Four-Year-Old Girl

Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, Author, Patricia Dienstfrey, Editor, Richard Tuttle, Illustrator Kelsey Street Press $12 (80p) ISBN 978-0-932716-44-6
Berssenbrugge has quietly written some of the most stylistically consistent and elegant poems of the last decade. Her latest volume, a related series of poems composed of her signature stretched-out lines, start from the concrete--an insect, a fish, a girl--and proceed to reveal how boundaries we think solid (of bodies, of images) are fluid and unstable: ""You place sixteen girls/ in a meadow and always fill it. They're everyone, the world. Implicit promise. Her image of you, a transparency on her desire, is like a contact print of irises on film.... this is feeling used as thought,/ beautiful because of my attempt to contain it."" As with earlier books like The Heat Bird (1983) and Empathy (1987), Berssenbrugge's latest offering is more than just contemplative and pretty. Among the philosophical considerations that fill her lines are the limits of identity, how seriality works in art, and the mechanics of memory. In the title poem, Berssenbrugge meditates on the what makes a self a self: ""The genotype is her genetic constitution...She believes she is herself, which isn't complete madness, it's belief."" The drawback of Berssenbrugge's taste for abstract inquiry is that her poems occasionally resemble logical proofs, prone to vague generalization (""Define nature as the greatest point of alienation from spirit""). But, in the main, Berssenbrugge's probings yield radiant conclusions. Readers looking to be ravished by the beauty of sound and image--and willing to wrestle with some demanding philosophical conundrums--should look no further. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 08/31/1998
Release date: 09/01/1998
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