Dreams are so entertaining! But the structure of dreams makes for lousy poetry — the associational and tangential but linear structure of the form is so overdetermined (a rhetoric everyone experiences daily, then tries to repress!) that the imagery quickly becomes flat and dull. Or we tend to bring our Freud- and Jung-inspired critical tools into the fray, producing a piece that is tiresomely analytical.

These hurdles, however, don’t require that we abandon our dream lives entirely when writing poems; instead, we might consider rassling one out of its own structure and into an inherently poetic form, out of its visual world and into word.

This prompt won’t yield a well-honed masterpiece, but the odds are good — if you’re honest with yourself and the text you’re producing — that you’ll create something which sparkles in its own unruly way.

Here goes:

Bring to mind one of your most vivid dreams (preferably one you haven’t already spent a lot of time analyzing in therapy).

Choose 8 to 12 “moments” of varying narrative significance from the dream (i.e., one might be a brief flash of an image that seems to have no significance, while another might represent the dream’s central theme) and record them in a numbered list.

As you develop that numbered list, let each dream moment find its own independence as a separate poetic line; if you have to, spend a day or two or a week or two on each line. During that time, work only on that individual line.

When you’re finally happy with all of the numbered units as a line of poetry, turn back to the piece as a whole and see if the lines belong in a different order. Play with different potential sequences until you’re happy with the order of the poem (no longer the dream).

At this point, if you have to, remove the numbers. If you’re really into polish, form them into stanzas, play with line breaks and transitions, remove an overly unruly line or two and add another. Or you can just sit back and revel in your new poem’s messiness.


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