On Mei-mei Berssenbrugge
92 pages, $14, ISBN: 0-932716-63-6, March 2003, Kelsey St.
Reviewed by Melissa Flores-Bórquez and Edmund Hardy
M: Okay, so the selected poems, I Love Artists, and a new Kelsey St. collaboration with Kiki Smith, CONCORDANCE, both came out last year, but let's focus on Nest.
E: A lot of walls, "my origin is a linguistic surface like a decorated wall", and later "a wall is waves".
M: The font is arial (or arialesque), which gives the writing a feeling which is a hard-pressed line across the width of the page. The writing is kind of informal, there are snippets and scenes, narrators and selves, colours ("gold circles on the tablecloth", "the white of an eye is ink scratched away") and, yes, many descriptions of walls and what happens to space, in company, alone, how this narrator and then that narrator perceives space in different contexts.
E: I liked this: "I'm helpless to suspend his narrative, from which something real takes form." There is also the problem of going fruit and veg shopping with another, but then he walks on before you've looked for yourself, "I also should have experience, for how would I make my selection?"
M: A struggle to activate the real, one might say.
E: I think that struggle is figured here as "a medium in which it is possible to recognise oneself." Another kind of surface/wall is fabric, "Being together, like scrim, defocuses space." The defocusing is a kind of freed space, getting blurry.
On its own terms, my project with them developed a gentle momentum.M: At first I thought the poems were slight; cool in poise, they sort of drifted past me only to realise themselves behind my back. Let's talk about these intervals between sentences:
The vulnerability of their situation engendered a spirit of play and togetherness.
Going to work, I passed several family members standing in a group, close together.
I asked each one to tell me his or her thoughts, and I tried to remember them all.
My sister has just fixed the motorcycle of her friend Tom, and she's waiting for him.
Among them, a fox turns to look at me, as if in nature, but she's drawn it, it's symbolic.
(from SUSIE, KIKI, ANNIE)
"I see reflected light, while behind me in the dark is proliferation that's biological or life-based, in the sense of a vested interest.
I have to focus in front, then back; it's not transformation."
(from 'The Retired Architect') The poem 'Audience' is ostensibly about the cinema and mimesis and alterity, "I thought my work should reflect society, mirrors in a cafe, double space." But one suspects that it's also about poems and the audience who are the "geniuses", as Berssenbrugge put it in an interview.
E: The air of slightness you mention comes as a relief to me, the flat, brisk casualness of tone, which I read as a kind of speed.
M: If we try to jam these poems together into neat blocks then we'd be "heading towards hopelessness" rather than expansively performing "a point to point feeling of self". In my notebook I put it as 'nest-self-edge-margin-colour'.
E: Which reminds me of the cover, by Richard Tuttle. Perhaps it was done in crayon, the texture of these colour frames is certainly full of the sort of layered depth you get simply from pressing harder here, softer there.
E: A narrative can be a kind of surface, Berssenbrugge finds. And a narrator, a spectrum.
I tried to complete a life circumstance like a building, loose in space on used land.
I made a shape against sky on flat land like a cut in the weeds, but I got bored and didn't finish.
Concrete surfaces need support, and my illness made calculations difficult, shadows fell like hinges on erasures.
This site is riddled with plastic wood panelling, plastic ducks and discarded coach lamps.
The iconography doesn't ethically correspond to its cut up and eroded state.
I make something which as it changes and falls apart, offers no clues to itself before, as if all shots were mobility frames.
Small daisies grow in the cut, preserving the shape.
Physical significance becomes an area lacking objects, a changing surface as limit, like the surface and mass of a lake.
Nothing was completed, but there are a lot of sketches.
Actually, I designed two bungalows: the gold leaf, and one later, because I had missed something.
Gilding was decoration, irrelevant to her private space.
Now, when my work expresses loss or failure, I no longer say, get rid of that.
(from THE RETIRED ARCHITECT)