cover image A Pillow Book

A Pillow Book

Suzanne Buffam. Canarium (SPD, dist.), $14 trade paper (104p) ISBN 978-0-9969827-0-2

Buffam (The Irrationalist) records a journey through sleeplessness in this varied, charming collection. Along the way she reveals that, as panaceas for insomnia, “F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote lists. Abraham Lincoln took midnight walks. Tallulah Bankhead paid a series of young caddies to hold her hand in the dark, as did Marcel Proust.” Three elements reappear to give structure to the speaker’s nights: stories of her daughter (known only as “Her Majesty”), Sei Shōnagon’s original Pillow Book, and the speaker’s vivid recollections of her psychedelic dreams and imaginings. Shōnagon’s early 11th-century Japanese collection of observations and lists that “have survived the tempestuous centuries” sets the precedent, its own ambiguity allowing Buffam’s work to undulate among poetry, a history of pillows, and family memoir. Lists also break up her musings; instead of counting sheep, she names “Moustaches A to Z.” Beyond their silliness, the lists intimate how the mind cranks after dark. “The Scarlet Pillow. In Search of Lost Pillows. On the Origin of Pillows. Moby Pillow,” the speaker drones, despairing of “ever solving sleep’s riddle.” But there is no solution, only deep scrutiny of everything related to pillows and sleep. Insomniacs and the well-rested alike will feel a kinship as Buffam’s rambling nights coalesce into a beautifully contemplative, deeply personal work. (Apr.)