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June 4, 2018

Chase Berggrun's Playlist for Their Poetry Collection "R E D"

R E D

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Chase Berggrun transforms the text of Bram Stoker's Dracula into a powerful and mesmerizing work of erasure poetry.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"In Berggrun's striking debut, a book-length erasure of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, that text becomes fertile soil for cultivating complex story of sexual awakening, domestic abuse, and liberation."


In their own words, here is Chase Berggrun's Book Notes music playlist for their poetry collection R E D:



My debut poetry collection, R E D is a book-length poem in 27 chapters, & is an erasure of Bram Stoker's Dracula. Using a rigorous & painstaking system of constraint, text was erased while preserving the original word order of the source; no words were altered or added. From Stoker's book—the wildly popular & essentially very misogynistic vampire novel that became the crux of an entire genre­—a new narrative is excavated, a story of sexual & domestic violence, feminine rage, gender transition, & reclaimed agency.

I wrote R E D while an MFA candidate at NYU: on the one hand, finally in my element, surrounded & invigorated by brilliant professors & a talented community of poets; on the other, full of anger & confusion & struggling with gender dysphoria & alcoholism. I listened to so much music while working on this project—unusual for me, since I generally require silence when writing. These songs I came to again & again for guidance & direction & support.


Walk Through the Fire by Joss Whedon

I am obsessively, unabashedly in love with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's a complicated, flawed work of art, & it probably saved my life in a number of ways. I've watched the whole series about seven times. "Walk Through the Fire" is a song from the musical episode, Once More with Feeling, & it communicates a lot of the uncertainty, the attempt to overcome miles-deep, painful trauma, & the self-destructive urges that both myself, while writing the book, & the narrator of R E D over the course of the story, experienced.


Warm Blood by Carly Rae Jepsen

Carly Rae Jepsen is a Queen of Joy & I'm grateful for her every day. "Warm Blood" is so fucking vampy. I always sing the chorus of this incredible song as "Warm blood / tastes good" instead of "feels good." Uncontrollable, whole-body desire. The opening lyrics—"I've got a cavern of secrets / None of them are for you"—strongly feels like something the narrator of R E D would say.


Damn These Vampires by The Mountain Goats

I'm also a truly devoted Mountain Goats fan—I think John Darnielle is honestly one of the greatest lyricists, & the song "Amy aka Spent Gladiator 1" literally saved my life. "Damn These Vampires" is my favorite song off my favorite TMG album, & I listened to it when I would get frustrated with the project, either with Dracula itself, or the monumental amount of time & effort that the process of writing R E D turned out to be.


Kill V. Maim by Grimes

Though I am intensely disturbed by the news that Grimes is now dating Elon Musk (?????), I love "Kill V. Maim." It's kind of a maddening, violent, badass song. According to Grimes, the song "is written from the perspective of Al Pacino in The Godfather Pt. II. Except he's a vampire who can switch gender & travel through space." Absolutely the sort of relevant batshit that I needed in my ear to write these poems.


Bela Lugosi's Dead by Bauhaus

I listened to this song on repeat a lot as I was doing some of the more quotidian work of erasure: reading & rereading & rereading a chapter, trying to suss out themes or ideas within the chapter that could lead me toward a poem, circling & underlining interesting or potentially useful words. It's really very good. It's enchanted me ever since I first saw The Hunger, the first scene of which features Catherine Deneuve & David Bowie looking hot & broody & seducing a victim as this song plays in the background.


Summertime Sadness by Lana Del Ray

Lana's entire aesthetic is very much in line with this book. "I've got my red dress on tonight / Dancing in the dark in the pale moonlight." The song has an alcoholic, desperate abandon—to me, it feels like a chasing of pleasure & oblivion in a vain endeavor to drown out the sound of suffering, a sometimes-dull & sometimes-screeching itching drone at the back of the mind.


The Carpet Crawlers by Genesis

The poet Matthew Rohrer, who was my NYU thesis advisor & played a huge part in helping me chisel down the rough, raw manuscript of R E D (Matt is a brilliant poet & teacher & is extremely well-versed in the erasure form), strangely & vehemently suggested I listen to Genesis's long concept album The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, which to me felt very much in conversation with Alice Notley's The Descent of Alette, a major inspiration for the project of R E D. I listened to this album, & especially "The Carpet Crawlers" over & over again while erasing Chapter XXVII, the last poem in the book.


Transylvanian Concubine by Rasputina

This song is sexy & scary & bloody & femme & so fun. Pretty self explanatory.


Do You Like Me by Fugazi

There are a lot of Fugazi songs I could have chosen for this playlist, but I listened to Red Medicine often while writing R E D (before I ever dreamed of the title!) "Do You Like Me" is a beautiful song to me: its jarring, discordant intro, & the repeated lyric, "I've got a question," gives me shivers.


Bitch Better Have My Money by Rihanna

Rihanna is a constant source of inspiration—her music, yes, God yes, but also as a gorgeously self-determined feminine force to be fucking reckoned with. Rihanna is a human being who experienced some awful, traumatic abuse, & took that power right back. She reclaimed her agency. Nobody tells Rihanna what to do. Her songs can be dancy, they can be exquisitely tender, or, in the case of "Bitch Better Have My Money," so perfectly aggressive & confident. Tiana Clark expresses this much more eloquently than I ever could in her poem "BBHMM": "I am forever in the wettest red."


Chase Berggrun and R E D links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Publishers Weekly review

Barrelhouse interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

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Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
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my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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