Nixes Mate Books ($9.95)
by Douglas Cole
There’s a beautiful mystery in Jessica Purdy’s poetry collection Sleep in a Strange House—it’s like we’re traveling through her dreams or watching a surrealist movie, the meaning of which lies just out of reach. Take the opening poem, “Architect,” for example, in which the poet creates a sort of house for “Everyone I know,” with enigmatic labels on their rooms: “I am a door. I am locked. / I am occupied. I am alone.” If in dreams a house represents the structure of consciousness, then what are these pieces of the poet, and what is the mysterious “staircase I didn’t build”?
In fact, there are many mentions of dreams and dream states in these poems: “the meaning of dead horses in dreams,” “The father dreams of being held down,” “In dreams I welcome prosthetic legs.” It offers a “blueprint,” if you will, one alluded to in “Architect,” as though the title were announcing the plan to come. But who is the architect, the poet or the unconscious?
Hence, it is interesting how the consciousness in these poems often seems disconnected from the scenes, like “the breath coming out of us in clouds.” The speaker, in fact, often feels like a reluctant inhabitant: “I don’t deserve my body. I should have/been born something else.” And it’s as if this consciousness were forever on the verge of leaving, whether in the petit mort of “Expiring in bed” or the invisible something that “makes you want to leave, / drive away in your car.”
As in the work of the great haiku poets, images of nature stand in for these layers of awareness: “How do the bugs know when to start work?” And like the haiku poets, Purdy fixates on the moon as the ultimate symbol of reflection, although her moon is “a square / framed by linear clouds.” We explore the subconscious with her like a “lurking burglar” about to stumble on a realization that will rip us from the world of sleep.