Seven Poems from 'Härte' with a brief accounting by Maria G. Baker
[What follows is an extraordinary example of experimental translingual writing, the movement in this instance between English and German, while encompassing, if I read it correctly, an underlying narrative of rape and nonbinary gender realities embedded in a series of questions that continue to build/bild from start to finish. The entire work, considerably more than what I’m showing here, was published by Downstate Legacies and the Illinois State University Publications Unit in 2018, and a useful accounting by Steven Dunn of Härte and its author can be found here. (J.R.)]
Are you ready?
Are you rötlich?
Bist du Rettich?
Are you sure?
Are you Schur?
Bist du geschurt?
Did you like it?
Did you Leiche it?
Warst du Leiche?
Are you sure you didn’t enjoy it?
Are you sure you didn’t Engebeute it?
Steht fest du warst nicht enge Beute?
Are you a tease?
Are you a dies?
Bist du Diese?
Was it really rape?
Was it really Rappe?
Hat es wirklich gerappelt?
You invited him in didn’t you?
You in weit him in didn’t you?
Du warst ihm Weite, ja?
Finding Words for Härte (by Maria G. Baker)
Sitting next to Sade on Monday afternoons, as they were working on Härte, I temporarily became the flesh and blood extension of the German dictionary apps on our phones. I assumed that I knew German well. After all, I had spent the first twenty years of my life in Austria. After all, it was the language of my mother’s care, my father’s rule, the language of my formal schooling — and so it had become mine. Or I had become it.
I assumed that I could translate with Sade and with our dictionary apps and add cultural and contextual knowledge. I assumed I was an expert on deeper meaning and application of German words.
Sade’s work, Härte, isn’t about source and target texts or about linear accuracy and conventional fidelity. Härte is circular and wavelike, steel-soft, ungraspable, and precisely cutting.
It is an invention of a new language, a remaking of our stale language, and an intervention into the inherent violence of our words. It is a multilingual questionnaire, an accusation, and an embrace. It is, to me, the anti-gaslight.
Being a dictionary while exploring Härte opened my language to me on a more essential and primal level. Sade’s instruction was never, “translate this.” It was, “what German words you know does this phrase sound like?” What German words in the emotional realm of Härte does this sound like? I couldn’t draw on my usual inventory of bilingual vocabulary. I had to let the sounds and connotations of Härte’s phrases sink into me, had to let them reverberate down into and through my intestines. For the first time, I felt the fierce emotional resonances of syllables. I began to search through the musical mud for expressions that could carry what I knew about sexual objectification and trauma. As a word-book (or better: word-body) I would then suggest German words or, more often, give input on the wider context of Sade’s already proposed transformations. Sade always considered all options, listened closely to the words hovering and echoing around and within us as we sat side by side on the wooden bench in a basement café until they knew a match had been found. This is how, for example, they transformed “rescue” into “Restkuh,” which (in context) perfectly lays bare the subtext and the ominous, foreboding and constantly present violence of our unexamined hierarchies.
This process of finding language by undoing language with (another) language acted as a healing balm. While looking for, listening to, and finding words with Sade, I experienced a catharsis that I know Härte offers to every bruised human being who engages with it.
I am thankful to have been able to sit next to Sade during the initial phases of this book.
With gratitude/Willig gratis Duden
Maria G. Baker
ABOUT SADE LANAY
Sade LaNay is a poet and artist from Houston, TX. In addition to Härte, Sade is the author of Dream Machine (co•im•press, 2014), self portrait (Birds of Lace, 2018) and I love you and I’m not dead (Argos Books, forthcoming 2019) with poems featured in the Electric Gurlesque and Bettering American Poetry anthologies. They are a graduate of the MFA in Creative Writing at the Pratt Institute.
Sade LaNay’s Härte is a straightforward and deliberate book of questions that — through generative translation and transceptual writing — cajoles readers to reconsider what can be gleaned from the brevity of innocuous interrogation. The follow up to their acclaimed debut Dream Machine, LaNay’s Härte is a poetic sequence, a deft and edgy snare, risking everything to replicate linguistically the Sehnsucht survivors of trauma embody. Imbued with flecks of doubt, guilt, antagonism, and estranged desire, Härte [literally: hardness, harshness, sharpness, violence] evokes the friction of language against language, interpretation versus misinterpretation, what one heard with what was said — how a perpetrator lingers and forces a survivor to define the borderland — perhaps the only heartland left to inhabit.
Writes poet/publisher Steve Halle, still further: “The narrator, a survivor, is repurposing both the self-created questions and questions from others that survivors of sexual trauma face — ranging from casually to blatantly violent — and through (self)- translation, reclaiming the space of these questions in the narrator's imaginary. Too, the multilingualism of the poems is an intervention that is meant to unsettle English-only readers and coerce them to inhabit the space of these questions more fully, as the translation practice relies on sight cognates, false cognates, and homophones that English speakers will recognize, to make anglophone readers think we know what the hybrid and German-only lines mean or imply. Upon doing the diligence and following up on these contingencies, however, the imagery and meaning of the poems make surprising and dramatic turns away from the violence of the deliberate questions, and the self-translation becomes a healing practice that may lead the narrator away from the darkness of reliving trauma and violence.”
ABOUT DOWNSTATE LEGACIES
Established in 2015, Downstate Legacies is a literary imprint of the Publications Unit at Illinois State University that publishes one book of poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction per year by a poet or writer from the Midwest. The press publishes innovative works and favors writers who also help build literary infrastructure in their community by organizing activity around creative writing and the literary arts, often outside of metropolitan centers. Publications Unit Director Steve Halle and Assistant Director Holms Troelstrup oversee the editing, design, composition, production, marketing, and distribution of the books, working with students from the Publishing Studies and Creative Writing Programs in the Department of English at Illinois State, all of whom get hands-on experience in literary book publishing practices. Downstate Legacies titles are distributed to the trade by Small Press Distribution (spdbooks.org).