Sunday, September 16, 2007

Poem of the week

I often dislike dream poems. There are lots of reasons for this. Sometimes they can be too easy: Ooh, here's some weird images! They don't have to make any sense; they're from a dream! Sometimes they're too personal, too encoded, meaningful only to the person who wrote the poem or dreamed the dream, or maybe to someone who knows that person well. Sometimes they're just too self-consciously symbolic, like a poem your high school English teacher would ask you to analyze, picking out every image to determine once and for all What It Really Means.

That said, I like this dream poem by Michael Collier. Looking at it again, what really makes the poem for me is the word vernix. It's such a completely unexpected word, such an unusual word to begin with and not one most of us use on a daily basis, and it seems to catapult the poem to a whole new level as soon as it shows up. Such a mammalian, human word, given to birds in a dream -- it's startling.

Interesting how much weight one word can carry in a poem.

Birds Appearing in a Dream

One had feathers like a blood-streaked koi,
another a tail of color-coded wires.
One was a blackbird stretching orchid wings,
another a flicker with a wounded head.

All flew like leaves fluttering to escape,
bright, circulating in burning air,
and all returned when the air cleared.
One was a kingfisher trapped in its bower,

deep in the ground, miles from water.
Everything is real and everything isn't.
Some had names and some didn't.
Named and nameless shapes of birds,

at night my hand can touch your feathers
and then I wipe the vernix from your wings,
you who have made bright things from shadows,
you who have crossed the distance to root in me.

--Michael Collier
from Dark Wild Realm (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)


Anonymous said...

Little Bad Dream Charm
by Kathy Fagan

We haven’t found enough dreams. We haven’t dreamed enough. – Georgia O’Keeffe

I just work up from a start afternoon nap. I
dreamed of whole time. I dreamed I woke up
lists of times. I wanted to make up, because
all my drears were nightmares. The only reason
I thank I’m awake now is that I’m steel sleepy.
I dreamed about goldfish except they were boys,
and there were hundreds of ether boys, some
so tinny they were trapped in the weave of a green
carpet that shone like water or glass—sea, that’s
why it was a bad dream. They were all dying
because they were leafing out of their tanks. I
had scooped them up and threw them back into any
whaler I could find—I had stuffed, even, two
plastic caps full. And then, in order to save
as many lines as I could, I scooped a whole
bunch into an aquarium, awe at once—and that’s
what they became soddenly, enormous carrots
sinking to the bittern of the dark.

Anne said...

Thanks, anonymous person! Very interesting. I like the word play; reminds me a bit of Kevin Young.

Lyle Daggett said...

A poet I've read for many many years who I think handles dream imagery well in his poems is Tomas Transtromer. I've always suspected this is at least partly related to his work as a psychologist. Also many of his poems of waking life seems to me to have a dream-like quality or texture.

Montgomery Maxton said...

someone once told me that editors hate dream poems.

Anne said...

Lyle: You know, I'm not that familiar with Transtromer, but every time I stumble across his poems I find something that intrigues me. I need to read more of him, I think.

MM: Yeah, probably so. Then again, editors seem to hate everything depending on who you ask... ;)

newzoopoet said...

Dream poems, in general, leave too much the possibility of a lame way out. Films use this escape valve as well.