Empathy

“And now, illuminate the space and describe each one you saw in the mist.”—Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, “Fog”

Empathy, first published by Station Hill Press in 1989, marked a turning point in Mei-mei Berssenbrugge’s poetry, her lines lengthening across the page like so many horizons, tuned intimately to the natural world and its human relations, at once philosophical, lush, and rhythmic. As she writes in the new note for this edition, “I started to feel my way toward an intuited subliminal wholeness of composition.” In these poems, empathy not only becomes the space of one person inside another, but of one element (water, or fog), one place (tundra or desert mesa), one animal (the swan) as the locus of human illumination and desire.

In Mei-mei Berssenbrugge’s Empathy, ‘the human hovers like a mood’ that refuses definition. In the flickering mirrors of distant landscapes, perception melts, like ice ‘glowing with light,’ into an intimate familiarity. These poems, with their startlingly detailed equivocations, and the scenes and sights they evoke, have become ‘spiritual exercises in physical form.’

—Charles Bernstein