the discovery

Poetically rendered meditation on sleeplessness

Like Rivka Galchen’s recent “Little Labors,’’ Suzanne Buffam’s “A Pillow Book’’ (Canarium) takes its inspiration from “The Pillow Book’’ by Sei Shonagon, a miscellany of advice, observations, lists, and laments written in mid-Heian era Japan over a thousand years ago. In short paragraphs and lists (“Beautiful Names for Hideous Things”; “Iffy Similes”; “Mustaches A to Z”), rendered with the condensed feel of poetry, Buffam’s slim book explores the nocturnal world of sleeplessness, from the pillow as an object through history to the unsleeping hours when the mind won’t loosen its grip and spins in frustrated, obsessive ways. In worrying these topics, Buffam, a poet, gets at the awareness of the shifting shape of the moon, of hours passing, of life passing. All of us face the same fate, she writes, “no more enduring than last night’s dream.”