by a rawlings
photos by Matt Ceolin
Coach House Books, 2006

Book, or laboratory? Reader, or specimen? Wide slumber for lepidopterists is a poetic fantasia, a disorienting yet compelling dreamscape of butterflies and caterpillars and killing jars, where the waking mind’s prose transforms into the sleeper’s poetry. Each poem unfolds with precision, tracking the stages of sleep and pairing them with the life cycle of Lepidopterae. Insomnia is mirrored in the birth of the egg, narcolepsy in larval hatching. And when the caterpillar starts its final moult, dreams begin, weaving around us as tightly as a cocoon until we are somnambulant, a chrysalis ready to emerge as a moth. Wide slumber for lepidopterists contains luminous illustrations by artist and bookmaker Matt Ceolin.

Published by Coach House Books (Toronto, Canada) in 2006. Available online here.

Valgeir Sigurðsson, Bedroom Community, and VaVaVoom Theatre have created a chamber orchestra and innovative puppetry performance based on the book. It debuted at the Reykjavík Arts Festival May 24-26, 2014. More details here.

The book has undergone numerous solo and collaborative imaginings for performance. At the book’s launch and, subsequently, at The Scream Literary Festival, rawlings was joined by Ciara Adams, Lori Nancy Kalamanski, and Alexis Milligan to stage polyvocal performances. Also in 2006, Wide slumber for lepidopterists was selected to participate in The Harbourfront Centre’s Hatch: Emerging Performance Projects; through this, the book was workshopped into an hour-long, staged performance. This version was directed by Conor Green, performed by Amanda Brugel, Mika Collins, and a rawlings, sound-designed by Richard Windeyer, and light-designed by Geoff Bouckley. Beyond 2006, rawlings has performed solo and polyvocal readings of Wide slumber in Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Iceland, The Netherlands, and USA.

The book received an Alcuin Award for Book Design in 2007, and was nominated for the Gerald Lampert Award for Best First Book. Wide slumber was selected one of the top 100 books of 2006 by The Globe and Mail (Canada).

Wide slumber for lepidopterists is a feast for the senses.” — Vincent Ponka, Broken Pencil, August 2006

“rawlings spins filamental connections between insect modes of being and states of sleep by excavating the scientific and sensual language around each concept, then using the page to orchestrate back-and-forth movements between her two interests…. The unexpected juxtaposition of these two realms of animal experience is interesting enough, but rawlings’s ability to reproduce, using the most clinical terms, the to and fro of a frankly copulative energy pulsing through both worlds is often breathtaking. Vulva rhymed with larva, parallels of penis to proboscis — this is one cool collection, a fresh combination of unashamedly brainy and unabashedly horny.” — Sonnet L’Abbé, The Globe and Mail, April 2006

“… there is quotidian simplicity at Wide slumber’s core. That Rawlings can bend that simplicity with killing jar-like distortions is proof of not only mischievousness but a profound new talent as well.” — Brian Joseph Davis, eye, April 2006

“rawlings’ poems & performance are exciting. By exciting, I mean a thrill to see & hear…. “PUPA: PARASOMNIA” is perhaps the best sex poem (i.e., most sexy sex poem) I’ve heard, maybe ever. By extending her expression beyond everyday use of language & into the realm of sound art, rawlings’ work is a full-body experience…. Fucking fabulous.” — T.L. Cowan,, April 2006

Wide Slumber for Lepidopterists is a gorgeous poetic conceit. It’s beautifully produced, a kind of pocket-sized textual flicker book, with some lovely illustrations too. Its subject is sleep, its different stages and parasomnias, viscerally evoked using the language of lepidoptery in quite astonishing experimental configurations…. I rather loved the glossary at the end of the book too, mingling, as does the text, its specialist lexicons.” — Sarah Law, Stride Magazine, August 2007

“[T]he pure joy and pleasure of ferocity that rawlings attacks language with… is enough to marvel even the most seasoned readers.” — Aaron Tucker, Black Ink, October 2006

“[Wide slumber for lepidopterists] is a gorgeously produced little thing… The writing has a dreamy, underwater quality.” — Alison Calder, Winnipeg Free Press, June 2006

Wide slumber is ambitious in integrating so many genres, and yet it does so with such aplomb. It is a very accomplished first book.” — Suzanne Zelazo, The Danforth Review, May 2006

“‘a.rawlings writes a different kind of poetry. Her sensual first book Wide Slumber for Lepidopterists arouses not only its subject matter but the text itself, waking it — at times shaking it — from its sleepy slumber. Words rise and fall, sleepwalk and enchant, and the interplay of sound and silence alone will keep you reading.” — Wanda O’Connor, Ottawa Xpress, April 2006

“‘Affected by her background in dance and theatre, rawlings’s text has a kinetic aspect, an awareness of the body and the breath, which is unusual in such linguistically innovative writing. She brings a vocabulary of dance and the body to her consideration of how to approach text as an active, moving site, asking, “How can sound translate into text, text into movement, movement into text? How can a page act as a stage for words?” “ — derek beaulieu, Calgary FFWD, April 2006

“Dream words, words that are clear in dream, but when scribbled into a notebook are found to be meaningless in the morning. Or—not meaningless, but unfamiliar. Allowing words to break down and writing lines that mimic words but aren’t, forces the reader to appreciate the text. “Moth” does not equal the insect that lives in our world. “Moth” is a word which is an arrangement of symbols that represents an insect. If I then write “thmo,” you’re forced to think about what a word actually is, because “thmo” is not a word. Wide Slumber for Lepidopterists is very sensitive to how fragile language can be.” — Adam Golaski, Open Letters Monthly, May 2007

“Inside the poems, inside the cocoon, as it were, individual words make no claim for meaning. They unfurl (23-29), they mimic (30, 40-41), they list (74-78), they take flight (68-71), and they simply lie on the page, like so much shed skin (84-86). These words, phonemes, morphemes, and poems—these poemes?—perform all of that, though not necessarily in that order, despite the sequential pagination, and not necessarily in order that readers are, mothlike, reborn.” — Travis V. Mason, The Goose, November 2006

“That rawlings can compare the human sleep cycle to the efforts of a lepidopterist and the life cycle of moths and still manage to engage lovers of language, speaks to the complexities of her text and the magic she’s able to create.” — kath maclean, Prairie Fire Review of Books, January 2008

“There is a strong sense of openness and interconnectedness in a.rawlings’ book, in both form and content. In this way, the book can be read as a profoundly ecological text, exploring biological, psychological, and textual interconnections, opening new ways of writing in the in-between spaces.” — Michael Christopher Holmes, May 2012

“In stages they grow, the larvae the caterpillars the signs the questions. The specimens the clusters the phonemes the patterns the organs. There’s much agitated excitation in this textual universe, abundant with visual and verbal accretions, sexual binds, mental folds. The gestation of writing bodies.” — Caroline Bergvall

“Collector and specimen, observer and observed, become one in this marvellously metamorphic text. Ms. rawlings’s language — born of field and lab and other mysterious places — attains a lambent sensuality. These poems are luminous with intelligence, vivacity and beauty. Let the reader, entranced, be drawn to their light.” — Steve Venright