Translator's Note: Alain Borer
“Sleep Log” contains excerpts from six black pages in the middle of Le ciel & la carte: Carnet de voyage dans les mers du Sud à bord de La Boudeuse, preceded and followed by two hundred pages of narration that attempt to describe the Pacific’s vastness and the solitary thoughts of this traveler enclosed in a dark and stinking cabin close to the engine room, constantly rocking up and down, turning to starboard, then to the portside. This traveler is sick comme une bête (as a beast), as they say in French. Alone with a metal bucket in his cabin, gazing through a porthole, Alain Borer meditates on the extreme, what one would call a near-death experience. Le ciel & la carte offers an itinerary to salvation through culture, humor, and poetry.
The reverse printing of white text on a black background in “Sleep Log” (Somniloques) heightens the hallucinatory effect of a speaker both in mid-voyage and mid-text. “Sleep Log” also marks the transition from a more discursive and sometimes historical narrative to one that seems to spring somewhat deliriously from the subconscious and signals a kind of descent and return of the spirit, echoing the voice in Rimbaud’s “Le Bateau Ivre” or Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, only in a more playful manner.
Traveling on a replica of the Boudeuse, the three-mast ship with which Bougainville discovered Tahiti in 1768, Borer embarks in orderto meet the “Sea Peoples.” Earlier, Édouard Glissant, an editor at Éditions du Seuil in Paris, had brought back a book about Easter Island, and Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio had written a book on Polynesia, but neither of the two famous writers had navigated on the ship. (Thanks here to Claudia Moatti for providing details on the historical background of Le ciel & la carte.)
Borer, a renowned authority and author of three books on the poetry and life of Rimbaud, also directed a film, Le Voleur de feu, when he visited many of the places where Rimbaud lived and worked in Ethiopia. He was twenty-seven when he made the film, the same age as Rimbaud when he arrived in Ethiopia. —Mark Irwin
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This poem originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of Poetry magazine