Dream poetry

Does anyone else have a hard time trying to convert dreams to poetry? I’ve been having some vivid and particularly strange dreams lately, the sort that feel as if they should provide good fuel for writing, but whenever I try to shape them into stanzas they fall flat. I’ve been recalling my most surreal, poignant, and beautiful dreams and have realized that, though I may have tried, none of them made for very good poetry.

I’m starting to thing that poetry, at least for me, is better for catching the little grains of absurdity in day to day life rather than straddling the veritable sea of the stuff encountered when deep in REM sleep. It’s the same when trying to describe my dreams to friends, unless they’re especially saccharine ones, it’s hard to convey the huge amounts of emotion I feel over such seemingly nonsensical experiences.

A few months back I did experience a pleasing anomaly within a dream (I love those dreams that plunge even deeper into madness), I had a character recite a little bit of poetry within it. I think the dream took place at some ultra avant-garde sort of underground theater performance, and one of the actors got a little poetic all the sudden. I don’t remember the poem, except for the word “Giant” and the phrase “at the end of the block” being in it. I woke up from the dream sort of proud, thinking that dreaming poetry, good or not, really made me a poet in the waking world.

I’m curious to hear if any of you guys have managed to get some good writing out of your dreams, and if you have any tips for doing so. In the meantime I’m sure I’ll keep trying and failing to make good poems out of my dreams, and I’ll definitely keep jonesing for the next appearance of poetry in my dreams. Maybe I’ll have better luck getting published in dream land?

A review of The Basketball Diaries

I recently picked up and read a copy of Jim Carroll’s The Basketball Diaries. The book contains a series of journal entries Jim Carroll, a writer and musician involved in Andy Warhol’s factory scene, wrote from the ages of 13-16, describing his experiences as both a star basketball player and drug addict in 1960’s NYC. Watching Carroll’s writing style develop, becoming more poetic as the world surrounding him grows progressively madder, was truly a special experience.

Again and again I was taken aback by how young Carroll was as he reached each milestone of depravity, and how he managed to write and play basketball so brilliantly, despite the damage he was surely doing to his developing body and mind. Though he may stay on the ball (Pun intended) when it comes to sports and journal writing, other aspects of Carroll’s life spiral out of control. His parents become relatively out of the scene, many of his friends are thrown into jail or die, and he finds himself sinking to lower and lower means to get enough money together to maintain his heroin habit. However, Carroll is able to find things of beauty amidst his sordid world. In the early pages of the book a twelve year old Jim huffs glue with several teammates, even while doing something so detrimental to his health and just plain trashy, he imagines himself “paddling across a river with black water, only the canoe was going backwards instead of forwards…”, it seems unlikely that Carroll’s young drug buddies experience anything of a similarly profound nature. Carroll, however, does not romanticize his lifestyle, in fact extensive detail is put into displaying its horrors, it’s just that he also has an eye for spotting the rare moments of serenity or significance that sometimes occur within it.

A recurring theme in The Basketball Diaries is Jim’s search for purity. Throughout his writings Jim repeatedly mentions wanting to find something pure, what this is he never exactly states, it may be something lost or something that he never had. While on acid Jim scrawls out a short poem, “Little kids shoot marbles/where branches break the sun/into graceful shafts of light…/I just want to be pure.” On it’s own the poem might not seem the most spectacular, but in the greater context of the work it holds much more weight to it. Another instance of Jim wanting to recapture or maintain a certain purity occurs when he storms out of the apartment of a much older woman, who has been paying him for sex, after taking her money but not fulfilling his end of the deal, “‘What about my sixty dollars, you prick!’ she screamed. ‘What about my innocence,’ I said, going down”. This theme is later used to bring the diaries to something of a close, but without giving a full answer as to where Jim’s future will lead him.

Carroll’s writings are incredibly impressive, but I do however place some blame on them for spurring many young writer’s descent into drug use, under the false belief that creative inspiration is a sure fire byproduct of the druggy lifestyle. Along with writers like Allen Ginsberg, Hunter S. Thompson, and Irvine Welsh, Carroll could be said to have unwittingly sired a progeny of drug addled writers producing derivative writing. The sort of writers who rely more on shock value than skill, and think that listing off the names of narcotics can replace a proper narrative. Obviously I don’t fully blame writers like Carroll with corrupting susceptible youths, but I do think there is some sort of correlation that should be taken into account.

Influencing uninspired writing or not, Carroll’s entries are anything but. Each entry holds something new, a new low, a new drug, a new dream, a new chance, all of which come together to offer the unique experience of looking through a window into a turbulent psyche and time. Carroll is constantly finding flaws in the opulent, upper-crust society that has rejected him, and spotting bits of beauty in the world of turpitude he inhabits, making for a perspective worth “hitchhiking” along with.

