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70 dream poems & notes from an analysis

Written by Sarah ArvioAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Sarah Arvio


List Price: $13.99


On Sale: January 08, 2013
Pages: 192 | ISBN: 978-0-307-95956-0
Published by : Knopf Knopf
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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.



& 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.

Sarah Arvio

About Sarah Arvio

Sarah Arvio - night thoughts

Photo © Rigel Garcia de la Cabada

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.




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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