Wednesday, May 27, 2009

where poems are born

A little surprised, although not much, by some of the comments here by poets discounting the value or relevance of dreams. People dream differently, but the psyche is communicating to your conscious part, using symbols, signs, images, metaphors, language, triggers, cues, etc. intended for YOU to hear/see/feel and understand. Your dreams aren't failing you, you're not paying close enough attention. Pay better attention, you'll get more useful dreams. Or at least they'll seem more useful because you're paying attention.

There's a number of theories and techniques of how to interpret dreams. I lean Jungian. It's what makes sense/feels right to me. Freudian always seemed like a groundbreaking beginning, but woefully lacking and incomplete.

I keep a detailed, searchable database of dreams, with tags. It's a private, unlinked, password-protected blog that only I have access to. It helps me become aware of patterns and progressions that I would likely miss if I just typed out or wrote my dreams. It helps me make sense of what things and people represent in my dreams.

Most tagged item: poets (152), 2nd: books (61), 3rd: driving (58), 4th: St. Agnes Lane - childhood street (53), 5th: father (50)

My grandfather always discouraged me from remembering my dreams. He said dreams were the brain's garbage and that we should consider anything dreamed to be something that needs to be purged.

I don't believe in "brain garbage." I believe there are many things we don't understand, things that frighten and disturb us, things we very much want to deny or not think about. If your psyche doesn't want you to consider something, why try to bring it to your attention?

When I was in the hospital with Gideon a couple weeks ago, I was surprised that I wasn't having hospital or Gideon dreams there or immediately afterwards. Why am I dreaming about ________? It felt totally unconnected. I discussed a few of my dreams at length with a friend. It became clear the dreams were showing my mental state at the time, all the feelings the event brought up and retriggered, dormant feelings. The dreams were showing some more far reaching implications. There was no need for my psyche to point out where I was or that I was worried about my son. I was already quite conscious of that.

Sometimes I go back to older dreams that I didn't understand at the time to see if they now make sense. Sometimes I see a lot of missed messages.

Sometimes I feel like talking about dreams is like talking about religion. You have to believe. You can lead some to the "light" -- but the rest see you as an annoying Jesus freak, they want nothing more than to get the hell away from you.

But seriously poets, no matter what your school, style or method, no matter if you write from within or take in your surroundings, where the hell do you think your poems are coming from?

The same place that makes your dreams.


  1. i wish i had dreams. i used to have them, but i don't that much anymore. maybe i don't sleep long enough for them to start...

  2. Tonight before you go to bed, write a short note to your Psyche and ask it to send you dreams again.


  3. I know of someone who sets her alarm for 3 a.m. to catch the deep stuff of dream time.

  4. My most vivid, detail-specific dreams are the ones that wake me between 4-5 a.m.

  5. "where the hell do you think your poems are coming from?"

    my head
    in bed

  6. I think it's very simple: Poems come from your life, awake or asleep.

  7. Sometime back around 1990, I came across the book A Little Course in Dreams by Robert Bosnak, a Jungian analyst originally from the Netherlands and living in the United States. Among the things he talks about are ways to remember dreams -- he describes how poets in ancient Rome used to walk around buildings saying their poems out loud, over and over, memorizing them as they memorized the building.

    In several of the dream examples he talks about, the dreamer initially remembered no more than a brief fragment or scene from the dream. Bosnak had them go back into the small piece of dream they remembered, and then to just notice more thing, the way you would if you were remembering a room or a house you'd been in last week.

    I found that as I practiced it, the method was effective in helping me remember dreams, even when I initially couldn't remember more than a brief moment. And then --

    I also found that the same method started to help me find poems, when all I started with was a single line or image.

    From this, I've come to feel very strongly that poems come from the same place in the psyche that dreams do. Certainly I've found that making a whole poem from a small fragment, a couple of lines or an image, is highly similar to remembering a dream.

    It's like the idea that the poem (or song or painting) is already written before you write it (or sing it or paint it), and so writing it basically involves "remembering" the poem that's already there.

    Robert Bosnak subsequently wrote another book, the title of which escapes me offhand, about his experiences in Australia working and talking with Aborigine dream workers. I've just read a little of that one -- on my (long) list of things to read or finish reading.

    This whole subject is something that interests me hugely. Thanks for posting this.

  8. I've read the Little Course in Dreams book and thought it was pretty good. Thanks for letting me know about Bosnak's new book. I'll definitely check it out.

  9. Some of my better poems have come directly from dreams. I always dream in full-blown Technicolor. People who say they only dream in black and white must still be Kansas. :)