Writing Poetry Based on Dreams, With Example Poems
their big brown eyes
in a dream
For almost 40 years I have been intrigued with night dreams and how we use them in our writing. I believe that dreams are a reservoir of creativity that can be used in all areas of our lives. This post offers a description of the methods I use to write poetry based on my dreams, with an example dream-based poem of mine for each type of approach. These are methods I have used in my work over many years both as a dreamer and as a poet.
With respect to writing dream-based poems, I’ve heard it said that the poem is not the dream. I agree completely. However, I would add that even the dream, as we have remembered and then recorded it, is not the dream. Only the actual dream in the process of being dreamed, is the dream. I make the basic assumption that by just observing a dream--by remembering and recording it--we have already changed it in some way. And, of course, if we are lucid dreamers, we consciously cooperate in changing the dream even as it is being dreamed.
Nor is a dream-based poem a full exploration of a dream, though it may lead to partial understanding or continue beyond the dream's original scope. In fact, I do not believe a dream is ever fully grasped. I have mined the same dream over a period of months and even years, and obtained new and utterly different insights.
Following are three methods I have used when attempting to write a dream-based poem:
One: I organize the original dream transcript--correcting grammar, improving flow of action or thought, inserting "poetic" line breaks, etc. I sometimes find the dream/poem suggests additional action or images in this process.
SAMPLE BELOW -- This is an old poem based on an even older two dreams, both dreamed the same night. The writing process produced no particular insight but I still find its images intriguing:
I crash on the gritty shore of morning:
I had been dreaming again of flying,
ballast under my right arm quickly becoming burden,
overbalancing forward, then righting myself;
my legs dangling dangerously close to ground
as a dark man snatches at my ankles.
I wash out to sleep again
and dream of a cat
curled around and licking
a dreaming human embryo.
Two: I re-enter the dream using the dream scenario as a guided visualization, and see where it takes me. Which is sometimes to very unusual and unexpected places. This can produce more dream-like material that I add to the original dream transcript on which I then base a poem.
SAMPLE POEM -- The re-entry produced the last three stanzas:
Horse and I arrive at the cay
to dive for treasure sunk
by raging storms and buried
by the sea’s maternal sweeping
Horse, tired to his bones,
makes one more leap of faith
into the softly glowing depths,
I on his wide brown back
We land in a long golden furrow
that leads along the warm sea bottom
Following the trough,
Horse lopes slowly and surely
buoyed out of time by the sea
He dips his great head once,
twice, three times to scoop up
cavernous mouthsfull of sand,
straining each in its turn
through his large white teeth
In a huge explosion of horse,
rider and foaming water,
we burst to the surface
The beach burns white
as Horse collapses
on the crystalline sand
From his open mouth, gems
of all colors spill endlessly:
Ruby, lapis, amethyst
and amber, citrine and peridot
all tumble onto the bright face
of the beach, refracting wildly
like the eyes of long forgotten gods
Three: This is the method I most commonly use. Working from memory, i.e., no reference to the original dream transcript, I begin writing a poem about a dream or dream image that has kept me intrigued. I will occasionally leave out parts of the original dream that seem unnecessary to the poem as it is unfolding. This third approach tends to yield a partial "interpretation" of the dream or dream image of which I was not previously aware.
SAMPLE POEM -- The writing process produced the insight in the last stanza:
Others try to free her father
from the front passenger seat
of the crashed car, where he
lies bleeding into a pile of snow.
Her father wishes she would
come to him, while he breaks
the window in frustration.
Her young dark-haired suitor
proudly displays his own wound:
a small flame, burning
from the center of his palm
Aghast, she smacks out the flame
with her gloved hand
On waking I regret my act:
this snuffing out of passion
as it rises sweetly through the debris
of an ancient love
By the way, I’ve found not every dream I attempt to base a poem on or try to re-enter, lends itself to these sorts of explorations. Yet just trying can sometimes reveal a useful insight into the dream.
There are also times when I feel the original dream has not been expanded or opened in any way by a poem I’ve written. However, I still have the poem. SAMPLE -- the haiku opening this post.
In my experience, the writing process itself almost always adds new elements to the original dream. Each having its own value, sometimes offering a startling or humorous insight. All this said, I would like to stress that the original well of the night dream transcript has many, many treasures to offer without being explored in a poem. In fact, in terms of the number of dreams I record, those that I base poems on are very few indeed. However, when so moved, I find writing about a dream can be richly rewarding, satisfying, and surprising.
Resource: Dream Network with an online journal, dream consulting, understanding dreams, booklets, and more.
May we always find ways to express what matters.
‘til next time, keep dreaming,
* * * *If you wish to copy or use any of my writing or poems, please email me for permission (under “View my complete profile”) * * * *
FUTURE POST(S): Using Your Dreams to Create Poetry & Stories (4 fun exercises); Using Tarot With Dreams That Got Away.
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