LLA Reads Spotlight: NIGHT THOUGHTS

At Louisville Literary Arts, we all love to read. But our interests in literature are as varied as hats on Derby Day. Some of us gravitate toward poetry, while others prefer an epic novel. A few of us love reading creative nonfiction. In this space, we recommend recent books we've read, and hope that you'll find something just right for your reading list.

Adam recommends: NIGHT THOUGHTS by Sarah Arvio (Knopf, 2013)

​​Genre: Memoir/Poetry

​​"NIGHT THOUGHTS, Sarah Arvio’s third, and most accomplished, collection, is really quite fantastic. Accompanied by 64 pages of 'notes from analysis' on 'events' and 'figures' from the poems, these allusive, irregular sonnets look back at a group of connected childhood traumas. The fallout from which led to years of tormented dreams, and culminated in a semi-psychotic event, leading to the psychoanalysis and dream analysis that gave rise to this collection.

Cinematic in effect, Arvio’s poems evoke a nearly Lynch-ean American landscape and psychological atmosphere. Threat of something is ever-immanent, and it’s genuinely unsettling, as in these lines from 'eyelet': 'this was the blood of my eye that was let / that saw the bloodletting behind the day / this wasn’t something I could cotton to / though it cottoned to me & stayed.'

The poems create a timelessness, that one imagines the author must herself feel, so that they are experienced less as a perverse projection on a screen than as a one-way mirror to unfolding events, with Arvio looking on beside us, highlighting how the self always seems to suggest separation. Or as the poet says in the 'notes,' these events 'occurred, apart from me but also intensely inside my own mind,' a statement indicative of the speaker’s underlying sense that her vision may have significance only to herself. But rather than portraying vulnerability, one has the sense that the author is vulnerable, so that the writing, rather than solipsistic, is compelling, creating in the reader something akin to a sense of responsibility for, or a role in, the speaker’s state.

Arvio adeptly explores how psychoanalysis, trauma, and dreams offer a threat to the self’s sovereignty, and how paradoxically they might work to construct personal identity. That threat to the self’s sovereignty is mirrored by the organic and complex resistance analysis, psychic injury, and the dream life offer expression, and narrative. The inclusion of 'notes' in NIGHT THOUGHTS seem to acknowledge the insufficiency of narrative to explain, as well as Arvio’s need to speak for the experiences and aspects of multiple selves, across time and mind, which she, the speaker, is struggling to understand. As in these lines from 'bell':

at the sound of the bell a big bully

with a ticker & pulley & a chain

& a hammer & a bar & a bang

smashes the head inside the headshaped frame

time in the ticker continues to tick

Interestingly, this concern for iterative selves across a spectrum, as well as NIGHT THOUGHTS’ textual breaches, bring Arvio into meaningful conversation with the likes of Hejinian and Howe, even if Arvio’s breaches are more subtle, and her mode more 'confessional.' And it is the speaker’s struggle for expression, represented by these breaches, that is the struggle of the patient in real time – urgently untangling toward meaning, or simple understanding, in retrospect.

And though Arvio uses plainspoken, almost childlike language, it is resistance and play that diffuses what might, in another poet’s hands, seem mawkish, and which reproduces a foundational struggle with the protean nature of language, memory and the self. It is an unending struggle as the collection’s last poem, 'end,' iterates: 'there isn’t an end this is what I know / there is no end & no bottom to it.' "

If you would like us to consider recommending your book, please contact LLA Reads editor Alice, who will let you know how to get your book to our readers.

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