David van den Berg on Seeing the Darkness

2 weeks ago 22

First Draft: A Dialogue of Writing is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with fiction, nonfiction, essay writers, and poets, highlighting the voices of writers as they discuss their work, their craft, and the literary arts. Hosted by Mitzi Rapkin, First Draft celebrates creative writing and the individuals who are dedicated to bringing their carefully chosen words to print as well as the impact writers have on the world we live in.

In this episode, Mitzi talks to David van den Berg about his new poetry collection, Love Letters from an Arsonist.

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From the episode:

Mitzi Rapkin: A lot of these poems are dark. Is that how you see it?

David van den Berg: Yeah, it’s funny. I called my grandfather after I gave him the book, and I was like, what did you think about it? And he was like, are you okay? (laughs.) He said, I had no idea that’s how you saw things.  It is dark, maybe it’s darker than I realized, but to me it is how I see things, you know, I just sort of put things in perspective or it’s like I grew up trekking around in the swamps, shooting guns, and hunting animals. I was killing and cleaning the corpses of these dead animals when I was four or five, six years old, right? My dad, who was a doctor, would sit there and we’d field dress a carcass.  He was very methodical about it and it was just this really amazing opportunity for him to connect with me and to teach me what he knows. We’d slit the stomach open or the belly open to take the organs out and he’d cut the organs open for me and be like, you see, this is the stomach. So, from very early age, I really felt like I had life and death in my hands and that I really got an unvarnished look at it. I remember how I felt every time that I killed an animal.  It felt like such a terrible responsibility or like a terrible burden that I felt like I had to really appreciate the full power that was in my hands. That was the only way to sort of honor the animal that I had killed was to sit there and sit with it and sit with this dead thing or sit with this dying thing. And so, I think it’s like a quasi-mystical sense of the world that really stuck with me and continued as a throughline with in my writings.


David van den Berg grew up hunting and fishing in the Florida swamps.  He studied anthropology, religion, and archaeology at Rollins College before moving to Los Angeles to work as an actor.  He has a J.D. and a Master of Laws in Taxation from Loyola Law School. He’s the founder of Prometheus Dreaming, a digital literary journal.  His poetry collection is called Love Letters from an Arsonist.

Drew Broussard

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