Mei-mei Berssenbrugge (Chinese: 白萱华; pinyin: Bái Xuānhuá; born October 5, 1947 Beijing, China) is a contemporary poet. Winner of two American Book Awards, her work is often associated with the Language School, the poetry of the New York School, phenomenology, and visual art. She is married to the painter Richard Tuttle, with whom she has frequently collaborated.
Berssenbrugge was born in Beijing to Chinese and Dutch-American parents, but grew up in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. She is of Dutch, Austrian, and Chinese descent. Her brother, Richard, is an engineer and Japanese calligrapher and sister, Annie, is a doctor. She was educated at Barnard, Reed, and Columbia University. After receiving her M.F.A. from Columbia in 1974, she settled in rural northern New Mexico, which has remained her primary residence ever since.
After receiving her degree, Berssenbrugge became active in the multicultural poetry movement of the 1970s along with her good friend Leslie Marmon Silko as well as Ishmael Reed, theater director Frank Chin, and political activist Kathleen Chang. Berssenbrugge taught at the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe, where she co-founded the internal literary journal Tyuonyi.
Traveling frequently to New York City, Berssenbrugge became engaged in the rich cultural flourishing of the abstract art movement, and was influenced by New York School poets John Ashbery, Barbara Guest, James Schuyler and Anne Waldman, and then the Language poets, including Charles Bernstein, as well as artist Susan Bee. She later joined the contributing editorial board for the literary journal Conjunctions.
Berssenbrugge's poetry is known for its mix of philosophical meditation and personal experience, and for moving quickly between abstract language and the concrete particulars of immediate perception. Her poems often contain subtle shifts of grammar and perspective, and Berssenbrugge often works with collage to produce unexpected juxtapositions. Her work is also known for its exploration of the complexities of cultural and political identity, an interest informed by her own experience of cultural and linguistic displacement.
Fish Souls is Berssenbrugge's first published collection of poems. It was published by Greenwood Press in 1971. Only 100 numbered copies were published. Information about this volume is scarce.
Summits Move With the Tide
Summits Move With the Tide, subtitled (on the cover of the second edition) Poems and a Play, is Berssenbrugge's second collection of poems. It was published by the Greenfield Review Press in 1974, and later in 1982. The acknowledgments page indicates that some of the poems previously appeared in First Issue, Intro 3, East-West Journal, Cathedral, Ash Tree, Gidra, and Greenwood Press. In contrast to her later books, most the poems in the collection are short, with only a few carrying over to new pages. Additionally, only two poems are broken into numbered stanzas, a format Berssenbrugge would use in later poems. The poems in the collection are organized into four groups: three groups of poems, and one play, One, Two Cups.
The book contains the following poems:
Group 1: Aegean; Finn Song To the Bear Ghosts; Bog; Book of the Dead, Prayer; El Bosco; Spirit; Hopi Basketweaver Song; Beetle is Born, Lives ...; Los Sangre de Cristos; In Bhaudanath; Snow Mountains; Red Backs & Autumn Leaves ...; and Ghost.
Group 2: Old Man Let's Go Fishing In ...; Travelling [sic] Through Your Country; Propeller Sleep; Fish & Swimmers & Lonely Birds ...; Spaces are Death; The Second Moment; The Third Moment; Perpetual Motions; Leaving Your Country; The Old Know By Midsummer; and Abortion.
Group 3: Written Before Easter in New York; Chronicle; Tracks; On The Winter Solstice; Blossom; Hudson Ice Floes; Poor Mouse; Sky; and March Wind.
Group 4: The play, One, Two Cups.
Random Possession was published by I. Reed Books in 1982. On the contents page the poems are separated spatially into five unnumbered groups (with only the first three listed on the contents page). The pagination bears out the scheme, with one empty page between the groups. The book contains the following poems:
Group 1: Chronicle.
Group 2: The Membrane; Rabbit, Hair, Leaf; On the Mountain with the Deer; The Suspension Bridge; Numbers of the Date Become the Names of Birds; Spring Street Bar; Heat Wave; The Intention of Two Rivers; For The Tails of Comets; and Sleep.
