Dreaming of Poetry - Katherine Roberts

Anne Bronte by her sister Charlotte
(1845, public domain)
Anne Bronte's poem Night begins: "I love the silent hour of the night, for blissful dreams may then arise..." As a child I, too, used to look forward to the night, tucked up safe and warm in my bed, knowing I would not be disturbed until morning and could invent stories all night long in my head if I so wished - although, in practice, I usually fell asleep quite quickly, and then forgot most of what I'd dreamt up during the night. In those days, my dream life and my story life must have been closely connected. I don't know if this is the case for all children, but it's probably easier to access your dreams when you're young.

As adults, we tend to lose this connection. Nights get disturbed by snoring partners, crying babies, worldly worries, noisy neighbours, smartphone alerts, and - as you get older - an inconvenient need for the loo before it gets light. But I do still dream, even if (like those childhood stories) I don't always remember them. So last month I braved the storms to visit Cornwall for one of Jenny Alexander's Writing in the House of Dreams workshops, to see if it could help me find my childhood key and "unlock the power of my unconscious mind".

This was my first time with formal dream work, and I must admit to being a little sceptical. After all, I write fantasy tales for young readers, full of magic and legendary creatures, and yet I've never dreamt of a single dragon or unicorn as far as I can remember. My dreams always seem quite mundane to me, being more or less connected to my own (real) life. Aside from one I had in my early twenties, of the jackal-headed Egyptian god Anubis standing beside my bed (I told him to "go away", and he did), I'm not aware of using any of my own dream material in my books, so how would recalling my dreams help me write middle-grade fiction's answer to Game of Thrones?

I must eat my words. After just two weeks of dream recalling prior to the course, we all arrived with enough material to produce not only several pages of fiction each, but also poems and - in one case - the entire plot of a novel involving alien invasion via household irons... the new 'smart' irons, perhaps? I still did not dream of dragons (unless you count the dragon-head bookends I found in a charity shop and which worked their way into a dream last week), but I did get some surprisingly powerful poems during Jenny's workshop.

Here's an example, which I'm calling Allergies:

You are a demon phone mast
radiating across bare fields
rocking the folk who wake at 3am
and making rats glow pink
with blood in the lake.

You are ten bags of peanuts
loved by the folk who rock at 3am
but one tiny swallow
by a single child
asphyxiating in your pink lake.

Those who follow this blog might remember my post about my own experience of wi-fi allergy, which no doubt explains why I've been having nightmares about all the new 5G masts currently springing up all over my home town. But on the course we were under strict instructions not to interpret our dream material, only to use it creatively, and the above poem was the result. You are free to interpret as you wish.

Here's another poem I wrote following a disturbing dream I had about 20 years ago:

Everyone agrees it must have been a major disaster
perhaps something atomic, no-one remembers now.
It does not matter.
We are scattered across the universe, shrunken, crippled,
no longer men.
Once we built cities large as planets, white marble shining in the sun,
we reached across galaxies and stole the stars,
made belts of supernovae and pleated space so we could thread
silver-bright ships through relays of black holes.
We cut larger and stitched faster
and covered the face of God with fragments of ourselves.
Small wonder he sneezed.

An early glimpse of the ambitious 5G satellite launch perhaps? (I just hope some deity up there does not develop an allergy to satellites!)

You'll be relieved to hear that I don't usually publish my poetry, except in the odd blog post like this one where you can read it for free. But I do write short fiction along similar lines, much of which was published in science fiction and fantasy magazines of the 1990s, and which I am slowly collecting into my Ampersand Tales books. There are now two collections available, both currently FREE for Kindle for 5 daysso feel free to grab a copy if you've not read them yet. Each collection contains seven of my short stories, and both titles are also available in paperback.

Mythic & Magical

Weird & Wonderful

And if you're interested in accessing your dreams for creative work, here's Jenny's book on the subject, which also includes her own experiences with dream work and is well worth the read.

Writing in the House of Dreams

Katherine Roberts writes fantasy and historical fiction for young (and older) readers. Find out more at www.katherineroberts.co.uk


Umberto Tosi said…
Thank you for this lyrical and useful exploration of the creative aspects of dreams. I don't much from my dreams normally, except for experiencing them, but often I doze off imagining scenes from whatever narrative I have been developing and letting them develop. Sometimes I have to jump up and take a note. Usually, however, this seems to stimulate ideas that come into my head the following day. Anyway, I loved the poems and your post.
Dreams h ave always fascinated human beings. One wonders if animals dream - it is said they do, especially dogs who twitch and seem to be dreaming of running... But, what about those of us who either don't dream or totally forget them?
I usually forget mine, Clare! But Jenny Alexander has some techniques for dream recalling, which worked for me in the week before the workshop.

Jenny also told us that the 'dozing and imagining' state Umberto describes is a dream-state.

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