As for Dream

As for Dream

by Saskia Hamilton

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A series of brief, haunting lyrics and prose fragments, the poems in As for Dream hover in suspension between states of consciousness or being. Hamilton's verse both illustrates and investigates the human experience at many different intervals: as we wake from the dream world, as we meet the loss or disruption of our desires, as we tend to the ill, and

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A series of brief, haunting lyrics and prose fragments, the poems in As for Dream hover in suspension between states of consciousness or being. Hamilton's verse both illustrates and investigates the human experience at many different intervals: as we wake from the dream world, as we meet the loss or disruption of our desires, as we tend to the ill, and as we die. Once we cross those boundaries, does the self remain intact? These poems record and question moments when we slip from the casing of the body and the social world and try to make our way back, or find we cannot.

Editorial Reviews

Forrest Gander
[We find] ardent and articulate perceptions in these original poems of love in extremis. We are taken, figuratively and literally, by storm.
Jorie Graham
Hamilton is not a quiet poet, just an extremely subtle and fierce one. There is a quality of spiritual stubborness and astonishing resilience that courses through even her briefest utterances as, with grace and technical ease, she breaches the chasms that appear to divide 'experimental' poetics, classical fragments, Romantic aphoristic debris, and Oriental glimpsing of the ineffable.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Finding the space where the terse confessional poem interacts with the open-ended fragment, Hamilton's debut sews together the separate worlds of id and epistemology, of sexual disillusion and fetishized cognitive oddity. "Legible Mystery" reads in its ironic entirety: "For no one understands the framework but you,/ and they really want you to give a little." Hamilton notates good and bad days, regretful moods, self-questionings and realizations whose very lack of consequence seems to shock her: "There is a bright eye in me dulled by the activity of my dreaming eye," but which is nevertheless foreboding: "Sleep while you can for tomorrow it will be morning." Hamilton tells not stories, but parts of stories--sometimes tantalizing, sometimes just insufficient--about sex and self-discovery, European travel and urban bohemia, mourning one's parents and making up characters. Though Hamilton, who is currently teaching at Kenyon College, is editing the letters of Robert Lowell, the poems owe almost nothing to him: visible precedents are instead Anne Carson ("We are all waiting to hear/ what the hook yanked-up from down there") and, in the prose poems, Robert Hass (who is thanked). Hamilton's speaker often deploys numb languor as a kind of defense, particularly against death: "I have practiced dreaming. It works sometimes" or "It is hard to imagine anyone else touching me." It often works too well, keeping dangerous emotions at arm's length or degrading into a series of faux-na ve pronouncements that have plenty of atmosphere but don't hold up to repeated readings. In a blurb, Jorie Graham finds in the book an "oriental glimpsing of the ineffable"; others will just find it inevitable. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Hamilton's poetry and prose inhabit the domain of dreams, a world that often makes no sense to the dreamer, much less to an outsider. Despite the affinity of poetry and metaphor, rendering dreams is an enterprise superficially more suited to prose, which has the unfortunate effect of robbing them of most of their wonder. Simply put, other people's dreams are usually boring, and those who expound on them all the more so. But Hamilton's work succeeds because it hovers somewhere between poetry and prose, between dreaming and wakefulness, between body and spirit. What she offers is not a ponderous analysis, a literal telling, or even a good translation of a single dream. Instead, she presents small fragments of dream, the pieces of sleep we can recall with absolute clarity in morning's first light or when first succumbing to night's seductive embrace. Seeking "the breath inside the language," her poems are short and sensuous, affording vivid glimpses of dream in which all the sensations remain intact. "When I was small I sat on the couch and kissed and kissed my own hand." Hers is a pure simplicity, rather than complication stripped bare. She shuns the arbitrary images of surrealism in favor of a more organic, integrating approach whereby dream and reality can complement rather than merely oppose one another or, more playfully, where they can pretend to be each other. A luminous exploration of the ambit where dream, memory, imagination, and longing pass into and through one another.