Group 3: The Field for Blue Corn; The Reservoir; The White Beaver; Breaking the Circumference; A Deer Listening; You and You; and Goodbye, Goodbye.
Group 4: The Scientific Method (for Walter); Walter Calls It a Dream Screen; The Constellation Quilt; Run-off and Silt; The Translation of Verver; and Commentary.
Group 5: Tail.
The Heat Bird
In The Heat Bird, Berssenbrugge shifted to a long-verse format. The book contains only four poems, all several pages long and broken into numbered stanzas: Pack Rat Sieve; Farolita; Ricochet Off Water; and The Heat Bird. The verso indicates that some of the poems in the book were previously published in Conjunctions, Contact II, Roof, and Telephone.
Empathy was published by Station Hill Press in 1989, and contains three numbered groups of poems. The verso indicates that some of the poems appeared in Bridge, Calaban, Conjunctions, Parnassus, Temblor, and Tyuonyi. The book is dedicated to Bradford Morrow and Sheffield Van Buren, and contains the following poems:
Group 1: The Blue Taj; Tan Tien; Alakanak Break-Up; Texas; Duration of Water; The Star Field; and Chinese Space.
Group 2: Jealousy; Recitative; The Carmelites; The Margin; Naturalism; and Fog.
Group 3: War Insurance; Empathy; The Swan; Forms of Politeness; and Honeymoon.
Sphericity was published by Kelsey Street Press in 1993, and was her second collaboration with Richard Tuttle. The first edition of Sphericity was limited to 2000 copies, with the first 50 signed by Berssenbrugge and Tuttle and hand-colored by Tuttle. The book consists of six long poems, all with several numbered stanzas: Ideal; Size; Combustion; Sphericity; Experience; and Value.
Endocrinology is an artists' book made in collaboration with visual artist Kiki Smith. Forty copies were produced by Universal Limited Art Editions from a maquette made by Berssenbrugge and Smith. The Kelsey Street Press edition, a facsimile of the original book, was limited to 2,000 copies, with the first 60 signed and numbered. The book contains a single poem: Endocrinology.
- 1976 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.
- 1980 American Book Award for Random Possession.
- 1981 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.
- 1984 American Book Award for The Heat Bird.
- 1990 National Endowment for the Arts Award.
- 1990 PEN West Award for Empathy.
- 1998 Asian American Literary Award for Endocrinology.
- 1999 Western States Book Award for Four Year Old Girl.
- 2004 Asian American Literary Award for Nest.
- Fish Souls. New York: Greenwood Press. 1971
- Summits Move with the Tide. Greenfield Review Press. 1974. ISBN 0-912678-56-9. Other ISBN 978-0-912678-15-3.
- Random Possession. I. Reed Books. 1979. ISBN 0-918408-13-X. Other ISBN 978-0-918408-13-6;
- The Heat Bird. Burning Deck Press. 1983. ISBN 0-930901-02-9. Other ISBN I0930901037; 0930901037; 9780930901035
- Hiddenness. New York : Library Fellows of the Whitney Museum of American Art. 1987 (A collaboration with Richard Tuttle)
- Empathy. Barrytown, NY: Station Hill Press. 1989
- Mizu. Tucson, AZ: Chax Press. 1990
- Sphericity. Berkeley, CA: Kelsey Street Press. 1993. ISBN 0-932716-30-X. Other ISBNs: 9780932716309; 0932716318; 9780932716316 (A collaboration with Richard Tuttle)
- Endocrinology. Berkeley, CA: Kelsey Street Press. 1997. ISBN 0-932716-41-5. Other ISBNs: 0932716423 (Limited Edition) (A collaboration with Kiki Smith)
- Four Year Old Girl. Berkeley, CA: Kelsey Street Press, 1998
- Nest. Berkeley, CA: Kelsey St. Press. 2003. ISBN 978-0-932716-63-7.
- Concordance. Berkeley, CA: Kelsey Street Press. 2006. ISBN 978-0-932716-67-5. (A collaboration with Kiki Smith)
- I Love Artists: New and Selected Poems. University of California Press. 2006. ISBN 978-0-520-24602-7.
