National Poetry Month: poemcrazy: Open the Window

The only way to think about dreaming is be asleep. This is what I decided this evening.

I know, I know. It didn’t work the night before, when I lay awake much of the night, stranded between streams of thought and no actual dreams, that I can recall.

But this may be the only clear thought I’ve had all day today, and I’m going with it. I could do it right here from on my squeaky orange desk chair, shoulder propped against the wall. If I leave my hands resting on the keyboard, perhaps I’ll be poised to capture the flow of unconscious thought when my head bobs to my chest and startles me awake.

I was the child who slept anywhere, everywhere, without a moment’s thought. In the back seat, as soon as the ignition turned over. In the closets of my childhood home. Sprawled across a piano bench in the basement, a three-year-old exposing white underthings from under a too-short dress not intended for impromptu naps in compromising positions.

Perhaps it’s the one-eye-open pattern of parenthood. Or perhaps it’s mere cumulative effects over decades of not wanting to be caught with my underwear showing on the piano bench. Whatever the reason, these days, sleep often eludes me.

So do my dreams. I rarely recall them when I wake.

In poemcrazy, Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge writes of the power of dreams in making poems, using a series of questions.

We’d begun intermingling our dream world with what was around us. Asking someone, “Who were you in my dream?” invites that person into contact with our inner world. We begin to see that happenings or people in our dreams may have a correspondence in the outside, or “real” world. This helps the conscious and unconscious meet. Poems naturally emerge from this meeting.

She suggests the following questions to start, inventing others as one goes along:

Who were you in my dream?
What did you hear?
What were you wearing?
What were you eating?
What did you want?
Why were you hiding?
Who was with you?
Where were you going?

Wooldridge explains that “the word poem comes from the Greek word poein, to make. In a collage, as in many poems, you reassemble fragments of found or collected images of your own.” It seems to me that dreams function in much the same way, as our subconscious gathers fragments of a day here, a moment there and pieces them back together in sometimes strange, whimsical, even frightening ways. The result, for me, is the tension between wishing I could remember and hoping I never do.

I asked myself the questions, and found that despite my ordinary lack of dream recall, I knew the answers. This exercise seemed to fit well with Joseph Cornell’s belief that “you don’t make art, you find it, accepting everything around you as material.”

In my dream
you were someone I loved
but I forgot your name.
I heard my own name,
spoken through a cloud
as though with a will
of its own.

You ate mango
cherry vanilla
which may taste
better together
than it sounds.
Why do you ask
why was I hiding?
Don’t we all? Don’t you?

In my dream I wore cotton.
Flannel, plaid. Like always.
I was alone. Or maybe
you were with me.
I was on a street
that wasn’t visible.
I told you I only wanted
to see the road.

So maybe I was right, in a way. The only way to think about dreams is to be asleep — away from my natural tendencies that try to govern them.

Poetry takes us to a realm where it’s possible to both discover what we deeply wish for and begin to imagine it, the first step in making it happen.


We’re reading poemcrazy: freeing your life with words together this month at Tweetspeak. Are you reading along? Perhaps you’d tell us in the comments your thoughts about Part 4: Open the Window or any practice exercises you did. Maybe you would even share a poem that came out of this week’s reading. If you post about the book on your blog, feel free to drop a link to your post in the comments.

And don’t forget to check out other fun and interesting National Poetry Month events at our Ticket Counter. Are you playing along with the Phone Poets Project with Diode’s Patty Paine? Starting this week, you can get yourself on the Phone Poets Map.

Buy poemcrazy and join in the fun. For next Wednesday, we’ll wrap up our discussion with Part 5: Lights and Mysteries. Or follow this link to read the previous posts in this poemcrazy book club series.

Photo by Maarten1979. Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Lyla Willingham Lindquist.


Buy a year of Every Day Poems, just $5.99 — Read a poem a day, become a better poet. In April we’re exploring the theme Dragons and Creatures.

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  1. says

    Always a delight to see where ‘poemcrazy’ takes you, Lyla. I’m interested in all those dreams I never recall having.


    Lyla Dreaming ~ A Found Poem

    Lyla, poemcrazy child who slept
    anywhere — on a white piano

    bench not visible in the basement,
    in a squeaky mango-orange chair

    propped against the outside wall,
    in closets, when night didn’t

    meet day or only turned over
    to naturally emerge — goes

    dreaming, head to chest
    the pattern sometimes, always

    stranded outside thought. Not
    wanting to be caught with one eye

    open to answers, she gathers pieces
    of strange questions as material

    to recall, accepting everything
    as fragments from an inner world

    frightening in ways Cornell found
    art and fit to make images to love.

