Audio

Chase Berggrun reads from "R E D"

May 14, 2018

Don Share: This is The Poetry Magazine Podcast for the week of May 14th, 2018. I’m Don Share, editor of Poetry Magazine.

 

Christina Pugh: I’m Christina Pugh, consulting editor for the magazine.

 

Lindsay Garbutt: And I’m Lindsay Garbutt, associate editor for the magazine. On The Poetry Magazine Podcast, we listen to a poem or two in the current issue.

 

Don Share: Chase Berggrun is the poetry editor at Big Lucks. A few chapters of Berggrun’s forthcoming book “R E D” appear in our May issue.

 

Lindsay Garbutt: “R E D” is an erasure of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Berggrun took the text of Dracula and erased all the words except the ones that told a very different story that they wanted to tell. No words were added or moved out of original sequence.

 

Don Share: Berggrun has long been fascinated and disturbed by Dracula. You can say it’s a book they love to hate. They found the violence, sexual abuse and power dynamics in the novel repugnant.


Chase Berggrun: I tried writing many many poems about Dracula, trying to figure out and grapple with what was underneath all these problems I was having with this book. Eventually I came to the conclusion that the only way I could really figure that out was to dive into the text of the book itself and see what I could pull out of there.

 

Lindsay Garbutt: In Dracula, Berggrun says none of the women make decisions for themselves. In “R E D” the unearned words become a lyric narrative about a woman who suffers intense physical and sexual abuse from her partner before realizing she has a say in the relationship.

Chase Berggrun: I wanted to write a story particularly concerned with agency, with taking back power that is often stripped away from women in these kinds of situations.

 

From R E D, Chapter 8

 

Tired    I walk toward everything except fear

 

over seaweed-covered rocks

 

I think that someday some new women

 

will be allowed to see each other happy

 

happy more than usual

 

I looked in all the other open rooms of my heart

 

A vague fear obscured the whole scene into a diorama of ruin

 

As sharp as a sword-cut    the light struck    a half-reclining cloud

 

Time and distance trembled in my body

 

 

 

 

To become in love with everything apropos of nothing

 

To see without seeming to stare

 

To change in the reflection

 

To appear peculiar

 

 

 

 

We never refer to sadness

 

as something that looks

 

like secrecy

 

but it does

 

 

 

 

I drifted on the fresh breeze

 

I did not like it

 

Joy     joy     joy although not joy    a bad thing

 

I can feel it wet against my bosom

 

My journey is mapped and ready

 

I am only taking one dress

 

 

 

 

I don’t want to talk     of infinitesimal distinctions

 

between man and man     see no difference     between men and maidens

 

I am the modern Morpheus

I made the minutes disappear

I am thin

an errant swarm of bees

a naked lunatic

faithful

selfish

old

a tiger

immensely strong

a wild beast

a paroxysm of rage

mercy

murder

coming

coming

coming

 

Don Share: I have to say, one tends to see a lot of erasure poems these days, that’s something a lot of people doe. Ordinarily it’s almost like a game where what happens is people are able to pluck out some words from an existing text and they sound like a poem, or interesting, or turn out cleverly to make a certain kind of sense. What’s so special about this sequence is that it gives us a keen insight into the original text at the same time that it transforms it into something else utterly. It’s very intense that way. What I admire so much about it is the poet never seems to lose track of that. It’s so tightly constructed, and it makes so many kinds of sense so well that it’s a tour de force really for a poem that’s done this way.

 

Lindsay Garbutt: What I love about this section, and we have two more chapters in the issue that jump around, we have chapter 14 and 21, and what chapter 8 sets up is a lot of anticipation. You really feel the power of this character building. You don’t quite know what’s going to happen, you just have this vague fear that the speaker mentions in the sense of ruin and you don’t know how it’s happened yet. In the following chapters relay start to build on the relationship that is the cite of this abuse. To turn the tables on Dracula and make it a poem that’s focused on the woman is a really powerful shift.

 

Christina Pugh: Knowing this is working as an erasure of Dracula and almost erasing what’s on the surface in terms of totality to get to something hidden in the sense of gender. A lot of poems do this with dramatic monologue, where you’d get a not so listened to speaker in a Shakespeare play or something like that, or even a novel like Jean Rhys’ White Sargasso Sea where you get Mr. Rochester’s wife speaking from the first person. Sometimes artists, writers will do this by making a completely new text. But this is really interesting because it’s kind of an excavation of what’s beneath the surface of this text. It’s interesting how this was selected and how it’s divided. There are sections within the chapters that are placed in between asterisks, so it really shows — I almost think about it as a kind of archeological dig in a certain way through this text.

 

Don Share: At the same time, if you’re not familiar with Dracula at all, it reads perfectly well, which is again a sign of the ingenuity here. The transformation really does make it a new poem so it stands quite on it’s own the whole way through. We have this pair of lines on the cover:

 

Chase Berggrun: My journey is mapped and ready

 

I am only taking one dress

 

Don Share: It utterly transformed whatever was there in the source text, even if you don’t know what that is you can see how dramatic and lovely it is. There are powerful moments for sure.

 

Chase Berggrun: I am the modern Morpheus

I made the minutes disappear

I am thin

an errant swarm of bees

a naked lunatic

 

Don Share: Those are almost overwhelming, but at every point along the way there’s this humanity that emerges from it that’s quite delightful. So that Dracula isn’t necessarily a bright and delighting text except in sort of a fiendish way.

 

Chase Berggrun: Joy     joy     joy although not joy    a bad thing

 

I can feel it wet against my boso

 

My journey is mapped and ready

 

Don Share: There’s a whole new adventure that is carved out of the lines in Dracula that I think it takes flight on it’s own. I was just propelled forward, which is a really wonderful thing in a poem that’s a sequence or a book length poem, you get that propulsion to keep reading it as you would in a novel to keep reading and see how it all turns out. It’s got a bouquet of additional delights that garland the original. You can read “R E D” by Chase Berggrun in the May 2018 issue of Poetry Magazine, or online at poetrymagazine.org

 

Lindsay Garbutt: We’ll have another episode for you next week, or you can get all four May episodes all at once on the full length episode on Soundcloud.

 

Christina Pugh: Let us know what you thought about this program. Email us at podcast@poetryfoundation.org, and please link to the podcast on social media.

 

Don Share: The Poetry Magazine Podcast is recorded by Ed Herman and produced by Curtis Fox and Catherine Fenelosa.

 

Lindsay Garbutt: The theme music for this poem comes from the Claudia Quintet. I’m Lindsay Garbutt.

 

Christina Pugh: I’m Christina Pugh.

 

Don Share: And I’m Don Share. Thanks for listening.

The editors discuss Chase Berggrun's poem “from R E D” from the May 2018 issue of Poetry.

Appeared in Poetry Magazine This Appears In
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