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In a Dream, I Dance by Myself, and I Collapse

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In a Dream, I Dance by Myself, and I Collapse is equal parts experimental novel, half-charred psychiatric file, and self-help poetry book, highly fragmented yet woven together by recursive skeletons: lovers tossing wine down the river while contending with ghosts; a train-hopper who hides pens inside a drum; jails trying to escape themselves; people dying all over Boston; the refusal of food; the interaction between obsession, dream, and memory; animals and lichens loved and mourned; macho anarchists; answers sought desperately through cultural icons; bridges and bodies collapsing. Unnamed narrators rise and fall, weaving in and out of each other while silently nodding to something larger and also, as yet, unnamed. Though structured around the breakdown of voice, mind, and narrative itself, In a Dream, I Dance by Myself, and I Collapse is also a witness to what happens when these three things must pull themselves up and face forward again.

“Equal parts vulnerable, logical, affirming, and schematic, In a Dream, I Dance by Myself, and I Collapse is a frothing workbook with ‘Floating fractals everywhere.’ Like a vending machine stocked with formal innovation, fabulist imagery, and rigorous self-examination, Zaikowski drops goodies all the way through. This is a must for anyone invested in how a self processes the world–and how the world processes a self.”
—Amy King

“Case studies. Quizzes. Announcements. Definitions. Interviews. Lists. Dreams. Carolyn Zaikowski’s In a Dream, I Dance by Myself, and I Collapse amalgamates these things into a workbook that is a novel doing a headstand. The emotional depth, generosity, and playfulness of this book makes want to write, and read on.”
—Claire Donato


Published June 28, 2016

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About the author

Carolyn Zaikowski

3 books21 followers
Carolyn Zaikowski is the author of the hybrid novels In a Dream, I Dance by Myself, and I Collapse (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2016) and A Child Is Being Killed (Aqueous Books, 2013). Her fiction, poetry, and essays have been published in The Washington Post, Denver Quarterly, The Rumpus, Entropy Magazine, The Huffington Post, Everyday Feminism, Dusie, PANK and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Naropa University's Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics and lives in Massachusetts.

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Displaying 1 - 5 of 5 reviews
Profile Image for Dave Parry.
45 reviews
October 30, 2019
This isn’t so much a book to read as an experience to dive into & be buffeted, baffled, mesmerised & awakened by... Snatches of disconnect & harmony, insight & confusion... instructions, reassurances, disclaimers & revelations... dreaming & awake, which one’s which?, opposites in tension & relationship... shocking & validating... this has a multi-dimensional appreciation of reality & asks to be taken dialectically, or (& I hereby invent the word!) multilectically & the Irrational Beliefs Checklist (pp.24-25) gets a straight ‘yes’ from me for it’s helpful, freeing, if quirky challenge to my assumptions (including ones not actually included here!).

There are some lovely passages, like the paragraph about making iced Lipton’s tea for god... (p.48) I’d like to do that, with them, whether god turns up or not... & as a description of the aftermath of loss, (which I’m taking it to be) the passage where “... I convince myself life’s an infection, and you were cured by running just fast enough.” (p.50) is poignant, validating & insightful.

I love the exhortations to not return to my daily life until “... you have made sure that everything is accounted for.” (p.3), “... they [the jail bars] are all free and safe.” (p.59), “... you have been more creative in regards to your conception of what mouth, ears, and pain can be.” (because the speechless do indeed speak) (p.69), & “... you have made sure that the bulldozer is gone forever.” (p.111).

I experience a tension through the book between going with whatever life throws at us & asserting our selves & identities & hopes & expectations on life; skewed perspectives & fractured realities seem to just get to the heart of things here; sometimes I still don’t understand & that’s a place I like being given permission to be in right now; it’s like this book is giving me that in abundance...

There’s a lot here from which I’m not finding anything to take away; seemingly unconnected sentences, rapid scrambles of paragraphs with ideas & observations & questions & contentions the connections between which I can’t find... I’m left feeling a bit in awe (like I’m in the presence of something so profound I can’t even begin to comprehend its meaning) & a bit bewildered (like I’m stupid when I know I’m not) & a bit more known, like a benevolent, learned hand has been placed on my shoulder & I’m better for it, even though I don’t quite know how...

