sculptor Richard Tuttle, and their daughter.

Audience

Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, 1947
1

People think, at the theatre, an audience is tricked into believing it's looking at life.

The film image is so large, it goes straight into your head.

There's no room to be aware of or interested in people around you.

Girls and cool devices draw audience, but unraveling the life of a real human brings the
outsiders.

I wrote before production began, "I want to include all of myself, a heartbroken person
who hasn't worked for years, who's simply not dead."

Many fans feel robbed and ask, "What kind of show's about one person's unresolved 
soul?"


2

There's sympathy for suffering, also artificiality.

Having limbs blown off is some person's reality, not mine.

I didn't want to use sympathy for others as a way through my problems.

There's a gap between an audience and particulars, but you can be satisfied by
particulars, on several levels: social commentary, sleazy fantasy.

Where my film runs into another's real life conditions seem problematic, but they don't
link with me.

The linking is the flow of images, thwarting a fan's transference.

If you have empathy to place yourself in my real situation of face-to-face intensity, then
there would be no mirror, not as here.


3

My story is about the human race in conflict with itself and nature.

An empathic princess negotiates peace between nations and huge creatures in the wild.

I grapple with the theme, again and again.

Impatience and frustration build among fans.

"She achieves a personal voice almost autistic in lack of affect, making ambiguous her
well-known power to communicate emotion, yet accusing a system that mistakes what 
she says."

Sex, tech are portrayed with lightness, a lack of divisions that causes anxieties elsewhere.

When I find a gap, I don't fix it, don't intrude like a violent, stray dog, separating flow
and context, to conform what I say to what you see.

Time before the show was fabulous, blank.

When I return, as to an object in space, my experience is sweeter, not because of
memory.

The screen is a mirror where a butterfly tries so hard not to lose the sequence of the last
moments.

I thought my work should reflect society, like mirrors in a cafe, double-space.

There's limited time, but we feel through film media we've more.


4

When society deterritorialized our world with money, we managed our depressions via
many deterritorializations.

Feeling became vague, with impersonal, spectacular equivalents in film. 

My animator draws beautifully, but can't read or write.

He has fears, which might become reality, but Godzilla is reality.

When I saw the real princess, I found her face inauspicious, ill-favored, but since I'd
heard she was lovely, I said, "Maybe, she's not photogenic today."

Compared to my boredom, I wondered if her life were not like looking into a stream at a 
stone, while water rushed over me.

I told her to look at me, so her looking is what everything rushes around.

I don't care about story so much as, what do you think of her? Do you like her?

She's not representative, because of gaps in the emotion, only yummy parts, and dialogue
that repeats.

She pencils a black line down the back of her leg.

A gesture turns transparent and proliferates into thousands of us doing the same.

Acknowledging the potential of a fan club, she jokingly describes it as "suspect".

She means performance comes out through the noise.


5

At the bar, you see a man catch hold of a girl by the hair and kick her.

You could understand both points of view, but in reality, no.

You intervene, feeling shame for hoping someone else will.

It becomes an atmosphere, a situation, by which I mean, groups.

In school we're taught the world is round, and with our own eyes we confirmed a small
part of what we could imagine.

Because you're sitting in a dark place, and I'm illuminated, and a lot of eyes are directed
at me, I can be seen more clearly than if I mingled with you, as when we were in high
school.

We were young girls wanting to describe love and to look at it from outer space.

From Nest by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge. Copyright © 2003 by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge and Kelsey St. Press. Special thanks to Conjunctions where the poem first appeared. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

From Nest by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge. Copyright © 2003 by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge and Kelsey St. Press. Special thanks to Conjunctions where the poem first appeared. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Mei-mei Berssenbrugge

Mei-mei Berssenbrugge

Mei-mei Berssenbrugge was born in 1947 in her mother's native city of

by this poet

poem

Our conversation is a wing below my consciousness, like organization in blowing cloth, eddies of water, its order of light on film with no lens.

A higher resonance of story finds its way to higher organization: data swirl into group dreams.

Then story surfaces, as if recognized; flies buzzing in your

poem

Our conversation is a wing below my consciousness, like organization in blowing cloth, eddies of water, its order of light on film with no lens.

A higher resonance of story finds its way to higher organization: data swirl into group dreams.

Then story surfaces, as if recognized; flies buzzing in your

poem

1

I did not know beforehand what would count for me as a new color. Its beauty is an analysis
of things I believe in or experience, but seems to alter events very little. The significance of a bird
flying out of grapes in a store relates to the beauty of the color of the translucency of grapes.