Book Review

Wanita Zumbrunnen, All Mortals Shall Dream Dreams, Finishing Line Press, 2012

by John Olski

The title of Wanita Zumbrunnen’s  chapbook “All Mortals Shall Dream Dreams” reads like a demigod’s commandment.  It’s a big statement, appropriate for a collection that does “Dream [up] Dreams” in the form of 22 poems encompassing the broad range of human dream states, from reverie to nightmare.

Recurrent touches of surrealism unify the project as Zumbrunnen explores how poems, like dreams, can seem to lift free of the physical world’s constraints in their use of language and imagery.  In “The Family House in a Dream,” for example, we’re told that “The house of the family lives / in a part of the mind / that twists back on itself / writhing snake-like biting its tail...”  The underlying trope equating household to writhing thought/memory is logically simple, while the snake metaphor adds symbolic complexity.

More oddly dreamlike, a strophe from “When Big Fish Zoom at You” may generally address impotence or loss:

                  A sea slug wormed its way
                  out of my forefinger,
                  the skin shaped
                  like an empty cocoon.
                  The finger incapable
                  of separating sea pens
                  from dry docked paper.

As suggested by “sea pens” and “dry docked paper,” Zumbrunnen’s surrealism can produce images that are memorable for their quirky humor.  We’re told in “Geography of a Dream” that “Dream envelopes have no addresses / even when dreamt in a series / as if painted by Monet”—a delectable example of dream logic turning on the concept of series as a way to link blankness with its opposite. 

Zumbrunnen’s project is supported, in its scope, by a range of techniques and voice.  In “Cloud Over Iowa,” a road-trip reverie bounces through alliteration and rhyme, opening with:

                  The road rides the heaven-heaving
                  contour of earth beneath the cloud
                  that is a city resting in the sky,
                  the base flat as a river bottom,
                  cut free to levitate, drip and dry.

Alternatively, “Dream Car on a Conveyor Belt” looks and sounds experimental, with parentheticals balancing informal, unpunctuated and uncapitalized strophes.  It begins:

when too late to catch a plane
(dreams of travel rampage before the fact)                  a driverless car zooms me

to a large square platform

with a conveyor along three sides
(dreams provide context not yet realized)                  and the car driving    onto the belt
disappears over the edge

Zumbrunnen’s chapbook suggests an eerie tension between mind-as-mechanism, dropping associated images out of the neural hat, and mind-as-creator, striving to organize images for greater meaning.  Readers of “All Mortals Shall Dream Dreams” might find that some poems resonate the way dreams do when they can’t quite be explained, while others beg for explanation more than for empathy, as though they were puzzles. It’s a fascinating range that makes the chapbook worth sharing and discussing, both for its own dream worlds and for comparison with the dream worlds we all harbor.

John Olski is a Library Associate for Brown County and a former adjunct instructor of college composition.