This is wider than all the combined human chub you ever knew.
I tend to think about the work of Aase Berg as gasoline: slick dark liquid fed from underground through machines into machines. Her lines read often like several hundred other lines condensed into thick cuts of petroleum, flammable and ripe. The images she tends toward lend themselves well to this sensation: fat stuffed with death, whales spurting rubber rooms, gorges overrun with multiplying ravenous guinea pigs, fur growing over water. Her language flails in little packets, objects that might seem tiny or translucent in how they sit surrounded with white space on the paper, though over time feeding in viral, connective ways. Get an Aase Berg book and leave it out on your desk and see what starts to happen to the words inside the files on your computer…
In Sweden, this is no secret. Since 1997, when her first book Hos rådjur was published by Bonnier, the largest and most esteemed publishing house there, Berg has been regarded as one of the most vital voices in operation; her poems have been broadcast via radio signal at the constellation Lyra. She is a founding member of the Surrealistgruppen in Stockholm, a prominent and sometimes controversial group who wield surrealism not quite in the traditional dream heavy mode most associated with the idea, but more with an interest in quantum science and the puzzles of natural space. Three books published in translation in the last seven years have spread her dark milk across the waters—first in a collection of selected work, Remainland from Action Books in 2005, followed by With Deer, her first full length in English from Black Ocean in 2008, which Michael Gira from Swans said possessed “the scent of a lost hermetic text extracted from the oily black clay of a ruined forest.”
Berg’s language throughout seems capable of most anything, packed into layers like the fat she constantly invokes. Space feeds off itself and feeds off the space beside it, knitting bloated yards together in which sound and image force the very words in which they are carried to malform. The syllables won’t stay apart. Some kinds of words you’ll find calcified among the bloat: strungtime, fetusfat, crawlanimals, doughtnut-fatso, Peacebeaten, snotcrow, wax girl, scratch hare, shock-muffled, crampgrip. Translator Johannes Göransson writes of the volatile nature of working through Berg’s manipulation of the tongue, in which so many words have multiple meanings, forced misreadings, puns where even simple terms like “killer whale” mutate into “blubber biter.” The radioactive nature of the science force behind the lines seem to impregnate the simple image into a cell that means to replicate, and stick. It feels both evasive, and somehow more built in. “Following hand in hand with the surprise at the possibilities of language,” Berg writes, “comes the hatred of language, and the demand for a new, more human language: a language that looks like us, instead of trying to discipline us.”
Berg’s longer prose blocks operate like machinic clay, a kind of science fiction that actually feels volatile, transmutative. “The perverse nature continued to take place,” Berg writes, in The Snail Ancestry. “The fontanels felt unstable. The ices exploded and bellowed and broke, and the noise reached across the meager fields all the way up to the small hut that had put its roots down at the foot of the bent, brooding Gloam Shell. The earth oil bubbled out of cracks and seams. The mountains were somewhat loose, loose from worry, like teeth in a cancer mouth. In the river fold a poisonous mush was boiling. The end was nigh. In the fjord the whales bawled and blustered, hit their plate lobes against each other in ringing thrust. The perverse nature continued to take place, and through the fibers the hideous lymph spread.” Burial and recovery, spore and fetus, mouthful and bellyful: each little pocket here is sticky, heavy, ripe. You can kind of chew it. It makes you want more, but that’s what hunger is.
Berg’s most recent translated volume is Transfer Fat, released this month from Ugly Duckling Presse. These poems are perhaps her most hypercompressed. Opening with an epigraph from the dying HAL machine from 2001: A Space Odyssey—“I am afraid”—the space here seems hungry from being overfed, then starved. Natural space here, in seeming flat from outside, wields wicked access to something bigger inside itself than it should be. Animals operate as little mobile rooms that grow and flood and die around us. Bodies accrued here like lakes and fields and bridges all have undersides, perhaps even many potential undersides, in which others have been stranded, including the reader: “your meat which flows / between the fingers / which flow.”
Berg’s preoccupation with incubation and layers becomes more apparent as each little blockade takes on the shape of a seedling or egg that accumulates its body over time. “It will take many thousand years to raise fat,” she writes, and this is some beginning, many beginnings, the potential in which contains a space meant to unfold to worlds, would we not die. In this way, these language lards contain a previously impossibly seen future, such that eons from now this 118-page paper object might be wider than all the combined human chub you ever knew. You can call this hyperbole if you so require, but then now prove it. There’s a reason you never realize you’ve breathed in spores until you’re sick.
So now, come here and meet your plague-mom:
The hare is also a constellation
in the listless, frigid hydrosphere
Same cosmic fatstiff freezefearflood
same cuntstiff looptrack fatflood
We like suckle animals, egg animals, whalenut animals
prefer not to give birth to live young
In the hare the hydrophore
which pumps heaves heft
move the instrument’s degrees
of formless retarded freedom