Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 17.2 (Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Berssenbrugge, Mei-Mei
Smith, Kiki

I bought this book in Buffalo at Talking Leaves Books. It has a coffee stain on the cover that I don't recall making. It is a collaboration between the author & artist Kiki Smith. It uses the same large page format that Empathy does, though more to give the visual elements some breathing space than because of the line lengths. Many of the lines are long in this volume, but they also take up extra space because they are laid out as if each one were a strip of white paper cut out and pasted to the page, leaving quite a lot of space around each one. These strips seem to float on the surface of the images, which are largely abstractions that may or may not be based on images of the endocrine system (that's only a guess). The background has a tissuey quality, as if several layers of blue tissue paper had been laid over a piece of solid, cream-colored  paper. It's a beautiful book and I think there is an even more beautiful Granary Books edition that you can buy for half a million dollars.  :)

My first reading in NYC after I moved to Buffalo was actually with Mei-Mei at HERE, which housed the old Ear Inn series when it first moved out of said local. I don't think it was at HERE for very long. Anyhow, a shitload of people came to the reading, all to see Mei-Mei of course, and I was very, very nervous. I remember looking out on this sea of faces and seeing Jackson Mac Low and Charles Bernstein and Bruce Andrews and Ann Lauterbach and Richard Tuttle and Anne Tardos and a whole lot of of other NYC literary people and thinking to myself, "What the hell am I doing here?" In the middle of my reading, I had a dizzy spell and had to use the mic stand to hold myself up. I read a lot of what I thought were funny poems that no one laughed at. After my reading, I stepped outside for a smoke. On the way out the door, Bob Holman grabbed me by the arm and said, "Nice reading, Mike. Those were some funny poems. Don't feel bad that people didn't laugh. Just because they don't laugh doesn't mean they didn't get it." I took some comfort in that, though I am not sure exactly why.

I also remember that the space was very echoey and that the barista kept grinding beans and using the blender throughout both readings. And to top it off, there was a very loud door to the outside that kept squeaking open and slamming shut every time someone came in or went out. It didn't bother me while I was reading because I can project fairly well, but every time something made a sound during Mei-Mei's reading it nearly drowned out her quiet voice.

My final memory of that day is of talking to Jackson Mac Low, who was very interested in the fact (mentioned in my introduction by Dan Machlin) that I had taught for a year at a Catholic mission center in Quito. He had all kinds of questions about what I did there and why I went, all of them curious and kind, like he was interested in understanding something fundamental about me.

I miss Jackson Mac Low.


Lauren N. Maynard said...


Thanks for inviting me in. I love your concept of invoking personal memories around each title. I also like how Endocrinology glows like it has an LED light inside, in this pic.


Michael Kelleher, Buffalo, NY said...

Thanks, Lauren. One of the constraints on this project is that I take all the photos using my computer, which generates a surprising amount of flash using the light from the LED screen. I often have to reposition the books in odd ways just to make them legible. Occasionally, though, it creates a nice effect, as with this book.