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Nighmare and Poetry

I have recurring nightmares. In the dreams, I am always angry at myself: why the hell have I returned to the L.A. house I shared with a violent boyfriend? I rush to gather my things, and think only to get away before his return. This dream has frequently inserted itself into my sleeping hours in the length and breadth of twenty-two years.

My father has been having nightmares. I pat his mottled hands and wake him to save him from the dogs that bite. I rescue him from walking devastated territory, towns made empty by the Communist's abduction of able bodied men, women and children. Father is whimpering, his fists clench and unclench like a tomcat's paws and his feet shoot out from beneath his comforter.

How many nightmares do all of humanity, the nearly 7 billion people on Earth, experience in a given 24-hour period? How many dream of starvation, bombs shattering limbs in market place or at wedding? How many dream of the tsunamis, earthquakes, fire? How many migrants are taken by nightmares of being beaten by unwelcoming natives How many dream of festering wounds received for voting against a dictator? How many dream of dead children, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers? What would our collective nightmares look like as film montage?

I've often wished to be freed of my nightmares, but I've come to realize my nightmares represent my history. They are the texture of who I am. If I can never be liberated from my nightmares, then I will try to use them as gifts for my creative life. The nightmares can become poetry.

I am not a poet, but everything comes down to a deep desire for poetry in my painting and writing life--tropes and metaphors. The nonfiction books I've written were largely to tell a story none has ever heard, but the joy of the writing was to throw out one imagery enjambed one after another. The children's book I write aims for poetry, as do the graphic novels. The latter is closest to metaphors of life in its concentration of vision, words, sharp and concise.

The novels on my shelf have slowly begun to migrate into the storage shelves in the garage, as collected poems, anthologies of poetry, Shakespeare begin to takeover my studio/study shelf. They clamor to be within easy reach of my life. These will be the essential friends I live with to the end of my days.



Don't Miss Evie Shockley's, Matthew Biberman's, and Ericka Lutz's posts on the subject of What is Poetry?



Belle Yang's Youtube video of "Forget Sorrow," a graphic novel in the making.

Belle Yang's Graphic Novel pages

Belle Yang's Paintings





14 Comment count
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you said it, francoise!

Belle, based on your description of your process and my definition of what poetry is, the only thing keeping your work from being poetry may be your decision not to name it poetry. You may have very good reasons for not doing so -- this isn't a mandate! -- but when I think about the proliferation of hybrid genres and hybrid multi-genre works these days, I find myself asking: is Belle writing a "graphic epic poem," perhaps? : )

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As usual, Belle, you have made me think, to re-examine thoughts. The mental image of a montage of everyone's nightmares is mind-boggling. Nightmares are our way of processing our experiences, I think. And many are too painful to experience again and again and again. Perhaps that explains insomnia.....

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If I HAD pictures the way

If I HAD pictures the way you do, I wouldn't need to write prose. These ARE graphic poems. Your nightmares illustrated are nightmares distilled. They terrify me. The three paragraphs between the illustrations are a prose poem.

I'm starting to understand, I think. Poetry is a place to give into. Sideways.


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Question for Francoise, Evie, Darlene, Ericka--

Why do human beings love metaphor? Why, why, why?

If it weren't for metaphors, I wouldn't want to write or even wish to be alive? All of life's joys seems to be hidden and raging in metaphors in sound. At nearly 50, everything points to poetry--no not as a poet, but as good bloodhound who sniffs it out. I am an enthusiast.  The poets of the world needs more enthusiasts.


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Pardon Me ...

If I may interject - I believe metaphors are used as an intellectual bridge between the concrete components of life and our emotional essence.  The older we get, the more one experiences, only adds to our emotional essence.  To properly attenuate that new found essence requires a shift from old beliefs to new ideas and perspectives.  I am finding the older I get, the more appreciative I am of the things I used to hate as a much younger man.  Does this make sense?


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Please interject, Randy

I'm not understanding entirely, so if you would be so kind to elaborate. Thank you.

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too much cosmic joojoo

I actually like Cheryl's explanation better, but I was trying to say that as we get older and more experienced, the metaphors create a stronger bridge between who we are and the world around us.  I think they were always there, it just took some seasoning on our parts for it all to make sense.  More experiences mean are emotional essense has matured, so more metaphors are needed to bridge are connections and to increase our understanding.

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Making metaphor

makes the universal particular to us, for one thing--it gives an experience or emotion meaning and power. You can generalize an emotion out of that power. If it loses its specificity, it can become a cliche.  

Sam Rasnake, who publishes Blue Fifth Review, has an interesting observation on his blog today: "poetry – in any of its many incarnations – is more about moving me into the moments of the words or, more probably, moving the moments into me. I’m not separate. I’m inside the words / the words are inside me. Poetry forces me into some mode of action, and that action may translate itself into thought, motion, dream, music, writing, speech, faith…"

Cheryl Snell www.shivasarms.blogspot.com

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Yes, becoming

patterned ourselves and instilling pattern into the world.

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A need for further clarification, perhaps? A way of reaching someone through something else that they find familiar, to which they can relate?

Yes, I love metaphors. And, dare I admit it? I love oxymorons. I can't help it. It's just the way I am......

~ Darlene

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Our whole language is based in metaphors, actually. When metaphors are new and fresh, they explode, surprising us into re-experiencing the world around us. Some that were once very good -- so good they were shared and used again and again -- have outlived their use as metaphor and become cliches, as Cheryl mentioned. E.g., Have you got your head on straight? Have you felt unmoored lately? Have any metaphors exploded in your vicinity today? Or take some from Belle's writing in this blog entry and in her list of influences in the sidebar: her father's "feet shoot out from beneath his comforter"; she moved to "America during the height of the Civil Rights movement"; her grandfather was "swept out of his estate" under Communism. All of these words and phrases draw on metaphors that are so familiar to us that we no longer see them. But we continue to process the world this way, creating new metaphors that enliven our language and our experience of the world. Writers are especially good at this -- and a great majority of poets live and die by the metaphor . . .

Thanks for your enthusiam, Belle! I promise to stop identifying you as a poet. : )

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I am a poet and I have a belated response to your inquiry into poetry. I have posted it on my own blog: here.

Also, see my poem titled 'Poetry' in the paragraph 'The Poet': here. I open most of my featured readings with that particular poem.


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You are just

in time, Ana.

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Perchance to dream/

Aye, there's the rub.