Why I don’t play an instrument

I don’t have many theories on life, nothing like Sick Boy’s unifying theory of life from Trainspotting, but I do have one personal philosophy on the arts that I’m a little proud of and like to spout at the hours of the night suited to sustaining pseudo-intellectual platitudes. I listen to a lot of music and enjoy talking about it, but have never really tried to dabble in it myself, aside from a few recorder lessons as a first-grader that culminated in me throwing my recorder to the ground during my first recital.

Sometimes I fantasize about being a rock star (Who doesn’t?) or even just strumming a guitar after a long day, but for the most part I think that respecting music only as an outsider to it’s inner workings is beneficial to my sanity. Maybe my ego is over inflated, but when reading I have something of a competitive streak. Really good lines are appealing, but in the back of my mind I can’t help but compare my own work to the them. Beyond this, I also find myself dissecting pieces of literature, identifying various craft elements that make them what they are. I think this a good thing for me as a writer, but worry that it damages my immersion as a reader.

I can handle this with one art, literature, but don’t think I could deal with doing the same for another, music. I have close to no grasp on the ways in which music works, I’m nescient as to what the different notes are, I don’t really get what chord progressions are, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg of my overall musical ignorance. Yet, this means that music is untouched by any sort of law for me, it’s like a miracle to me. It also means that I in no way compare myself to whatever musician I’m listening to. I may pick mental fights with Hemingway’s craft (I don’t win), but not with Hendrix. Okay maybe a lyric makes me jealous every now and then, but instrumentals are too abstracted from my understanding to stoke any sort of envy in me. I respect people who attempt to take on multiple arts, but I know that it’s best for me to stick to the one and let the others retains their mystery. One form of artistic turmoil is enough for me. 

Poetry I don’t understand

The other day I was reading this Keat’s poem “The Fall of Hyperion: A Dream”, I was thoroughly enjoying it but also understanding none of it. The rather long piece was chock-full of mythological references I didn’t get and the wording was archaic. I had an understanding of this being a very good poem, and certain lines did make me smile in delight, but overall I didn’t grasp a lot of it. I’ve had similar situations reading poems such as T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland.” I didn’t quite get the themes of “The Wasteland”, until I read up on them a little bit after finishing the piece, it doesn’t help that I read the bulk of Eliot’s revolutionary poem while waiting around grand central station, being hassled by people telling me, most likely fabricated, sob stories in an attempt to get me to open my heart and wallet to them. I’d still say I liked The Wasteland, but on some level I feel insincere making this claim seeing as I didn’t grasp a good amount of it.

I have the same feeling with movies but to a greater extent. Watching long and slow paced films like Solaris or Stalker, both by the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, often feels a bit like a chore, even when I acknowledge them as being objectively well made. Solaris in particular is composed of absolutely gorgeous shots, yet throughout its duration I had to struggle not to check my iPhone for bursts of easy, ephemeral entertainment. At the end of these movies I’m not left questioning my sanity, as I hoped I would, but my intelligence. With complex poems I may not get what’s going on, but I’m not usually bored.

I don’t necessarily think it matters if I don’t get all of what I read, but I still worry that it makes me Holden Caulfield’s favorite word. Maybe I should be honest with myself, acknowledge my technology-fried attention span, and lay off the long movies, but I still derive a lot of pleasure from elaborate and cryptic poetry, so I’m going to continue to read it. Perhaps I’ll picture myself as a deep sea diver, surrounding themself with creatures they may not understand, but which they find fascinating all the same.


I’ve been pretty happy with the weather change recently, I like the rainy, muddy, first weeks of Spring, where it feels as if Winter can be seen retreating. It’s no longer freezing and not yet sweltering, and walking through the fog is always a surreal and pleasant experience. I’ve been reading Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, which seems to fit the atmosphere pretty well. I feel like my writing is getting a bit more lively as well, my winter poems are more based around recollection and longing, while I’d like to think that my spring works have more of an active feel to them.

Spring is enjoyable but also overwhelming in a sense. Observing, and avoiding stepping on, the masses of worms drawn out by the rain, always puts me in an odd mood. Watching life suddenly reclaim the world is wonderful but also puts words like “Teeming” in my head. I hope I can capture that ‘out of control life’ feeling in my poetry.

