So I’m dreaming and in the dream, I’m thinking, this dream wouldn’t make a good poem because it’s stuck.
Dreams like stuckness. They take it and put it in a giant symbol.
In this dream I’m on a train. This train is luxurious and very fast and packed with passengers. Among them, there’s me and my sister Louise. Louise has pushed my heavy suitcase into a luggage space somewhere and we’ve moved up the busy train to find a seat. But actually we’re not sitting, we’re standing and chatting.
Before I expect it, I see the train’s approaching my station and I don’t know where the suitcase is. Louise goes off to find it. She doesn’t come back.
I don’t know where she is. I don’t know where my suitcase is. I have my handbag but NOT THE SUITCASE. I can’t get off the train without my suitcase.
The guard’s slamming the doors shut again – bang, bang, bang – and the train moves off with me still on it. Louise hasn’t come back.
The train’s carrying me in the wrong direction. It’s carrying me south and I want to be in the north.
Somehow I’ll have to get back. I go in search of my suitcase. There’s a small child following me who wants to play, so I have to hide in one of the toilets while the child disappears, and then creep out again.
Finally, I find my suitcase! It’s a dirty-white colour, and even heavier and larger than I thought. I can hardly drag it out of its space. How my little sister ever manage to stow it?
Louise reappears. We’re very glad to see each other though she doesn’t say where she’s been. My huge suitcase is blocking the aisle. We’re chatting and I realise the train has stopped. It’s sitting beside a platform and I should get off and wait there – wherever it is – for a train going the other way to take me back to my own station.
But the suitcase is too heavy. I can’t get it past the seats and into the corridor. The guard is already slamming the doors shut again – bang, bang, bang – and the train’s carrying me further and further away from where I need to be. The train is travelling south. I need to be travelling NORTH. Get me out. Get me out.
So that was last night’s dream, or part of it. The business of not being able to get off happened three or four times because I was trying to wake up and couldn’t manage it – and that’s why, in my sleep, I even began to think of dreams and poems, and what the symbols might mean, because I knew I needed to get up and WRITE THE BLOG.
In fact, I never did get off the train. I just, in the end, managed to wake up.
And what about the suitcase? You don’t need a psychoanalyst to work that one out. The symbol explains itself. It works at more than one level. I didn’t come up with it consciously. It sought me out.
Poems often do something not dissimilar, especially those poems that seem simultaneously obscure and easy to grasp. I like dream poems (though many editors don’t), and I’ve written a number. I’ve even blogged about them before, here.
But what makes a dream like a poem? I think it’s the combination of symbol and powerful feeling, so not just any dream will do. It has to be strongly felt.
Here’s the background to one of mine, written after a poem had been rejected by a worthy magazine. This poem popped up, of course, before ‘submittable’ was dreamed up.
I know I urge other people to send poems to magazines. I tell them not to be put off when they come back, it’s something you have to go through. But the truth is I hate it myself. I hate the brown envelopes coming through the letter-box. More than anything else, I hate the fact that I hate it! Grrrrrr. I hate picking up the envelopes and feeling how heavy they are. If pretty heavy, that means ALL the poems have come back. If a bit lighter, maybe the magazine has taken one. Or even two! And if very light – could it be, could it be. . . ? And why do I even care?
Anyway, in the past I have often managed it: the sending out of poems and the dealing with returns. But it used to take me 48 hours for the cold feeling associated with rejection to go away. I thought this feeling was completely ridiculous but I still felt it. And the feeling did go away. It would gradually fade over the first day and night, and disappear completely in 48 hours. (Only 24 these days for ‘submittable’.)
But once I had a more complicated rejection. One of the editors of a magazine had liked one of the poems in the brown envelope but suggested I change a line. So I changed the line and sent it back cheerfully. Alas, another of the editors opened the envelope and must also have seen the poem before. This person did not like it, and returned it immediately with a snippy comment about it being no use sending in the same poem twice, they did remember them.
I was not just rejected. I was enraged and wounded. I was so full of injured rejection that I wrote a letter explaining how truthful and honourable I was and sent it to the unjust editor. I dreamed about the whole thing that night, and also wrote down the dream as a poem. I’m going to include it here, because it’s in Unsuitable Poems, which has now been out of print for years. (I may have to do something about that, if I can just get time. But the suitcase is so heavy. . .)
And then I woke up. . . .
You were extremely red in the face
and when you opened your mouth to speak
you made no sense at all, you were obviously pissed
first thing in the morning and I told you so.
Did you care? No.
You said they’d slipped something into the soda water,
it wasn’t your fault
and in any case you were never drunk before nine,
I should know that, and then
I had to marry the man who picks up litter round here,
the one with the funny hat.
I didn’t particularly want to do this because
I didn’t think marriage was a great idea and in any case
he was already married and had six children
but he was still keen and it turned out he was
the editor of a poetry magazine called Trash
and he told me not to be so stupid because
I was only dreaming
and so I woke up except I was still dreaming and
in the dream I had woken up and was writing a poem
about the dream, another dream poem
for Kevin’s magazine Trash
and it was going to be wonderful, like no other
had ever ever been, and then I woke up
and bugger me—is this a poem?