" A wildly inventive, consistently engaging, and amusing comic novel, but under its bright exterior lurk darker undertones and truths.... "
" A wildly inventive, consistently engaging, and amusing comic novel, but under its bright exterior lurk darker undertones and truths.... "
" Indicative of the title, the poems in All This range from the conventional lyric/narrative that captures an intense moment of emotion, an epiphany glimpsed briefly out of the corner of the eye, to the more experimental. "
Imagination is such an important part of our work as creators, whether we’re writers, visual artists, musicians, and more. However, it isn’t enough just to have imagination, but it also needs to be educated, refined, and developed, like any faculty. I could have a bent for playing the piano or singing, but nothing much will come of it without practice, lessons, and moving up through the levels. Continue reading “What’s the big deal about the Imagination?”→
If you’ve followed my blog posts at all, you know that dreams have been a passion of mine for many years. Each morning, I gather them into my journal as I once gathered eggs on my stepfather’s farm. And for me, they function in a similar way that eggs do, cracking open and providing nourishment. But eggs also suggest something in embryo, something coming into being, as do dreams. They are so multi-layered and while some seem nothing more than flotsam and jetsam, remnants from the previous day’s activities, others illuminate something valuable for the dreamer. Continue reading “Writing the Dream Onward”→
I’ve been thinking a good deal about dreams and the role they play in our lives. I’ve also been thinking about how they relate to poetry. When I was teaching freshman expository writing classes, many students admitted having trouble reading poetry. I discussed this difficulty with them. “Why,” I asked, “in a class of twenty literate, intelligent young men and women do only two or three read or write poetry—even occasionally?” Continue reading “The Poetry in Dreams”→
In a recent dream, I’m standing on the street outside the Crescent Confectionary in Calgary, the city where I grew up. The place is lit from within. A couple sits at a table next to the window, eating. I feel like the little match girl, on the outside, looking into this place where I once worked. When I was thirteen, I went with Chester, my stepdad, to the Confectionary, and he asked Mr. Larson, the owner, to give me a part-time job. Chester bought all of our food there on credit, paying the bill when he was flush. Continue reading “Dreaming in the age of Corona Virus”→
From inside my study, one wall book-lined, the other holding a large mirror that makes the room appear bigger, I sit on the loveseat, listening to Strauss and the waterfall powered by a tiny electric pump. When I’m home, I turn it on, the sound of water like a heart beat in this house, a tangible reminder of what usually is invisible, at least to waking life—water for me representing the unconscious and all that lives there. Continue reading “A Writer’s Sanctuary”→
For many years I’ve been recording my dreams each morning and trying to listen to the messages they bring me from the depths. I subscribe to Jung’s view that dreams are messengers from the unconscious, both personal and collective. To ignore them is like refusing to open and read letters from beloved friends that come in the mail. Not spam. Not advertisements. But serious, heartfelt missives.
I’ve been thinking a good deal about dreams and the role they play in our lives. I’ve also been thinking about how they relate to poetry. In an expository writing class I was teaching, many students admitted having trouble reading poetry. I discussed this difficulty with them. “Why,” I asked, “in a class of twenty literate, intelligent young men and women do only two or three read or write poetry—even occasionally?” Continue reading “The Poetry in Dreams”→
Recently, my reading group selected Rachel Cusk’s novel Transit as our next book, and I recalled reading a review by Elaine Blair of Cusk’s novel Outline in the January 2015 New Yorker. Blair claims “Cusk has written admiringly about Karl Ove Knausgaard, and her proposed cure for the trouble with fiction sounds like a gloss of his. ‘Autobiography is increasingly the only form in all the arts,’ she told the Guardian.” Blair goes on to say that some writers are hewing closer to the author’s subjective experiences, of effacing the difference between fiction and their own personal lives.
When I was 13, I began keeping a diary. But since I feared someone might read it, I invented a coded language to record whatever I needed to write about at that time. I don’t know what happened to the diary. But I like to think that whoever found it thought s/he had stumbled on a relic from a space ship or another country because of the unfamiliar words.
The impulse to send myself messages took hold of me again in my early twenties. Thus began a life-long practice of carrying on this conversation in multiple forms. Each morning, the first thing I do after I get up is record my dreams. At different points during the day, I’ll jot down comments about whatever is happening in my world. I also use this form to explore ideas or work out inner tensions. I would be lost without this method of being in touch with myself.
