Dream Play: Working with Dream & Nightmare Images in Poems
I have never been talented at sleeping. Truly, I am a restless person—since I was a kid, I have been no stranger to fits of insomnia, fever dreams, night terrors. The disorientation of sleep has always been, for me, a source of unease and agitation. However, in my poetry workshop last fall, just as I was starting my MA, I began to actually work with images of sleep and sleeplessness as material for my writing. Instead viewing sleep as just a space of anxiety, it started to become this fruitful, creative place that I could visit every night.
In practicing dream poetry, I found the visual terrain of dreamscapes and the unsettling experience of hypnagogia (the space between waking and sleep) to be fleshy, surprising, and extremely playful. The dreams, suddenly, became a kind of an endless repository for poems, where the images are often immediately visceral and striking. As I continued writing, I wanted to better observe myself as a dreamer—keeping dream diaries and reading dream dictionaries to help unpack what I could remember. Since then, I have written several series of poems concerned with dream work, usually using content from recurring dreams—everything from graduations and family trips to sex dreams, high school dances, and childhood monsters.
For the moment, dream poetry as a mode of writing seems to best embody the aspects of a poem that I value most—particularly, an emphasis on the image, the visual, the cinematic. I am currently writing my thesis collection around this subject, getting my hands on all kinds of dream theory, psychoanalysis, and dream poets of course. I think that sleep will always be a spooky place for me, but at least now I can put that spookiness into a poem.