Poetry News

Multiple Perspectives in the Work of Mei-mei Berssenbrugge

By Harriet Staff
Mei-mei Berssenbrugge

London-based poet and critic Will Harris has penned an essay for Poetry London about, mainly, the work of Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, framed by a discussion of lyrical perspective. Berssenbrugge, writes Harris, "often switches between perspectives in the same line, or over the same attenuated sentence. Desire, for example, is described as 'the landscape in which herself and what she expected from you in the way of support coincide, / so that I and you resemble each other, now.'" More from "The Ethics of Perspective":

...To me, what’s confusing about these lines is also what’s so beautiful about them. Confused speech often lapses into a series of pronouns – ‘I – no, we – didn’t it? – yes, she – I did!’ – signalling intimacy as much as awkwardness. Language garbles itself in the presence of desire. And in Berssenbrugge’s attempt to merge the first with the second person, to make them ‘resemble’ each other, language is charged with awkward desire.

Beneath the languid surface of her syntax, there’s a recurrent sense of suppressed hurt or an urge to unify the split self. But hostile to any critical impulse that would connect her life and work in a linear fashion. [...]

Instead of the constructed ‘biography’ or the life exposed, she gives the strained relationship between the two. Anecdotal details are ‘instruments of both defense and expansion’. They guard against deeper intrusion into the life, while building something new (Philip Sidney: the poet ‘doth grow, in effect, into another nature’).

As with much of Berssenbrugge’s work, I feel like I understand ‘Forms of Politeness’ less in the manner of a bucket – Seamus Heaney’s poems, however mysterious, make good buckets – than a spray of ‘yellow light’ (an image from the poem). It makes me think about perspective – my own and hers. Both of us are racialised subjects, our views on the world distorted by the way the world sees us. Her distorted use of perspective flows naturally from this experience.

Read the full piece at Poetry London.


Originally Published: February 13th, 2019