The book refers to terrible things the narrator has experienced or dreamt & there’s so much reference to death & loss & pain & not knowing or understanding that I’m left asking the question who was this written for? Maybe the question is who am I reading it for? There’s a description of a pen who learned how to write but no-one knew “... so she lived in the dark solitude of her inkwell for all eternity with this secret.” (p.133) & this feels like a central metaphor in the book, which (like life?) might well be “A quick fucked up wonderful ride in a strange land that makes no sense and then is over.” (p.133)
August 31, 2018
Carolyn Zaikowski’s latest hybrid fiction work, In a Dream, I Dance by Myself, and I Collapse, published in 2016 by Civil Coping Mechanisms, defies categorization in every way. It’s poetry and prose, experimentation and analysis. It’s a haze of impressions and thoughts – the kind you never share aloud because they couldn’t possibly make sense to anyone else. They barely make sense to you.

Yet somehow – in a messy whirlwind of images, feelings, questions, memories, and lies – In a Dream, I Dance by Myself, and I Collapse stands resolutely intact. In every string of dizzying, intricate sentences that demand total concentration, there are moments of exquisite clarity. It has the sense of being profoundly personal for Zaikowski, and that is precisely what makes it so accessible.

There can be no real synopsis for a work like this (Zaikowski’s website calls it a novel). The reader is guided through a series of self-reflective exercises that at the same time weave a complex portrait of a narrator/patient who flits in and out of focus; the “I” in one section could be the same “I” we meet in other subsections. The “you” could be one person in particular, or it might change even within a single piece. Still, themes emerge like clues throughout, as well as specific imagery, names, and places, lending at least some credence to the idea that maybe this is a novel, telling one elusive story. And what is that story? Memories of lost love, frustrations over failures, anxious self-examinations, longings for those who are gone – the story of a mind, a particular mind, any mind.

Zaikowski is not a gentle writer. The text is laced with trauma, death, psychosis, abandonment, endings. Even the “guidelines” she establishes – announcements and questions from a disembodied interviewer – are disorienting and dreamlike, steeped in the aura of a surrealist hospital ward. But rather than alienating the reader, the convention makes reading In a Dream an interactive experience. Questions bubble to the surface – psychological, spiritual, existential, and personal – and lead the reader to become aware of the self, unhinged from ordinary reality.

Reading In a Dream felt like studying an impressionist painting – some distance was required to allow the work to take shape and not lose it amid the brushstrokes and colors. The unpredictable combinations of words and images evoke something otherworldly and collective, spinning a kind of fantasia that defies literal interpretation much of the time. So instead of hunkering down and deliberating every brain-bending turn of phrase, I found it more satisfying to float along with the text, allowing it to conjure up a powerful blend of emotion that was both communal and deeply intimate.

In a Dream is a fascinating experiment in the relationship between writer, reader, and text. It is frustrating, cryptic, and deeply insightful. It is alien and intensely familiar. It is not like other collections or novels I’ve read, and as is likely evident from this review, I often struggled to understand what I was experiencing – so don’t pick this up if you’re looking for a traditional narrative focused on character or clarity. But if you’re up for a literary – and psychological – challenge, In a Dream, I Dance by Myself, and I Collapse rises as an impressive achievement for both writer and reader.

See https://grabthelapels.com/2017/10/03/... for more in this review.
1 review
August 31, 2018
Carolyn Zaikowski's writing is mesmerizing—at once soft and powerful, taut and expansive. These words cut like steel but are full of heart. IN A DREAM, I DANCE BY MYSELF, AND I COLLAPSE breaks rules in a way that's wildly invigorating; if the book is difficult to categorize, it's just because everybody else is oceans and light-years and galaxies behind what Zaikowski is doing.
1 review
April 7, 2018
this book is serious self aggrandizing nonsense. not worth the $15.
Profile Image for Elliot Riley.
Author 1 book39 followers
October 29, 2019
These experimental pieces (I would call them poems but that is subject to debate) take on many forms: instructions, quizzes, psychiatric tests, dialogue- sometimes involving historical figures like Freud. This is a unique reading experience which left me feeling very inspired to write and to try new things with my writing. Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys hybrid genre forms or experimental poetry.
Displaying 1 - 5 of 5 reviews

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