Friday, February 8, 2008

Poetry Friday: More about "Why Dream?"

Perhaps this is cheating, to post a poem that's already been posted once before. But I have a few things to add, so I hope you'll forgive me.

Last week, Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast asked me if I had a new poem I would share with her readers at the end of my interview. How could I say no? I gave her this one:

Why Dream?

In the morning, the day and I
lie in each other's arms, naked,

still, and full. We promise each other everything
and believe--Why dream?

By nightfall, the rough and ugly shift
has descended over my shoulders
to my heels--Why dream?

and my back is pressed against
the bitter wood of the evening's empty
frame--Why dream?

the sky thickens.
Each coarse thread is salvaged.

Why another morning?
Why myself uncovered?
Why dream?

Why is far from now--
me, morning, paleness flushing--
Why dream
in the arms of the day?

---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

In our email exchange, I told her this:

Why Dream? is a poem I've been struggling with on and off for years. The dang thing just would not satisfy me. I think the problem was that I was trying to be way too logical about it--you know, lay out an answer: that you dream to make things new each day.

But then I realized that I couldn't say that. There were moments when I said "why dream?" because everything was perfect, so even dreaming couldn't make it better.

And there were moments when I said "why dream?" because everything was so bleak that dreaming seemed of no use at all.

And then there were the moments when I was truly curious to know (scientifically) why we needed to dream and those moments when I needed no such explanation... "why is so far from now"...

So in this version, I'm content to ask the question and let the answer be pursued by the reader.

It's one of the rewards of poetry that you can always put a poem away, and come back to it over and over, and it will offer something new. Lately, I've been working very quickly. My poems rush out of me, and the trick is not to overwork them. But this one, this one for the interview, was a true, slow grower. I think your asking for a poem made it finally straighten up and fly right.

I went back and looked. The initial draft of this poem is from my journal of February 1998. Ten years! What changed? Why was I able to finally finish it?

First, as I told Jules in that email, I quit trying to make it fit into the initial plan I had for it. I loved the first four lines---those didn't change---but at a certain middle point, the poem kept falling apart. No matter how many times I attempted to scale that wall, it couldn't be done. It wasn't until I busted apart my initial assumption---that I had to answer my own question---that I made a breakthrough.

Second, I think poetry enables me to say things that I don't have the language for in prose. By repetition, by rhythm, by multiple meanings (for example: the word "lie"---are the day and I lying to each other, as well as lying with each other?) and by the power of paradox. That last is my favorite. Poetry enables me to say at least two things at once, and possibly a third, as meaning arises from tension between the other two. Perhaps this poem finally worked because I was able to find that conflict, not avoid it.

Finally, audience matters. I finished it because Jules asked for it. Because all of you support me when I put a poem out there. Because I wanted to connect. I do think writing in private is a good thing, and you don't have to share all your work. But having even one listener is motivating. Maybe that makes me a people-pleaser. But I don't think so. My poems aren't complete until they hit a listener's ear.

If you want, you can hear me read the poem at my other blog, A Cast of One. It's in both Quicktime and MP3 formats, so you can choose what works.

Thanks for listening to me. Both in my poems, and here, today. Listening matters. You help me keep asking: Why Dream?

Poetry Friday is hosted today by AmoXcalli.


  1. It's a wonderful poem, Sara. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on its evolution :)

  2. Loved reading this again and hearing about how you successfully reworked it. Cummings said poetry is a process, not a product.

  3. I loved listening to you read it. Somehow hearing it makes me appreciate the process even more.

    On another note, I saw something this morning and thought immediately of you. Visit this site and view the video on God's Grandeur.

  4. Thanks for listening to you? No, darling, thanks for talking to us. You bring me into your process, and by doing so, into the very heart of you. How can I not appreciate that openess? and appreciate you.

  5. I really love process posts, and I'm glad you shared this one with all of us. Sometimes, it's the questions that are the most important part, and that's what you've reminded us about today.

  6. I love this.

    Do you have plans to do a book of poetry? Pretty please?

  7. Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! Ditto what Jennifer said!!!

    Seriously, after the whole Poetry Princess thing, I have been thinking that for quite some time, Sara...

  8. I too struggle with the idea that poems need some sort of resolution. I like poems that pose questions, why can't I write them?

  9. Sara,

    It's nice to hear a poet read her own work. When I read this post earlier today, it inspired me to revisit "a-not-ready-for-prime-time" poem I had posted some time ago at Blue Rose Girls.

    I find, too, that some poems just flow out of me and others take years in the making. I like to let certain poems "age" for awhile in a folder or drawer before I revisit them.

  10. "Poetry enables me to say at least two things at once, and possibly a third, as meaning arises from tension between the other two." YES! That is one thing I love about poetry too. I am so glad you shared this one with us again. I love it. I love the stretch from morning light to night and the contrast of how the question and perspectives change. That's me on a typical day. Naked, still and full in the morning and back pressed against the wall by nightfall. Oy.

    I am truly heartened to hear that this poem has been growing for ten years too. I usually work quickly and tend to give up on things that lie fallow for a while. I am encouraged to hear the story of this lovely poem.

  11. Yes, I love the economy of words that is necessary for (and so rewarding in) poetry. I, too, love to read about the process of writing -- thanks for sharing this one.

  12. The process...the questions with no answers, or answers too full to know...the why...the why not...

    mmmm. Thanks.

  13. Thanks, all. I'm thinking on my next book project and trying to imagine how poetry belongs. What I really want is to be able to write novels in the same state of mind that I write poetry. But perhaps, then, my head would explode. :)

  14. I've been thinking recently that you are the perfect person to write a verse novel. Your poesy flowing in novel format would be so awesome!

  15. I think I already told you this, but I sometimes share your poems (the public ones, of course) with my big 'ol poetry-lovin' partner, my friend Shannon who teaches children's lit (amongst other things) and loves loves loves poetry (he guest-blogged one Poetry Friday for us). And he wrote one of them down in his journal one day to read repeatedly and ponder.

    I think *that* must be such a compliment to a poet.

    I could never possibly thank you enough for obliging my bold, send-us-a-new-poem-if-you-can request. It was a treat for me and all our readers, too.

    Jules, 7-Imp

  16. Thank you for sharing the history behind this poem. That makes it even cooler, though it stands firmly on its own, of course. I love the contrast between the reclining freshness of morning and the declining roughness of the world, when you're backed against an empty doorframe (at least that's what I pictured).

    I'm always trying to force logic onto my poems. It helps to hear other writers must fight that impulse, too!


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