In Walden, or Life in the Woods, Henry David Thoreau calls it “a ridiculous demand...that you shall speak in order so that [someone] can understand you.” Instead, he desires “to speak somewhere without bounds; like a man in a waking moment, to men in their waking moments.” In many ways, Kelli Anne Noftle's I Was There For Your Somniloquoy (Omnidawn Publishing, 2012), which won the 2011 Omnidawn First and Second Book Prize, adheres to Thoreau's admonition to speak in a language located somewhere in the liminal zone separating dreams and consciousness.
For, indeed, Noftle's book is not a book of dreams, but a book wherein the somnambulist engages in activities normally performed while awake (a “between” state, not a “beyond” state), such as “Sleepwalkers // in the dark, throwing a Frisbee” (32). To this extent, the poems do not read as linguistic representations of dreams, but “some shape of ourselves leaving” (11). In other words, the poems of I Was There For Your Somniloquoy are “Flashes,” in which we can see the shape of an object, but cannot accurately determine whether that object is “a shovel in the dirt / or a monument? / Your pointer finger / or an ice pick” (31). No, there is nothing fantastical about these images; in and of themselves, they are recognizable through and through. But within the landscape of these poems, we're only provided with “Scrap[s] / of recognition” (31) and, thus, must put together a “patchwork sense” of the world we inhabit while reading them, which is “glittering, something misshapen, [and] half- / hidden” (44).
This misshapen and half-hidden world is populated by characters who “change the marshmallow / Butter the cigarettes, salt the drain” (47). So, it comes as no surprise when the speaker of “I Follow You All Through the House with My Ears” says:
I was afraidto wake you standingat the refrigerator pouringmilk into the litter box. (34)
Or, in the poem “God of Children,” when the speaker herself:
Walked downstairs, switched the television off,yelled “No,” while were both watching. Commandingfrom my sleep, climbing into everything—piles of dirtylaundry, ugly dresses, softball glove, a box of untouchedtampons. (61)
Yes, people partake in strange activities when they walk in their sleep, as if they've be taken over by “jerking, seizing little gods” or their bodies are “finally // filled with sea” (64) causing them to drift to places they would otherwise not go while awake.
But the world Noflte constructs in her poems is more than just objects dimly seen or bizarre, sleep-induce circumstances. No, her language, at times, also walks in its sleep; so, as the poem “Hypnagogic is a Sound” tells us, she “can float / on [her] own language” (64). This floating language, then, is not one that needs to be understood, but one that we sense through sonic resonances and verbal slippages as in the definition poem “Somnus”:
of seizure, SHORELINE, soporific derivatives. Which may include Sting or SLOW-WAVE SLEEP. Of comma, when one follows another, then another, then. Dose. Does bloom. Does borrow and drench or douse fully. See Spill. See Pocket where the sun never shines. Where we swam but didn't touch, outright. Of floating. Of coma. See water washing every out-come. See Also some shape of ourselves leaving, even asleep. (11)
“Dose” becomes “Does,” “comma” becomes “coma,” and the tongue floats alliteratively through “seizure, SHORELINE, soporific...Sting..SLOW...[and] SLEEP.” This is speaking without bounds, speaking in a waking moment, speaking as water washes every outcome from of our mouths and into an ocean of sleep. Beyond the demands of understanding, we drift through these odd but comprehensible poems as they transport us into the glittering and misshapen language of the somnambulist's somniloquoy.