RED. Chase Berggrun. Birds, LLC. Minneapolis, New York, Raleigh. 2018.
Chase Berggrun climbs inside of Bram Stoker's Dracula and comes out the other end illuminated, like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis.
Today's book of poetry is only ever looking for fine poetry to share, but we also want to make a point of looking everywhere we can. Gender has become an important issue, delicate and beyond our limited reasoning, but it is important to Today's book of poetry to be blind to gender at the same time as we are trying to give unlimited access regardless of gender.
Chase Berggrun wrote RED while transitioning gender. As though that weren't enough to do. But Today's book of poetry is damned glad Berggrun showed up and took on the Prince of Darkness on their own terms.
Berggrun takes apart Stoker's masterpiece from inside, word by word, using erasure as a methodology. The resulting text, sub-text, is a hidden masterpiece. As Chase Berggrun pares and redacts, dissects the original text, an astonishingly fresh and essential new story is revealed. This is construction at the pyramid level, we can see the seams but are completely baffled at how it was actually accomplished. Our hats are off.
I was thirty
I was a country of queer force
rushing east to see the strangest side of twilight
I was a woman in the usual way
I had no language but the distress and duty
I have been taught to doubt my mother and fear tradition
but my queer tongue would not could not shut up
The afternoon sun seemed mighty
and touched my arm with a delicate pain
A woman kneeling in self-surrender to the new
weeping silver into great masses of greyness the clouds
which ceaselessly walk and pause as though unmercifully urged on
Through the darkness I could see a stormy sea
a strange mixture of movements
Something slight and flickering seemed to mock my universal yes
I asked what this all meant
I struck a match
and its flame somewhere far off in the distance plunged
Suddenly a faint and endless absence
began beetling around
the howl that swept
the ruined sky
Sherlock Holmes at his infinite and clever best could not have deciphered Chase Berggrun's Red out of Stoker's Dracula. This is world class winnowing of red gold. Not to diminish Bram Stoker's great book, but Berggrun has completed the harder task. Somehow, beyond reason and out of sight of witnesses, Berggrun has gutted the original and discovered new fresh meat.
"We never refer to sadness
as something that looks
but it does"
Chase Berggrun reaches into the Gothic patriarchy, puts their arms elbow deep in to all of Stoker's horror and comes out the other side clean, bold, brave, with certainty of purpose.
"I want to believe in a universe
willing to understand"
I have come to understand a particular freedom
without restraining mood
aglow as if loosened
God you are going to be so good to me
I know a poison you do not
beginning and ending with my hand
the blackest prelude
Note the quaint seriousness of my voice low and strained
The flesh the rough flinch
My fast-bending hand
which subdued the whiteness of his hair
I shrink into all wives and their hands
their hands that loved me best I have not forgotten
that set me free from the thrall my husband held over me
What I have arranged to do will be no murder
Even if it were
I know now what men feel
that special excitement when in active danger
This necessary task euthanasia a comfort
I am in a fever of hands
I found him whetting
the edge of his throat driven by cold
His hands instinctively sought
my smooth arrangement
He is sure I will come at his call
but I have not lost the grace a woman has
a power he may not take away
I with perfect nervous poise
let loose wings a thought-strong swan
When the time comes I alone slaughter
I alone ultimately triumph
The tight country he had tried to invade
he kissed it sick and keen
There is more to tell and I shall tell you
Forgive me if I seem remorseless
selfishness frees my soul somewhat
Not even God is with me now
Today's book of poetry treads with some trepidation, tripping all over ourselves to be gender sensitive. Why? Isn't Today's book of poetry just about poetry? Mostly, but in our poetry world we want to be sure we send the right message to all of our brothers and sisters, all of whom deserve our love and respect regardless of how, when, where or why they have their present identity. Our only job is to be inclusive until the need for such discussions vanish.
Today's book of poetry has never cared about poetry trousers, except for Vladimir Mayakovsky's "A Red Cloud in Trousers." We only really care about the poems.
And here is where Chase Berggrun is aces all around. RED is such a freaking pleasure to read you will be hacking into the air around you. Sounds will come out that you haven't heard before. Surprise, joy, satisfaction.
RED is really a master class, it is simply excellent. Berggrun's utterly fearless burning transforms Dracula into a new and essential read, a new modern marvel. And this time it is all about turning into the light.
excerpt from Chapter XXVII
I was a high wind between flurries
he was lying like a black ribbon
I mounted his square chest
I felt imprisoned there
I saw him below me
he came quickly
a sudden cry from the south of me
he shouted in glee
I got out my revolver
It was strange to see the snow shining brightly around us
Every instant came in bursts
The hollow sound swept the air-space
It was hard to distinguish the real
as the sun dropped lower and lower
He was unaware at first
he fell forward in an unmistakable way
and gave a quick movement of his fist
I felt no fear but only a surging
In the midst of this the sun set
No time seemed to pass besides
By now the blood was spurting through his chest
his eyes glazed with the vindictive look I knew too well
As the moment plunged into my body
I sunk to the ground
Blood between my fingers
Red upon my face
My eyes followed the falling snow
And he died
Frankly, until reading Chase Berggrun's Red, Today's book of poetry wouldn't have believed you could redact gold and come up diamonds.
Chase Berggrun take a big bow.
ABOUT THE AUTHORChase Berggrun is a trans poet. They are the author of R E D, forthcoming from Birds, LLC. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Lambda Literary Spotlight, Pinwheel, PEN Poetry Series, Sixth Finch, Diagram, The Offing, Beloit Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. They received their MFA from New York University. They are poetry editor at Big Lucks.
"Discontent and its Civilizations" Poems of Erasure by Chase Berggrun
Video: Susan Russell
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