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Product Details

Graywolf Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.47(w) x 8.43(h) x 0.21(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Song in the Dream

The song itself had hinges. The clasp on the eighteenth-century Bible
had hinges, which creaked; when you released the catch,
the book would sigh and expand.

The song was of two wholes joined by hinges,
and I was worried about the joining, the spaces in between
the joints, the weight of each side straining them.

Late Winter Rain

Reverie is the word.


He is not attentive to you so you are not attentive to the world.

All it takes is one apology for you to wake up.
But it has to be the right apology.

In the Hospital

Will you hand me the bulbs?
I have to plant them, he said, but I can't reach them.

The attendant came in and adjusted a dial.
Still she did not get up from the chair.

You know, were his last words,
You really are very lazy.


He was buried during the hunger winter. The ground was wet and
not as soft as he had expected.

After the tulip bulb had boiled a long time, he had thought his
knife would go through it easily and the pulp inside would be
slightly pink, like the tips of the leaves of a young artichoke. But it
was sweet,and not to be eaten, and scratched his throat.

Where he was now, nobody knew; but sometimes his daughter
passed him in the street. And one summer, late in her life, she saw
him at her house almost every day. He stood at the foot of her bed
at night when she couldn't sleep, and couldn't tell

what it was he wanted.

So she talked to him and, when she ran out of things to say, she
read aloud from her book. The only other sound in the house was
the tick of small insects against the lamp-light.

End of Summer

What you are unable to make from this is what I want to eat.

What I am unable to make from this is what you want to eat.

Dream at Eighty-Four

Only when she sat down to write a letter did she remember:
She had to move, and she
hated it.

And when she came to the new house,
the first floor was so full of debris, she could hardly
wade through it.

At Eighty-Four

Her daughters felt like children on the days they came.
She wanted to say
it was too late to make amends—;

but the work of this lifetime and the next weigh the same.

And waking from the dream was making room for death.

In the Garden

In the back garden, the tree above us was thinning and sickly. She
put the shears away and sat on the bench.

When her sister was dying of tuberculosis, she would read her letters
on the balcony away from the children and then burn them.
They were wrapped in layers of paper and sent from her mother,
who wrote on the envelopes, "Enclosed is a letter from Anna."

Her sister, she said, fell in love with the doctor during the last
years of her life. He helped her move into a little cottage on the
grounds of the sanitarium, and she would lie all day in bed, in
nightgowns that she embroidered very beautifully, and sew
dresses for the children (which had to be cooked in a kind of oven
before they were sent, so they were ruined), and write letters.
Once the children came and were allowed to wave at her from the
garden. This was one year before the war.

She often found she was in a long tunnel, walking in one direction
or the other, reaching neither destination. One day she gave up her
ambition to be a poet and the dream ended. She continued to write
letters. The distinction was simply formal.

She was not able to work in the garden as long as she used to, but it
was August, which meant that soon her daughter would come and
they would pack up the house. The roses luxuriated. She renamed
one bush Madame Récamier.

The House between Two Meadows

He had come too close. He was everywhere she walked, watching
her while she listened politely to the tea-time conversation, reaching
for her when she washed the dishes, lying beside her when she
went to bed. He was floating just beyond the limits of her body,
she almost kissed his lips when she drank from a glass, put her
mouth on his jeans when she sat at the table to work.

Sometimes, when it seemed a longing so cloying and unsolvable,
she would try to distract herself. But it wasn't until the rainstorm
on the fifteenth of August that she understood anything.

Her aunt was making a bed and they were talking about books.
The rain picked up and started to stream down the windows and
the house was blanketed and suddenly quite small. She thought of
the desk upstairs, the rain on the garden, so when they folded the
blanket and laid it at the foot of the bed, she climbed the stairs and
closed the door and sat down to work. A whole hour passed.

Who will help you? she thought. It's the weight of telling. Better
read a different book. Better sleep with someone else. Better do
anything than hold so still, you can almost feel him touching you.


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