Saturday, August 16, 2014

Prompt #196 – Perchance to Dream

Asleep or awake, I suspect that most poets are dreamers, and our dreams are a rich source of inspiration and creativity.

Much has been written about dreams and their interpretation, and dreams have offered an infinite wellspring of ideas for writers of every stripe throughout written history. This week, let’s write  a poem inspired by an actual dream (happy dream, emphatic dream, nightmare, surreal dream, waking dream, precognitive dream)—any dream that you’ve had.


1. Dig deeply into your dream recall (your ability to remember dreams) and write down as much of a particular dream as you can remember (perhaps even a recurrent one).

2. Reflect upon the imagery and symbolism of the dream you’ve chosen. Think about the details. To explore some dream symbols, click here.

3. What did the dream mean or suggest to you?

4. Then re-dream your dream in a poem.

5. Alternatively, recall times when you’ve watched a beloved pet sleep, and imagine what that pet’s dreams might have been. Write a poem about a pet’s dream.


1. Focus on imagery and on creating a sense of your dream’s mood. Mood and tone will be important in this poem.

2. If the dream didn’t make sense to you, don’t attempt to force it to make sense in your poem.

3. If the imagery of the dream was surreal, then use surreal imagery in your poem.

4. You may want to write in the past tense, but think about switching to the present tense to create a sense of immediacy, as if the dream is happening now.

5. Be aware of “ing” endings and overuse of prepositional phrases.

6. If you write about a recurrent dream, be sure to include some elements of repetition, including anaphora (the deliberate repetition of the first part of a sentence). Repetition can be used for emphasis, as well as to create tension, and to enhance the sound quality in a poem.

7. Let your poem use space on the page in the same way that it uses space in your mind. If the dream components are scattered, scatter their word counterparts across the page with interesting line breaks, indents, and stanzaic arrangements.


By way of sharing, here's a dream poem based on a neighbor's suicide
(from my forthcoming book, A Lightness, A Thirst, or Nothing At All).

So Much Life 

The girl who killed herself, her dog, and son speaks to me. She tells me that this death is only sleep. I’m not sure what she means by this—what other death? I stand above her grave, not knowing if there even is a grave (a place to put her—perhaps just ash, the newspapers didn’t say); but, no, I see her face. Her lips move before the words: So much life, she says, is dead before the body follows. She looks at me through stippled eyes and, reaching up, she trims the moon with pinking shears. Light, unraveled, falls (a perfect circle) around the dog beside her—the dog’s spirit scratches its jaw. I don’t know how she came to be inside my dream or why she haunts me—I barely knew her. From my front porch, I see the house in which she lived—the storm door open. Snow that is ice, that is glass, covers the lawn; the lawn splinters and cracks.

(Acknowledgment: Exit 13 Magazine, Vol. #20, 2014)


Photo: Grateful acknowledgment to Renée Ashley for permission to use 

"Steve and Mona."


  1. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this one! And what a great image of the two dogs. They look so peacefully into their dreams like two old souls napping together.

    The poem from your book is extremely evocative and filled with dream-like imagery. (Did the woman really kill herself, her son, and her dog?)

    Thanks for another brilliant prompt!

    1. Thanks so much, Jamie! Your comments and kind words are always most welcome.

      Those are Renee Ashley's dogs, two of the sweetest souls I've ever met.

  2. Steve and Mona are adorable! They look so peaceful and contented, as if they're sharing their dreams. Oh, and the prompt is good too (smile here).

  3. I find the prompt, the tips, and the dream symbols website so helpful. There is so much spiritual wealth in our dreams, so to have a method to harvest it gives us poets so much potential material!

    SO MUCH LIFE from your new book stunned me.

    Here is a recurring dream of mine. I first started dreaming it when mother was still alive and I was building a career here in America. I reworked the poem using your tips and your coaching over the years:


    I have arrived in Athens
    to visit mother in the ICU.

    Flight’s late. Find no
    taxis. I phone my

    brother’s cell but
    get his voice mail.

    I look to hitch a ride but
    the highway’s jammed.

    On the pad, a helicopter’s blades turn
    but no policeman.

    Time’s running out.
    — I wake up to

    no traffic, no airports, no people...
    Just tall trees and the river.

    Mum smiles from her
    frame on the wall.

    Basil Rouskas

    1. Thanks so much, Basil for your comment and kind words!

      Thanks, too, for sharing your poem—I can feel the tension and your sense of helplessness. I, too, have a recurrent dream about not being able to get to my mother.

      Any chance that you might bring this poem to our workshop on Wednesday? I think the group would find it interesting and evocative to work with. (Once again, your beautiful, saving river ...)

    2. This poem is really touching, Basil. It evokes a feeling of longing that resonates for me because I, too, dream of seeing my mom again. Thanks for sharing with us.

  4. I woke up on a daybed
    in a day room
    at night
    at the wind down of a party
    Everyone was drunk
    Everyone was young
    Living the American dream
    I was just a guest
    a ghost
    of my own imagination

    I woke up
    no longer surrounded by empty vessels
    The ocean's breeze
    through the windows
    Puss is purring
    All is well
    All is well

    1. A dream of the past ... Brilliant, Risa, especially the line "I was just a guest/a ghost/of my own imagination." I like your "then" and "now" approach.

      Thanks so much for sharing!

    2. Ditto to everything Adele wrote! (That's a great line!)