October 14th, 2010 / 10:14 pm
Craft Notes

(Not) Today in Class: Two Assignments

Dream a little dream. I dreamed last night that I almost killed two kittens I was keeping in Tupperware. I forgot to give them water.

Next week my students will come to class with dream journals and dream poems in hand. They’ve spent a week remembering their dreams or making up their dreams. They’ll be thinking about dream logic and dreaming about thinking logic. They will want to spend class talking about dreams, and we will because I like talking about my dreams as much as the next dreamer. One of my favorite poems is Berryman’s “Dream Song 14,” though it isn’t very dreamlike:

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) “Ever to confess you’re bored
means you have no

Inner Resources.” I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes
as bad as Achilles,

who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into the mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.

Two more of my favorite dream poems, and these follow a  straightforwardly beautiful dream-logic, are James Tate’s “All Over the Lot” and Charles Simic’s “Early Evening Algebra.” More poems about dreams and sleep here. Write a matter-of-fact poem about a recent dream you’ve had. Don’t embellish; don’t editorialize. Write it straight.

Last week, as I’ve mentioned, we did Alternate Surfaces in class. Index-as-poem, driving directions-as-poem. These kinds of poems follow a different logic, and while not “dreamlike,” it’s one that doesn’t make immediate “sense” to the eye. Oh, but it’s such a cool way to stretch and tug at perception. You should do this too. Write a poem or story in a new form. Here’s what my students came up with. Poem as:

-eviction letter


-anarchist treatise

-astronomy book glossary entries


-clothing tag

-biographical timeline

-missed connections ala Craigslist

-second grade spelling list

-rejection letter


-species identification

Feel free to post snippets of what you’ve written here, or your thoughts on the process of writing in these modes.

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  1. Raymond Roman

      I always have dreams and this is something I’ve been wanting to do for the past month or so. I started to log some descriptions onto my computer but by the time I woke up, tried to remember the dream and type it out I had a few weeks of nothing really. Just this week I’ve put a notebook under my bed with a pen ready for writing as soon as I wake up. Unfortunately, I’ve been waking up and wanting to go back to sleep to continue with the dream. This post has made me want to do this even more, no excuses anymore.

  2. Slowstudies


  3. mimi

      Last night’s dream as fortune cookie fortune:

      You will take a helicopter tour of San Francisco with Barack Obama and a middle-aged Latino.

  4. alexisorgera

      hell yes.

  5. deadgod

      Alexis, I wonder if it would be stimulating/fun to question what texts are not “alternate surfaces” of poetry. What document or writing or deliberate sign of some kind isn’t ‘poetry’? Or does everything go?? – and calling something a “poem” is a matter of degree, and of acculturation? I think it might be cool if students were asked each to bring in something she or he refused to call a “poem”, something she or he reasonably denied was an “alternate surface” of poetry.

      If one can’t think of anything written that there isn’t “poetry” ‘to’ – as in: ‘there’s poetry to writing an intelligible, useful mattress tag’ – , that should say interesting things about the linguisticality not just of “thought”, but of becoming-as-one-is.

  6. alexisorgera

      Deadgod, man that’s a great idea! I’m trying to imagine what that conversation would look like…I guess it would depend on when during the semester the conversation happens. Wouldn’t it be great to start the class this way–bring me something that isn’t a poem. Or, later, maybe just before they write the alternate surfaces have them bring something in and talk about 1. what it is 2. what it could be. We’d have to talk about Keats’ negative capability, but then I always talk about that…

  7. alexisorgera

      hell yes.

  8. deadgod

      You could ask the students each to write, for 15 minutes, something each one is convinced no one could construe as a poem.

      I’d be tempted, in that situation, “to write” by inking one of my finger pads and pressing the print onto the paper: ‘that is not a poem’. But, not the whorls on my finger, but the act of making a print of them – is that not a ‘poetic’ response to the task’s directive? is there really no poiesis to such a response? I guess a rival could say, ‘well, it’s art, but it’s not “poetry”‘. But my fingerprint on a gun is a sign of something, namely, me having held the gun, or, while unconscious, having had the gun put ‘in’ my hand. Etc.

      Not the vacuity of ‘it’s a poem if I say it’s a “poem”‘ – but rather: what’s the difference categorically between, plainly, a sign and a piece of language usage, both of which admit of having ‘poetry’ to them? What is a “poem”? or – What is it that poets make?


      […] Phillip Roth “brainstorming” t’niques ALEX ORGERA is exploring DREAM POEMS […]

  10. joe

      i wrote a book in form of comment cards to wendy’s restaurants