Dreaming and poetry. They’re linked.
Dream is not a revelation. If a dream affords the dreamer some light on himself, it is not the person with closed eyes who makes the discovery but the person with open eyes, lucid enough to fit thoughts together. Dream — a scintillating mirage surrounded by shadows — is essentially poetry.Michel Leiris
Yesterday I heard an interview with this year’s winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, Jericho Brown, by Krista Tippett at “On Being.” In it, Brown talks about his process for writing poetry, which is to follow the sound and let the sense come later, and to interrogate the poem for its meaning:
I look at that mess of words, and I start asking it questions. And this is how I’m better able to get at the subconscious … And if you ask the poem questions, things you think, things that you have experienced, things you live will begin to come out. … Just ask it questions, and you’ll find out what you’ve really been thinking.
Same with dreams: when we wake up, if we have an image, snippet, or something lingering, we might look at it, turn it around in our hands, wonder what it means. That’s my experience, anyway. The things that happen in dreams are sometimes ordinary but often they’re so preposterous or strange that they prompt at least idle curiosity and questioning.
Recently I dreamed I was at a dinner with friends when, just after the waitress told us that the kitchen was out of fennel, one of my friends ordered the fennel salad, either not hearing or not paying attention to the waitress. Why would I be dreaming about fennel, which I like but haven’t thought about in my conscious life in quite a while? I might wonder what element I’m missing — one that’s essential to a fennel salad but in other ways seemingly non-consequential — or what lack I’m not hearing or paying attention to. As someone interested in medicinal uses of herbs and other plants, I might consider fennel’s properties as an estrogenic, antispasmodic, or in medieval lore to ward off evil spirts. I might think about what fennel sounds like (final? phenol? funnel?) and whether one of those words has significance for me right now. And so on.
Almost everything we dream about seems to beg questions, especially if we believe that the answers may offer a route to our subconscious life, to what’s “really” going on for us before our rational mind, well, rationalises it, in the same way that reading what we’ve written, looking at our artwork, or being stunned by what comes out of our mouth in an unguarded moment can give us a deeper look at the primordial stew inside.
Featured image: fennel, Longwood Gardens, PA, May 2017 (manipulated with deep art effects)