I’m also excited for a little later on into Spring, when the weather gets warmer and dryer, and I can start listening to the Violent Femmes’s self titled album on repeat and once again try, and most likely fail, to learn to skateboard. I’m all for winter hibernation mode, but re watching Harry Potter movies has started to get a little old. Hopefully Spring breaks a certain staleness I’ve been starting to feel and gives me some good ideas for writing.

Happy poetry

When thinking of poets I tend to think of rather anxious, wallflower prone people. For the most part this is probably based around my own experiences and those represented on TV. Before I actually wrote poetry I would wax-poetic in my head at school events I felt I did not fit in at. I’m sure all that stuff is better off not having been introduced to the page, it was probably pretty cringe inducing, but all the same it was a good coping device. I felt like an outsider with a purpose which is better than just being an outsider.

I’m more confident and happy these days, and I’ve tried to make my writings follow me down this same path, but have found that a little more difficult. I feel that a slightly estranged feeling powers a lot of my writings. I’ve successfully banned myself from using the word “lonely” or “loneliness” in my poetry, as I used it far too much anyways, but still feel that a lot of my writing has a lonely tone. When I try and write happy poetry it all together fails, or comes out as happy with a morbid edge.

I’ve been sort of annoyed by this lately, I think some of my more cheerful thoughts are as interesting, if not more so, than my melancholic fifteen year old one’s, but I have far more trouble getting them down on paper. One way in which I aim to remedy this is in perhaps seeking out some happier poets. I’ve read a bit of Walt Whitman and he certainly seems to have things figured out, but overall it’s a little tough finding the elusive happy poet.

It’s got me curious as to what the poetry of a really confident and stable writer would look like. The poetry of popular high school football or soccer players for instance. The stanzas of well adjusted people enjoying their day to day existence. The poetry of someone who, wouldn’t generally be seen as someone in need of poetry. If anyone has any recommendations I’d love to check them out and hopefully draw some inspiration from them.

Literary rush


What I like to call “the literary rush” is sometimes the sensation I base my existence around. I kind of use this phrase in a half joking, hyperbolic manner, because I’m sure when I say it to friends it brings to mind an image of someone snorting lines of poetry (I feel a little clever for writing that, but I’m near positive it’s been written before) or something of the sort. But I don’t know, I really do feel great after reading something unique and interesting. The last poem to elicit such a feeling for me was the “The Second Coming” by W.B Yeats. After reading it I felt momentarily overcome by some sort of exotic energy. A little bit of dread and a little bit of excitement. In an earlier post I complained about a lack of the sublime in my life, but sometimes such a feeling comes close.

On occasions I’ll write something that I really like and get a bit giddy. Later I may look it over and not feel as great about it, but for those few seconds I’m in a really upbeat mood. Maybe I just get over-caffeinated before reading and writing poetry, but all the same it’s important to me.

I’m generally an upbeat person, but on the rare occasions where I feel as if I’ve chased my usual pleasures into a state of extinction, I set my aim solely on achieving this sensation. Until I’m myself again I use the “literary rush” as a buoy to keep me afloat. I know one shouldn’t put all their eggs in one basket, but I feel as if poetry is made of sturdy enough weave to justify doing so. I’ll never run out of good poetry to read, I’ll hopefully never run out of inspiration for my own material, so when things get dour I can depend upon the feeling achieved from flipping through a collection of good sonnets to keep me going until my mood improves.

Seamus Heaney’s Poetry

Seamus Heaney’s Selected Poems 1988-2013 commits itself to finding ornate detail in things commonly considered simple. While lots of poems translate something complicated into more easily digestible terms, Heaney’s collection turns the everyday into the ineffable. Objects like pitchforks, something that would elicit little poetic thought in most, are examined under an interesting lens and made to seem an incredibly special thing. Heaney writes of the pitchfork, “Of all implements, the pitchfork was the one/That came near to an imagined perfection” (12). I’ve never compared a pitchfork to perfection in my head, but it’s a thought provoking line, and also a sonically appealing one.

A poem later on speaks of lightning, deeming it a “Phenomenal instant when the spirit flares/With pure exhilaration before death” (35). Lightning may be a more likely candidate for poetry than a pitchfork, but all the same I found this description especially striking (Pun intended). Throughout this collection, Heaney’s language continually shines. Usually I’m desperate to find some sort of meaning in a poem but I was willing to put that hunt aside for Heaney’s work. I would often find myself caught up in the sounds, drifting pleasantly along without questioning very deeply. Phrases like “Hazel stealth” (36) didn’t necessarily make sense to me, but that didn’t stop them from sounding good.