- Hello, the Roses. New Directions. 2013. ISBN 978-0811220910.
- One, Two Cups, directed by Frank Chin, and published in 1974 in Summits Move With the Tide.
- Kindness (1994), commissioned by the Ford Foundation and staged at the Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe with the collaboration of Richard Tuttle, Tan Dun, and Chen Shi Zheng.
- Pack Rat Seive. New York Cambridge Graphic Arts, 1983
- The Mouse 5. IE Poetry Broadside Series Two, Clayton Fine Books, 2006. "Issued in an edition of 25 copies of which 20 copies are for sale."
Magazines and journals
- Berssenbrugge, Mei-mei. The Mouse, Conjunctions, Number 48, Spring 2007.
- Claudia Rankine, Juliana Spahr, eds. (2002). "From Four Year Old Girl". American women poets in the 21st century: where lyric meets language. Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 978-0-8195-6547-1.
- John Ashbery, David Lehman, eds. (1988). The Best American Poetry, 1988. Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-02-044181-6.
- Miles Xian Liu, ed. (2002). Asian American playwrights: a bio-bibliographical critical sourcebook. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-313-31455-1.
- Hinton, Laura."Three Conversations with Mei-mei Berssenbrugge" Jacket, Issue 27, 2005
- Summits Move With the Tide. Greenfield Review Press. 1982. ISBN 978-0-912678-15-3.
- Hinton, Laura."Three Conversations with Mei-mei Berssenbrugge" Jacket, Issue 27, 2005
- Endocrinology. Berkeley, CA: Kelsey Street Press. 1997. ISBN 0-932716-41-5.
- Zoë Anglesey, ed. (1994). Stone on stone: poetry by women of diverse heritages. Open Hand Publishing, LLC. ISBN 978-0-940880-48-1.
- The Mei-mei Berssenbrugge page at Poets.org
- Mei-mei Berssenbrugge's author page at the Electronic Poetry Center
- Mei-mei Berssenbrugge page at Penn Sound
- A review of I Love Artists by Ben Lerner
- Mei-mei Berssenbrugge Links at "Intercapillary Space" - links to Berssenbrugge poems, reviews, talks, recordings
- Berssenbrugge's works at Kelsey Street Press
- "Add-Verse" a poetry-photo-video project Berssenbrugge participated in
- Hinton, Laura. "Three Conversations With Mei-mei Berssenbrugge" Jacket, Issue 27, 2005
- Sentimental Spaces: On Mei-mei Berssenbrugge's "Nest," by Natalia Cecire
- Boundary Work in Mei-mei Berssenbrugge's "Pollen," by Jonathan Skinner
Poems and prose
- Concordance [Our conversation is a wing]
- Concordance [Working backwards in sleep
- From A Context of a Wave, published in Conjunctions 17, Fall 1991
- Duration of Water
- Forms of Politeness
- Hello, the Roses, published in Bomb issue 117, Fall 2011
- Kate's Talk, a talk presented by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge at The Poetry Project, St. Mark's on the Bowery, October, 1987
- The New Boys, published in the October 2008 issue of The Brooklyn Rail
- New Form, opening remarks delivered at the "New Forms/New Functions" panel of the Poetry Project's Symposium, Poetry of Everyday Life
- Permanent Home
- Red Quiet; Section 3
- Safety from How 2, Volume 1, Issue 8, 2002
- Susie, Kiki, Annie, published in Big Bridge
- Tan Tien
- Two Lines, Reprinted from "A Broken Thing: Poets on the Line," edited by Emily Rosko and Anton Vander Zee
- A recording of a reading and conversation with Charles Bernstein
- A recording of Berssenbrugge reading at the University of California, Berkeley
- Berssenbrugge reading her poem, Texas
- A video of Berssenbrugge reading at the Lensic Theater in Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1 April 1999
- A video of Berssenbrugge in conversation with Arthur Sze
- Lunch Poems: Mei-mei Berssenbrugge
- A video of Mei-mei Berssenbrugge Reading from "Plant Fragments"