blood-moon-tinted silence on the front one by one stars needlepoint themselves meanwhile boys dream of beforehand sleeping like beasts after some combat sport watch them well watchman above all while the breeze blows sing-songs: c’est la tranchée aux étoiles voici des rêves heureux a sergeant listens to the nightingale thinking tomorrow the assault who will come back? will not? a medallion that he kisses before falling asleep to this: c’est la tranchée aux étoiles voici des rêves heureux a dream illuminates his soul his happy home his young daughter soldiers too treasure sweet snippets anyway tomorrow after the black swell you will see the future shine for now listen to the sandman: here is a small handful of dreams for your star-strewn mud-pile *Note: This poem is a reimagining of a French WWI song: ‘La Tranchée aux étoiles’. The original text can be found here: https://www.franceinter.fr/emissions/carnet-de-chants-1914-1918/carnet-de-chants-1914-1918-21-aout-2018
3 Questions for Lorelei
What was your process for creating this work?
a star-strewn mud-pile: Instead of translating the text myself, I decided to run it through a series of Google translations, to introduce some distance between the original and my new material, and hopefully to create some accidental beauty in the process. I reworked that first draft rather ruthlessly, taking out as much as possible. Although skeletal, this work is faithful to the spirit of the original song, which I know and appreciate for its delicate melancholy.
numbering the dead: This series of poems was composed using lyrics from ‘Carrie & Lowell’, a studio album by Sufjan Stevens (2015). Each section uses words from one song exclusively. Minor adjustments were made, mostly for grammatical reasons. Some subtitles were added a posteriori and contain additional vocabulary. The numbers included in each subtitle are based on birthdates of victims of war known to the poet.
What is the significance of the form/genre you chose?
a star-strewn mud-pile: I enjoyed abandoning all hope of translating this song properly (as a multilingual writer, I am all too aware of the difficulties associated with translating) and instead: reinventing it, appropriating it, speaking it in my own voice. My goal was to pare it down to its most essential features: its main ideas, the merest hint of a chorus, etc. By modernizing the text, I sought to extract its universal, intemporal meaning — how terrible a thing war is.
numbering the dead: These very short, fragmentary poems mirror how the traumatised mind works: it stops and starts, struggles to tell the full story, seeks images, separates emotions and facts, does not clearly say who did what.
What is the significance of the work to you?
a star-strewn mud-pile: I recently found a photograph of my great-grand-father taken upon his return from the trenches in 1918. The look in his eyes struck me beyond words. Apparently, he came back as a completely different person — "half-mad", they said — and did not speak for a year. The sadness, the loss of meaning, the terror of a little child burnt in his face inspired me to revisit that period, and to look specifically for songs from that era, which all contain a gut-wrenching combination of naivety and disillusionment.
numbering the dead: This poetic series is part of my ongoing work on war and intergenerational trauma. To put it bluntly: I feel haunted by the dead, as if it were my mission to speak of their plight and give them back the voice they so tragically lost.
Lorelei Bacht enjoys tinkering with words. Sometimes, beauty happens. Some recent / upcoming work in Menacing Hedge, Barrelhouse, streetcake, The Rialto, Beir Bua, Backslash Lit, Sinking City, Mercurius, The Selkie, Abridged and elsewhere. Also on Twitter: @bachtlorelei and on Instagram: @lorelei.bacht.writer