Occasionally I did feel that Heaney’s work got a little too cryptic, but perhaps this is just my fault as a reader? I also felt that at points Heaney relies too heavily on quoting other poets such as Yeats. Sometimes he’d throw in such a good line by Yeats that I’d find myself thinking more of that singular line than the poetry of Heaney which surrounded it. However, these are both minor issues and didn’t detract from my appreciation of the overall work.

Heaney, in some sense, re-wired the way I read poetry. I took a trust fall into sheer sonic enjoyment as opposed to seeking out a solid narrative. It seems that every word is put in its proper place with great consideration. Though it’s easy to read, Heaney’s poetry doesn’t seem as if it was at all easy to write. I found this collection incredibly well written and greatly enjoyed it.


Not all that Wilde

In Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, the corrupting Lord Henry Wotton states that he enjoys the company of second rate artists over good artists. According to him good artists tend to lead boring lives, living through their works, while bad artists, who cannot place their energies into their art, put it into their actions. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time pondering this idea and how it pertains to my life and work.

While I enjoy comfort over adventure I often end up among crowds of people who prioritize differently. It can be liberating for a while, but eventually I find myself unable to keep up, tired out, and doubting my own merit, wondering if I’m just not all that exciting a character (or a character at all). In these moments I find some comfort in Lord Henry Wotton’s theory. I tell myself that I am a trepid observer, the Sal Paradise to Dean Moriarty, the Nick Carraway to Jay Gatsby. After the latest escapade is done I can retreat to my home, to reflect and write about it. Maybe I’m not the charismatic reveler I sometimes wish I was, but I can always write about those who are. It has proven true, in my experience, that the types worth writing about often don’t put out very much work. They own expensive typewriters but seldom use them, allowing them to gather dust in the corner.

However, I don’t write as much as I should. I’m alright with poetry, but don’t produce nearly as many short stories as I ought to, and “the novel” is still a collection of vague ideas circulating the inside of my skull. Often, when I do sit myself down and tell myself to write, I find some way to distract myself. I talk to one of those aforementioned larger than life characters on the phone, then go for a late night walk, gaze up at some celestial bodies and compose some trite lines about them in my head, return home and watch a very inspiring movie, then proceed to fall asleep.

I’ve been getting worried that I’m somewhere in between being a writer and being someone worth writing about. Not quite ecstatically energetic enough to be an inspiration, but not broken down and jaded enough to dedicate my existence to putting that of others onto the page. Hopefully with time I’ll gain more focus, burn off the last of my vitality, and be ready to sit and write something substantial. I feel like I use this blog as a confessional a little too often, that I treat it like some canvas to fling my anxieties at, and I’m sorry if it’s getting annoying. I’ll try and get a little less self deprecating with it next time.

The Subpar Sublime


Lately I’ve been a little fixated on the idea of “The Sublime”, terror equally intertwined with beauty. This idea seems to keep popping up in various classes and conversations, in art history class we examine its presence in paintings of shipwrecks and ominous churches, and while doing work in English class I happened upon it in a book of literary terms. I bet this can be explained by the frequency illusion, a cognitive bias where something recently learned about starts appearing in one’s day to day life more and more, generally as a result of being more on the lookout for it, but for the purpose of adding some excitement to my life I’m imagining that it could be something more.

Either way, I’ve been thinking about “The Sublime” in my life, mainly the lack of it. I certainly have moments of joy, but seldom do I find myself unsettled by their magnitude. I’ve begun to worry that I’m not experiencing real high power happiness, or that my brain isn’t as fancy an organic machine as I had hoped.

I’ve stood on some pretty high rooftops, I’ve looked out at the ocean, I enjoy doing these sorts of things, but don’t find myself absolutely overwhelmed by them. Maybe I have too many explanations for things that were once inexplicable? Words to attach to what used to be deemed the ineffable. Or perhaps being able to watch those youtube videos that compare the scale of the smallest building block of existence to the greatest star has desensitized me to the miniature mammoths of our world?

Another theory I’ve thought up, is that today’s modern human is too eager to seek out pleasure to be absolutely overcome with it. I’m not arguing that hedonism is something of the new age, but I do think it’s possible that we’ve begun to represent ourselves too much as lightning rods for any passing through thrills and have become quickly jaded, or even shunned, by them. You hear about poets of the past, like William Blake, having heavenly visions that were beyond his volition. Now that writers are waiting around for similar divine inspiration it doesn’t feel as inclined to visit us.

I’m sure I have felt the sublime, I’m sure I will feel it again. Maybe today just isn’t a particularly sublime day and I’ve convinced myself that the rest of my life is fated to lack it as well? In the meantime I’ll try and keep enjoying the small and tame pleasures of life. Not everything has to be some kind of rodeo with absolute beauty and terror.