But for writers, keeping a journal has ramifications beyond self-understanding. In order to write insightfully about characters we’re developing, we need some self-knowledge. Otherwise, it’s difficult to imagine our way into another psyche. Since I’ve been practicing this way of deepening my insights into myself for so long, it’s much easier for me to tease out whatever dynamics might be impacting a character.
I’m thinking of 57 year-old Feather, one of the major characters in my novel Fling! She’s a visual artist (sculptor mainly) and leftover hippie from the ‘60s who travels to Mexico with her 90 year-old mother Bubbles. Both are as different as night from day (pardon the cliché). And both also are very unlike me, their creator. But I still managed to imbue them with the essential qualities that make them stand out as individuals.
Dream content is another way journaling shapes me as a writer. Almost every morning, I have at least one—and often more—narratives to record. Dreams usually unfold as a story does, building towards a climax as well as a resolution. Therefore, I am constantly tuned into the creative source in myself that likes to tell stories. Recording my dreams also puts me in touch with the great maker of dreams (whomever s/he may be!), a rich source of material for us all.
If you’ve followed my blog posts at all, you know that dreams have been a passion of mine for many years. Each morning, I gather them into my journal as I once gathered eggs on my stepfather’s farm. And for me, they function in a similar way that eggs do, cracking open and providing nourishment. But eggs also suggest something in embryo, something coming into being, as do dreams. They are so multi-layered and while some seem nothing more than flotsam and jetsam, remnants from the previous day’s activities, others illuminate something valuable for the dreamer.
In a recent night visit, a former husband told me in a dream something he’d noticed about me—I need lots of change. While on one level, I’m pretty conventional and constant in my relationships, I also hunger for new things, whether it be through reading or traveling or cultural stimulation. Having my ex tell me this in a dream focused something for me that I hadn’t thought about before.
Dreams also seem indispensable for writers. What a rich source of narratives they are, spinning out stories night after night that are populated by individual, known and unknown in our conscious lives. They also provide a treasure house of images that we can call on in our fictions or poetry, suggesting worlds that otherwise wouldn’t be available to us, and stimulate our imaginations.
I recall another dream where houses were being resurrected from the seashore. It was such a surreal moment to witness this transformation, but the images made me realize that words are houses. Each one contains many rooms/meanings that we assemble into complex units, constructing plays, novels, short stories, essays, poetry, and so much more.
When I enter my dream world each night, I’m reminded of how inventive our psyches are, spinning out millions of narratives over a lifetime. How can we not embrace these gifts from our depths and write the dream onward?
In my last post, “The Poetry in Dreams,” I promised to talk next time about how one “gets” a poem. Here is my attempt to deal with that topic.
To understand either a dream or a poem, we need to develop a new faculty, a “third eye.” William Stafford has another way of saying this:
“Poetry is the kind of thing you have to see from the corner of your eye…. It’s like a very faint star. If you look straight at it you can’t see it, but if you look a little to one side it is there…. If you analyze it away, it’s gone. It would be like boiling a watch to find out what makes it tick. If you let your thought play, turn things this way and that, be ready for liveliness, alternatives, new views, the possibility of another world—you are in the area of poetry.” (William Stafford. Writing the Australian Crawl. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1978, p. 3)
Teaching poetry reminds me that while we dream and write poetry in solitude, to fully engage a poem is a communal activity. (Similarly, to apprehend a dream, it helps to discuss it with someone—a friend, a therapist.) While I might sit down alone with a poem and enter into the poet’s world, with a group something magical happens. Connections I hadn’t thought of spring to life; observations that hadn’t occurred to me add a whole new dimension to the poem. (I’m reminded that something similar happens at a good poetry reading: Perhaps hearing the poem with other interested individuals triggers neurons in our brains that otherwise might not have been touched, not unlike what can happen in certain houses of worship.)
This occurred when I looked at one of Canadian poet Alden Nowlan’s poems with my class—”The Bull Moose.” In it he describes a moose that wanders out of a forest and ends up in a cow pasture. The moose’s presence attracts the farmer’s neighbors who treat it like a carnival attraction, something domesticated, though the cows that share the pasture have more sense: they back away and huddle at another end of the enclosure. In response, the game wardens have come with their rifles, and the
bull moose gathered his strength
like a scaffolded king, straightened and lifted his horns
so that even the wardens backed away as they raised
When he roared, people ran to their cars. All the young men leaned on their automobile horns as he toppled
(Jack David and Robert Lecker, eds. Canadian Poetry, Volume Two. Toronto: General Publishing Co. Limited, 1982. p. 129.)
