Saturday, April 27, 2019

RED — Chase Berggrun (Birds, LLC)

Today's book of poetry:
RED.  Chase Berggrun.  Birds, LLC.  Minneapolis, New York, Raleigh.  2018.

R E D Final Cover Rgb 72Dpi 432X648

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.

Chapter I

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"
                          CHAPTER VIII

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"
                          CHAPTER IV

Chapter XXV

Note this

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.

Chase Berggrun Costume Bw 300X300

Chase Berggrun

Chase 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



Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

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