night thoughts: 70 dream poems & notes from an analysis

night thoughts: 70 dream poems & notes from an analysis

by Sarah Arvio

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In this remarkable and unique work, award-winning poet Sarah Arvio gives us a memoir about coming to terms with a life in crisis through the study of dreams.

As a young woman, threatened by disturbing visions, Arvio went into psychoanalysis to save herself. The result is a riveting sequence of dream poems, followed by “Notes.” The poems, in the

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In this remarkable and unique work, award-winning poet Sarah Arvio gives us a memoir about coming to terms with a life in crisis through the study of dreams.

As a young woman, threatened by disturbing visions, Arvio went into psychoanalysis to save herself. The result is a riveting sequence of dream poems, followed by “Notes.” The poems, in the form of irregular sonnets, describe her dreamworld:  a realm of beauty and terror emblazoned with recurring colors and images—gold, blood red, robin’s-egg blue, snakes, swarms of razors, suitcases, playing cards, a catwalk. The Notes, also exquisitely readable, unfold the meaning of the dreams—as told to her analyst—and recount the enlightening and sometimes harrowing process of unlocking memories, starting with the diaries she burned to make herself forget. Arvio’s explorations lead her back to her younger self—and to a life-changing understanding that will fascinate readers.

An utterly original work of art and a groundbreaking portrayal of the power of dream interpretation to resolve psychic distress, this stunning book illumines the poetic logic of the dreaming mind; it also shows us, with surpassing poignancy, how tender and fragile is the mind of an adolescent girl.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This book contains 70 contemporary sonnets along with lengthy explanatory notes and an index of figurative language. The poems shouldn't be read without the notes; these language poems don't resonate without the context provided by the rest of the book. Nor are they pieces one can dip into at will. Rome Prize-winner Arvio (Sono) rightfully describes the collection as an exploration of the dreaming mind, a memoir, and a poetic record of her experiences under psychoanalysis. The poems exemplify the striking verbal effects that occur with enjambment and wordplay. This is poetry made from running sentences into each other and putting words that sound alike together—without punctuation. Arvio rubs words against each other as though they were sticks under a magnifying glass positioned to catch the heat of the sun. VERDICT When the sticks do ignite, they burst into sparks, fire, and smoke, yielding a galvanizing energy. Like the dreams these vivid poems are meant to evoke, their meaning is not so much in the dream as in the dreamer.—Diane Scharper, Towson Univ., MD
Publishers Weekly
This raw and affecting third collection from Arvio (Sono: Cantos) is really two brief books in one. First, unrhymed sonnets in plain yet vivid language describe a series of Arvio’s dreams; second, the poet recalls the childhood troubles that she came to understand through psychoanalysis, in prose that annotates the sonnets but reads like a journal. The sonnets combine the immediacy of memory with the insistent symbolism of dreams; in one “I’m sloughing something but what I don’t know/ out of the sea dream out of the deep self.” Blood, blades, snakes, beds, and other totemic items invite us to interpret, as Arvio later does: “a black slip with a lace decolletage” becomes “the black slip in which I’ll die.” These sonnets give up more of their secrets in the prose, where many clues point back to sexual trauma that neighborhood boys inflicted on the poet before her teens. At one point in the analysis came “the first time I had the sense that there was more to know about my suffering and that I might be able to find it.” Some readers may find themselves put off by the conventions of psychoanalytic interpretation; others may read Arvio’ s serious discoveries for insight both into the poet, and into themselves. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
Praise for Sarah Arvio's Night Thoughts from The Washington Independent Review of Books

"Who does not love the nighttime mind with its full disclosure, lack of censor—
metaphor, innuendo, enchantment, intensity? Sarah Arvio breaks the codes through psychoanalysis and coverts her thoughts to poems. This is a book of mutual discovery for the poet and reader, and most fascinating are the notes which untangle the unapparent worlds. Among the many successes here is that
Arvio is too busy puzzling out psyche and prosody to think about moving to sensationalism—but sensational they are—all our horror stories of guilt and shame—memories that changed shape early on.

