Sunday, April 13, 2008

Poem: Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge

Here's a fairly recent (2003) poem by a poet, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge (1947-, photo, whom I was introduced to in college (via her book The Heat Bird, which might also have been the first time I saw a Burning Deck Press volume. I remain a huge fan of their list). Her work entranced me then as now. Many poets attempt the sorts of poems she writes, but none sound quite like her. A few years ago she came to the university and I finally had the chance to meet and gush like a schoolboy. We even walked over to the beach in Evanston, she, I and a colleague, though I sort of remember it being too cold to sit down or do much more than look out at the lake-that-is-like-an-ocean.

At any rate, there are various ways to write a poem that is more or less overtly political--well, all poems are political, so I should say, which places political issues and discussions, or political discourse, out front--and the poem below, "Audience," is one example.



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


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



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.


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


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


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.


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.


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


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.

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