My students and I talked about more obvious ways of understanding this poem, the bull moose representing wild, instinctual life that becomes trapped in civilization and patronized: We think we can control and tame it. But the moment the animal shows its true nature and majesty, we react with fear and kill it.
I then suggested that we could also view the moose as symbolizing what we do to ourselves, how we try to contain and control our own noblest aspects. However, when we begin to show how truly powerful we are, we kill those parts. The game warden/censor in our psyche rushes in and shoots this powerful potential before it gets out of control. The moose also can represent poems themselves that we don’t allow into our lives because they can be as splendid and wild as this bull moose, as tame and as mysterious, as difficult to control and as frightening. But why frightening? Why on earth might a poem be frightening?
One student observed, “They’re too deep.” This response captures, I think, much of what we fear in poetry: It carries us past safe waters; there’s no lifeguard on duty; we can get in over our heads quickly, taken out to sea. We can discover new territories in ourselves—uncharted, savage, uninhabitable.
I’ve been thinking a good deal about dreams and the role they play in our lives. I’ve also been thinking about how they relate to poetry. In a recent expository writing class I was teaching, many students admitted having trouble reading poetry. I discussed this difficulty with them. “Why,” I asked, “in a class of twenty literate, intelligent young men and women do only two or three read or write poetry—even occasionally?”
They thought about the question, and then a few raised their hands tentatively; they tried to articulate why poetry was hard for them: “It doesn’t have anything to do with my life,” said a female business major from Hong Kong. “I can’t get it,” said a male psychology major from Philadelphia. “I feel silly saying I read poetry—people think you’re weird if you do,” admitted another young woman from Los Angeles. “They’re too depressing—they always seem to be about sad things,” claimed someone else.
I urged them to give poetry a chance, reminding them that poems are compressed use of language, so they work like instant food: you need to add water before eating it. With poetry, instead of water, you need to bring your full attention, intellect, imagination, and heart. if you do, the poem will open and reveal itself to you.
I also made a parallel between poetry and dreams, since I believe that both arise from a similar place in the psyche, the more archaic part of ourselves that isn’t available to us except through images and symbols. The psyche seems to be preverbal, though this statement makes it sound as if it can’t make use of language; a better way of putting it may be that the psyche—what Carl Jung called the objective psyche—has existed since the beginning of time, and our individual psyches hook into it. Dreams, poetry, and other art forms communicate from this place, especially if they’re transformative, capable of lifting us out of our ordinary perceptions.
For people who have no relationship with their dreams, they often seem arcane, nonsensical, strange. But once you’ve become acquainted with how dreams work, you discover that they speak a special language, not unlike the language of poetry: You need to read between the lines, hear the “message” that the dream contains.
But message sounds too much as if both poems and dreams are didactic, intentional creations. A poet doesn’t start out with a message. Rather she has a feeling or image or idea she wants to explore, the poem being a place where she can make new connections between the world, memories, and language. Similarly, dreams take the flotsam of daily life, mix it with memory, desire, and potential new life, and create a coherent symbolic whole.
Yet to “get” a poem or dream, we need to enter it, walk around inside it, rather than examine it from the strong, sometimes harsh light of rational intellect. Of course we need to take our intellect with us, some aspect of it at least; but we descend into the dream or poem in order to “get it.”
In my next post, I’ll talk about the “getting part”!
It’s wonderful to be writing again after my daily commitment was severely interrupted by launching and marketing Fling! I felt hollow during that time, as if something vital were missing from my daily diet. What is it about writing that is so necessary for me and I’m sure for other writers?
When I sit down at my computer, or in front of a sheet of paper, another world opens up to me. It’s not unlike what I experience at night before I fall asleep. The word “fall” seems key here: during those hours, we descend into the unconscious, into another level from our surface life. While the brain may be cranking out a conglomeration of images we’ve collected throughout the day, I don’t believe that’s all we’re doing when we sleep. I think dreams are more mysterious than that explanation implies.
How do you explain the imagination and all it encompasses? How do you constrain it by rationally trying to identify its source, its ability to help us soar on the back of words and create new configurations that end up being stories or poems? You don’t. If you’re a writer, you wed memory, words, and imagination in a marriage that always surprises. And that’s what I missed during those dry days when I didn’t have access to that realm. I’m happy to be back.