Poem by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge
Illustration by Kiki Smith
Working backward in sleep, the
last thing you numbed to is what
What if that image
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 Hello, The Roses (New Directions, 2013). She is also the author of I Love Artists: New and Selected Poems (University of California Press, 2006), Concordance (Kelsey St. Press, 2006), a collaboration with the sculptor Kiki Smith; 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.