Dreams are often poetry – Poetry is often dreamlike

Dreams and poetry have a lot in common – a belief I have held for over 20 years.  In 1995, during a retreat I attended in Mexico, a noted American poet was also there and graciously shared from his life’s work. He read and recited his poems and led an afternoon workshop each day for a small group who chose poetry over all the other options.

During the day, my own poems seemed to be written effortlessly. Throughout the week, powerful and amazing dreams flowed nightly and continued long after I returned home.  Fascination with both poetry and dreams still engages and intrigues me all of these years later.

I’ve discovered a range of ideas that link dreams and poetry in a variety of ways.  The list below is representative of these connections, arranged in no specific order of importance:

·      Both dreams and poetry use a language of image, metaphor, emotion and symbol.

·      To benefit from either dreams or poetry, you have to be fully present.

·      When you engage with your dreams and also when writing and thoughtfully reading poetry, you will be fully in the moment.

·      It’s important to quickly write your dream or versions of a poem before the words are lost.

·      They both enhance creativity and expansion of human awareness.

·      Their deepest meaning is carried in the unconscious mind.

·      It’s necessary to pay as much attention to what is not said as to what is said.

·      As dreams and poetry both go deeply into the unconscious to allow insight to surface, they can assist in healing past trauma as well as disease.

·      Experiencing the language and imagery in poetry and dreams may be less threatening than directly hearing something difficult to admit to one’s self.

·      Both are companions in dark times and can help uncover meaning.

Poet David Whyte’s explanation of poetry could just as well describe dreams.

“The discipline … is in overhearing yourself say difficult truths from which it is impossible to retreat…all are an emblem of courage and the attempt to say the unsayable, but only a few are able to speak to something universal yet personal and distinct at the same time.”

When you wake from an especially powerful dream, writing a poem with some of the dream’s emotion, language and imagery may offer you a different way to understand and appreciate the dream’s significance.

A Little Nightmusic: The Narrative Metaphor is a writing exercise to create a poem from one of your dreams or from a strange waking event.  Poet and teacher, T. Alan Broughton shared this exercise in The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises from Poets Who Teach, edited by Robin Behn & Chase Twichell.


  1. Recall a dream or some strange event in your life.
  2. Write down the facts of the remembered dream or event just as you recall it.


  1. Reread what you have written.
  2. Notice the details – only details – and jot them down randomly.
  3. Do not generalize or make associations to meaning, but stick to the details.
  4. Choose details that describe the tone or the emotional core of the incident or dream.


  1. Imagine and invent a scene that is not your exact memory but is set in the same location as the scene.
  2. Make the tone of this new incident contain a significant contrast to the previous dream or event.
  3. Do not generalize, but note a grab bag of facts concerning the action, plot, basic narrative of the event or dream.

THEN, using as many of the words and images from those you have accumulated –

  1. Write a short narrative poem that
  2. combines or superimposes these two incidents.
  3. Do not try to be logical or coherent as you put the pieces together.

Your final piece may be as different from the first two versions as you like.

When you work with this exercise, allow enough time.  Over the years, your poem may continue to provide further insight.  Poems I wrote long ago based on this exercise still have resonance and meaning that I find helpful today.


Read all of Susan’s previous articles in the Columbia Star Newspaper at www.susanhendricks.com/columbia-star-news.  As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Journal Therapist, Susan leads writing groups and is an approved provider of CEU’s for mental health counselors by the SC Board of Social Work Examiners.

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