In the Margin, Fertile Things Happen: Mei-mei Berssenbrugge in Conversation

by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge interviewed by Laura Hinton

MB: My process has evolved slowly. I find books that are contingent to my idea. I like French philosophy, Deleuze, Derrida. I like historic Buddhist texts – anything I read that strikes me as pertinent to my poem I underline. Then I print the notes and cut them out. I add pictures that seem to fit in some way, without questioning too deeply. Sometimes I take Polaroids. It’s an unconscious process. When I’m ready to write, I arrange these pieces of text, photos, notes across a big table and compose the poem. I used to appropriate texts directly. Now I alter them more. I work from a “map” of the poem, and I find it’s a good way to get more breadth, more horizontality. I also find that the light and landscape in New Mexico, where I live, inspires horizontality.

In “Nest,” the title poem of my recent collection, I decided to write about how, in the margin, fertile things happen. When things are fixed, things can’t grow. I was specifically interested in the minor mode, instead of a major, victorious tone. I was interested in the shadows, the not-quite-successful – to re-cast failure as convex, positive. I had the urge to explore this minor key and also to include the audience. I used to think just about what “I” wanted to write. Now I’ve started to think about my audience, what I call the genius of the audience. I was interested in not looking down on that and seeing where I could go. I’m trying to discern what people ‘like.’

LH: So in writing the collection Nest, you were concerned about audience. And yet there’s also something in the breakdown of communication, or “rupture,” like margins, that happens in this work, the creative space that “rupture” creates.

MB: It is most productive. I guess if you know what you’re doing, you’re not in a good space for art. I don’t think artists are happy with the world and they feel a need to make another world. So you’re at the edge, trying to make this world. It’s more about resonance, frequency, energy, movement, flux, dynamism, than any fixed object.