Grim Membranes

With Deer, Aase Berg, translated by Johannes Goransson
93pp, Ŗ8.70, Black Ocean)

Here is the nightmare, the dark swamp with hungry, leaking eyes, tiny bones split open, and putrefying flesh and fur. Aase Burg's With Deer (Hos rŒdjur), translated from the Swedish by Johannes Goransson, has thrust a vision oozing horror from which one may at first privately recoil then come to embrace. It is bound in a ninety-three page book of poems that looks like any other until it is opened; then its black, musty oil, emerges and clings to the skin. There is no 'wink-wink' of polite terror here but instead a purely gruesome and absolutely dank spectacle that softly gnaws like decomposition must.

Berg's work invites the reader to approach an environment that is at once recognizable yet remains outside of the direct experience of the living, like that of a travel account into sealed, noxious catacombs where flesh and flowers rot.  At the same time, however, in a culture where death and its untidy functions are often insulated away, this work can act as a tonic by acknowledging the darkness' presence, such as is admitted in, 'In the Horrifying Land of Clay': 'I was thrilled to have him as my enemy'. While most of the poems directly describe decay in an inescapably near proximity in the present, occasionally previous states are referred to and offer an orientation, such as 'we are born of sewers... marsh blood and creamy gunk blood'. And oddly birth, though emerging through destruction, runs through these poems in a kind of paradoxical inversion; because while in addition to bearing an intimate witness to decomposition, it is revealed that only through the organic, the living, that the most disgusting substances may appear as Berg illustrates by 'In the Heart of the Guinea Pig Darkness':
    She gives birth and groans, she moans and bleeds. Everywhere
    the membranes, everywhere their bloated puff bellies. We run
    with the heart in the tunnel, you and I, while nervous systems
    break down behind us, while the amniotic fluid surges in the
    pumping, pulsing chasm. Rotting acids and guinea pig lymph
     are streaming yes streaming down the wallsÉ
In these poems, as exactly as they might render the most appalling images, the tone appears to do so without any hint of sadistic pleasure and is therefore saved from an ironic distance that would otherwise degrade the project into an experiment with excess for its own sake instead of for its implications. The unpleasant seems to be presented in the spirit of documenting that which lurks in life and the imagination like the two-thirds submerged portion of an iceberg. The poems therefore expose the dim undersides on which their opposites, such as perfumed sentiments and delicate longings, flourish and tread with such seemingly confident assurance. Rather than a mock confidence, there is a raw, primal power contained in With Deer, albeit, perhaps necessarily, dark, that challenges the reader to witness without looking away. And in the end that energy is transferred through sight to render a palpable experience of the gruesome and perhaps to contemplate how the frequently unspoken is no less present and influential - so similar to psychoanalysis' disconcerting depiction of the unconscious and its motivational forces.

The result is that the excessive terror contained within these poems becomes thrilling and by contrast, brightens that which has not yet perished through the recognition of being able to flirt on the macabre edge without being destroyed.  It is as if fears themselves can only be recognized through such an intense exploration of the dark. Here in a small book that at first glance might look as polite as any other, Berg has managed to shatter the sanitary aphorism 'from dust to dust' and replace it with the sticky, odorous depiction of 'from muck to muck'.

With Deer
is Aase Burg's first full-length work to be published in English. She is the author of four other books in Swedish: Mork Materia (Dark Matter); Forsla fett (Transfer Fat); Uppland; and a short story collection, Perversioner: 12 noveller om avvikelser.  She was a founding member of the Stockholm Surrealist Group and has edited the literary journal Bonniers Litterūra Magasin (BLM).

Johannes Goransson
has previously translated selections of Berg's poetry and is the co-editor of Action Books and the journal Action, Yes.

     Š Robert Fontella 2010

Robert Fontella is the author of a book of poetry, Lines Through (Seetalk 2010). A bi-lingual play of his, Clown Crossing
, will be performed at the 2010 Arizona Fringe Festival. He is currently pursuing a MFA in creative writing though the University of New Orleans.