Features, Poems

Christina Pugh: “Sebald’s Dream Props”

Christina Pugh’s “Sebald’s Dream Props” appears in Poetry Northwest Fall-Winter 2007-08 v2.n2. When asked to discuss her poem, Pugh writes, “‘Sebald’s Dream Props’ is part of a manuscript entitled Restoration, which operates according to a particular form of dream logic that does not depend on collage, non-sequitur, or overt surrealism. Because it is based on dream material and is in part mimetic of dreams, this poem’s trajectory (perhaps one-third prayer, one-third inductive reasoning, one-third meditation on the transformative nature of figurative language itself) is not linear, and its visual aesthetic is something akin to pointillist cinematic (itself an impossibility that poetry may perhaps asymptotically achieve).

“The off-screen ‘props’ of this poem are various: a digital photo depicting ‘winter profile’ hydrangea bushes capped with snow, a dream about an empty courtyard, and W. G. Sebald’s description of silkworm farming in The Rings of Saturn. There is no obvious relationship among these things, but in this poem my chosen task was to channel a buried and counterintuitive logic through the instrument of complex syntax counterbalanced by short poetic lines and strong, often masculine, line-endings. Through such an abutment of imagery and syntax, I try to create a feeling of tension, even disquietude, in the reader.

“The speaker in the poem is not necessarily W. G. Sebald, who came rather late into the poem’s composition. I would not doubt the influence, however, of one of my favorite poems ever: Michael Ryan’s ‘My Dream by Henry James,’ in which James ‘authors’ a dream by Ryan’s speaker. In this way, ‘darkness borrowed’ may be precisely that which is borrowed from another poet or writer who inhabits our consciousness–or conversely, our dream life.”

Sebald’s Dream Props

If I have to know a white room,
let it be a courtyard
where stems of parasols
lean in the soil,

snow dressing
and shining their ellipses,
and each rose print
iced out: blooming coin

or Linnaeus’s riddle,
they’ll lean
beneath the pediment
or plinth.

Then fold one leaf
as a page in my fingers,
and I’ll test
the silk worm’s

plush act, neither
stratagem nor bole—
but a dense, smooth trail
the body fords,

before the lake
stars through: pitch
for an oar,
a darkness borrowed.

Christina Pugh is the author of Rotary (Word Press, 2004; winner of the Word Press First Book Prize) and Restoration (TriQuarterly Books / Northwestern University Press, forthcoming in 2008).  Her poems have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, TriQuarterly, Ploughshares, and other publications.

“Sebald’s Dream Props” appears exclusively in the Fall-Winter 2007-08 v2.n2 Issue of Poetry Northwest. Subscribe today