This book is influential because it is one of a kind. With all the books written today, one so unique with such an alternate view of poetry is almost a game changer in the field. There are 70 set pieces of exactly 14 lines. We know how important consistency is to hold tumult. Discipline is essential—and well done, it becomes admirable. Never have symbols had so many faces, but what I like is there are no overt moral questions which would stain the search, and Arvio’s lack of punctuation alludes to this. These are works of strong feelings ringed by messages saying we can’t control our dreams but we can control the poem. From the uncomfortable silence of the psyche’s tundra, Arvio wrings out her truth."

three fish

the mother of the boy I will marry

she takes the knife & she turns it over

on the cutting board beside the white fish

laying potato peels over the fish

each white fish is striped with one red stripe

the red stripe marring its delicate flesh

my white dress is spattered with bright pink blood

all the white lace is spattered with my blood

she hides the three fish from the wedding guests

covering them up with potato peels

she’s hiding the fish from their fish shame

she doesn’t hide me I can’t hide myself

she hides the three fish so no one can see

covering them up with potato peels

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Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Random House
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Read an Excerpt


& now an airplane lands in the field
& incinerates I use this strange word when I tell the dream not flames or burns there was a rusty barrel out in back we called the incinerator strange word for an old barrel where we burned the trash
I took my diaries out there in back in the brightdamp where a spatter of rain fell in the ashes & striking matches lit the edges & watched as the pages curled charred & would not burn I said my life burn up my life & for one lifetime
I thought I can stop now & take them back but no they were burning so I let them burn

From the author's notes: 

My first real breakthrough was the dream called “airplane.” Describing the explosion of the plane, I used the word incinerate. And then I remembered burning the diaries. When I say ‘remembered,’ I don’t mean I recalled something I had thought of now and then over the years. I mean that the memory broke open, shocking me, and I saw that -it—-the -event—-had happened, that I had known of it long before, and then forgotten.

The sudden viewing of a lost traumatic memory happened only a few times during the analysis. ‘Sudden’ means -shocking—-the return of a powerful memory. Other memories came more slowly. I understood later that a traumatic memory lost and then found releases other memories. By ‘breakthrough,’ I mean this was the first time I had the sense that there was more to know about my suffering and that I might be able to find it.

"black slip"
I borrow a slip from another girl a black slip with a lace décolletage
& she accuses me of stealing it no I say I didn't steal the slip I
borrowed it but no one believes me here the magistrates are standing near the wall
& they sentence me to a razor death my executioner has jetblack hair long & skanky & it swings as he steps toward me with the razor in his teeth
I'm sporting the black slip in which I'll die the black slip with the lace décolletage but then I seize the shining instrument
& zig it through the air & slash his eye
From the author's notes:

"black slip"= black lace slip.  The word décolletage, a low-cut neckline, comes from the French décolleter, which means cut out the neck of, as for a dress, and also cut someone's neck.  Here, I'm the wrongdoer, having stolen the slip, and I'm sentenced to a razor death....
The razors were anguishing, senseless.  How could god, the gods, creators of life and dreams, inflict them on me in my sleep? In "shiny foil," my molester--as I call him in the dream--is sentenced to be executed with a razor, but by the time I understand that his molesting is a form of love, it is too late to save him.
Just now, as I write, it occurs to me that foil also has another meaning, a literary one:  isn't the molester a foil for my own spurning of love and longing for love? A thing that contrasts with and enhances the qualities of the other.  Here again, foil:  they were foils for each other, the two brothers.  I mingled them together, remembering.  They harmed me; they hurt my life; they did me irreparable harm. And yet, there was something shiny about me and the one I called the cat, as he bent his head and looked in my eyes--out there on the driveway.

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Meet the Author

SARAH ARVIO is the author of two previous books of poetry, Visits from the Seventh and Sono. She has won a number of awards and honors, including the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and Guggenheim and Bogliasco Fellowships. For many years a translator for the United Nations in New York and Switzerland, she has also taught poetry at Princeton.

From the Hardcover edition.

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