    Wishing to be asleep, she is
    hoping, often, to remember never

    being right about being too alone.

    • says

      And always a delight to see where the comment box takes you, Maureen.

      I like this part especially:

      Wishing to be asleep, she is
      hoping, often, to remember never

      being right about being too alone.

  2. L. L. Barkat says

    I’m re-reading ‘The Artist’s Way’ this spring (like I do every spring now :) ) and chapter 4 is remarkably fitting as a companion to Section 4 of ‘poemcrazy.’

    I pulled out a lot of quotes this morning. Here’s one to add to the conversation here:

    “You are no longer stuck, but you cannot tell where you are going. You may feel that this can’t keep up.”

    And then, somehow, I’d been thinking during my morning walk (I read this post before my walk), about how profound is the observation that we must sleep to dream. I know. It seems so simple. So obvious.

    Yet we don’t do it. I was thinking about this. How we refuse to sleep and therefore to dream. And how sleep is a form of active surrender, should we choose it. Well, and very Julia-Cameronish, chapter 4 had something to say about that too…

    she offers the Sanskrit word “kriya,” surrender and notes how it is necessary to effect the changes that help us create (recreate?) the integrity of our “self.”

    Oh, maybe rather philosophical all this. But I couldn’t help thinking about these things. I am wondering what I might need to fall asleep over, and what dreams might be there… either ones I want or don’t want to remember… but all perhaps saying something I might need for the integrity of my “self.”

    • says

      Been thinking of the surrendering part of that. Being awake is certainly a means for control for me.

      Thinking too hard about that sort of makes me want to take a nap.


    • says

      I love that quote. I am defintely no longer stuck, but have no idea where I am going. Outwardly, I seem to be swimming gracefully with the current, but just below the surface I am dying to bob up and down, treading water frantically just to get things back in an orderly routine. I sleep like the dead to turn it all off, and need to stay awake to release those dreams and set them alight.

    • says

      Loved your take on this, Glynn.

      (But? Was weeping in the grocery store actually one of the exercises? I was a bit groggy when I read that chapter. I do try to confine my supermarket weeping to the checkout aisle, though.)

  3. says

    “I was the child who slept anywhere, everywhere, without a moment’s thought.” Me too…until I was a mom. Here’s an image from early in my marriage:

    He painted every night at the kitchen table
    oblivious. She staged a lay-in at his feet.
    He laid aside his brush to blanket her where she slept.

  4. Marcy Terwilliger says

    After reading everyone’s comments I found each interesting where my dreams are different and very much alive. As a believer I think that sometimes God speaks to us through dreams and when we wake-up we are prompted to take action. It’s odd but some of my dreams are about close friends, people I love and something bad has happened to them in my dream. Clearly when I wake my mind remembers everything and I’m at a point of what do I do next? One dream was about a woman I worked with, in the dream she died. When the call was made to see if she was ok she wasn’t, she had just come home from the hospital after a scare with her heart. Another time it was a cousin the same age as myself, upon waking something felt wrong. When the call was made her brother had killed himself. Other times people were fine and it felt silly making the call. Dreams are amazing, even how they linger into the morning as you remember each thing that happened. Why do we dream, are we makers of dreams. Then there is daydreamers, the ones that sit in a chair looking into space dreaming by day, is that not the same? We should write a book about all these thoughts shouldn’t we?

    • says

      That’s so interesting, Marcy. I have known others who have experienced what you have, of dreams that seem somehow connected to the external realities.

      Fascinating question, how we might be the “makers of dreams.” One of my sons has played around a little with “lucid dreaming” but it freaked him out a little and he stopped.

  5. says

    Where do I need freedom? Turning off all the intensity of work and excavating that giggle. Here’s my list of found words this evening:
    don’t whine
    drink wine
    spend time
    tea time
    me time
    sea time
    sea chime
    see time
    sea chime
    wind chime
    one dime
    one time
    all mine.
    Using this list to play this weekend…I’ll let you know what happens! 😉

  6. says

    For three years I kept a dream journal as part of my own spiritual direction process. My director was an expert at dream work and I never failed to be astounded at what I learned from that whole process. I do a tiny bit of dream work with my own directees now, but writing them down is hard for most of us – it needs to happen immediately upon awaking and needs to include the feeling state as well as the details. I had a dream about my brother the very night he died and I had a ‘visit’ from a much-loved parishioner at the moment of his death. Those are stand-out experiences. But the work I did for those three years with Abbot David has been transformational in many ways – I’d love to find someone else to do that kind of work with again. She’s onto something important with this chapter.

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