Poetry and Personal Mythology – Some Tools Before We Start

We’ll be using journal work and dreaming as we move into our poetry prompts and there are a few words I’d like to say about each. This is the last of the long essays before we get going on the prompts themselves, which I promise will come in a much shorter format. 

As always, please feel free to comment or question, and share your own suggestions. 

The Journal 

The journal is like the moon, emitting a magnetic tug that draws information from your subconscious and unconscious minds and brings it to the surface, where you can work at the conscious level. – Kathleen Adams

 (And so you can pick it over with a scavenger’s eye for what has poem potential.) 

Journals are an arena and a guide, a location in time and space and a nonjudgmental listener. Whether a writer addresses a journal as “Dear Diary,” to a divinity, to a best friend or to no one in particular, we are really stopping to talk to ourselves, to interrogate our lives, to daydream and to imagine. 

The journal’s openness also invites us to probe more deeply at areas that we wouldn’t normally consider poetic in terms of the words we use and the subject matter we consider. A freer hand and mind while journaling also opens us up to being surprised by words, phrases and images that recur, that pop up out of nowhere, that seem written by someone else, that suddenly come alive for us.

This is the kind of creative momentum and material that can feed poetry, which is a condensation of language and experience.

There is science out there that suggests that writing by hand engages more areas of our brain, fires more neurons and more right/left brain interactivity while we write. If you typically journal electronically, consider switching formats for a month. Note that you don’t actually need a journal for this – I often scribble on loose-leaf when I’m warming up for a poetry session.


Dream Incubation

If we meditate on a dream sufficiently long and thoroughly, if we carry it around with us and turn it over and over, something almost always comes of it. – Carl Jung

Dream incubation is the art of consciously planting seeds in such a way that the dreaming mind takes our topic, question or problem and goes to work on it while we sleep. It has been practiced since ancient times – we know that the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians (including both pagans and early Christians) institutionalized the practice in dedicated and elaborate dream-temples that also served as places of healing.

Modern psychology has come back around to employing dreamwork as a therapeutically valuable tool, understanding that our dreams can comment on our psychological life as well as on our physical state. 

Two assumptions from psychology are particularly useful when we start working with our dreams:

1. Your dream does have a point, and

2. You have all the information you need to understand it.

The tricky part is in engaging with the details of our dreams, of finding ways to “turn each one over and over” so that they eventually make sense to us. Dream and symbol dictionaries may be of some use as we learn the many ways we can think about a dream, but the meaning in your dream is always for you, specific to you.

Fortunately, we don’t need dedicated dream temples to incubate a dream but it’s something many people don’t know they can do. Here’s my method. 

Before bed

Plan to get more sleep than you usually need. For me, this is as much as 9 or 10 hours.

Think or meditate on the problem before going to bed – if there’s an image you can attach to it, so much the better.

Write out a formal request in your journal:

Address it (to your dreaming self, to your subconscious, others use dream “patrons,” shamanic figures or other guides).

Ask that a message be sent in your dreaming that will give you guidance in the matter at hand (spell it out clearly).

Ask that it come in a way that is recognizable to you and that you will remember in the morning.

Write all this out slowly and meaningfully, as if you were drawing a picture and mailing it to your subconscious.

Go to bed right after, without electronics – for me, the laptop must stay off!

As you fall asleep, try to hold the issue in your mind but not in such a way that it stresses you or keeps you from sleep.

Keep paper, pen, dream journal where you can get at it without moving much.

On waking

Write your dream down immediately – even just a few moments to let the dog out or to put the water on for tea can evaporate the details of a dream.

Narrate the dream as if it were happening to you now – in the present tense, first person.

Write down all the facts of the dream (and the facts can include impressions and emotional certainties you had in the dream) but do not interpret them at this point.

If you do not remember a dream, try again the following night.


There is much more to dreams and dreaming, developing recall, incubation and even lucidity that falls outside the scope of this project, and many excellent books and online resources if you want to do a little more digging on this fascinating topic.

We’ll explore a few ways of mining dreams for poetry this month, starting with tomorrow’s prompt. For now, simply start tending to your dreaming life. I know that the more attention I pay to mine, the more vivid my dreams become, and the better I remember them.

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6 Responses to Poetry and Personal Mythology – Some Tools Before We Start

  1. Teri says:

    Attend to my dreams-checklist-

    /more sleep than usual

    This sounds like a good start, especially the sleeping part. Thanks Jeannie!

  2. A~Lotus says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with the “without electronics” part! Otherwise, it’ll affect with my sleep schedule, and I’m already a night owl as it is. It takes me longer to fall asleep really. Thanks for such a wonderful post! 🙂

  3. With me also, the more I pay attention to my dreams, the more vivid they become.
    Two books I use for dream work, and recommend, are:
    ~ Inner Work: Using Dreams & Active Imagination for Personal Growth by Robert A. Johnson
    ~ The Art of Dreaming: A Creativity Toolbox for Dreamwork by Jill Mellick
    Two quite different books and each serve me well in working with my dreams.

    Off I go now to your first prompt post!
    Kirsten 🙂

  4. corvapriya says:

    Thanks for the recommendations, Kirsten — two more for my wish list! Johnson’s book on the shadow is also worth reading.

    • Yes, I have Johnson’s Shadow book and also ‘He’ and ‘She’. We are very much a Johnson’s household! (Ever since the Jungian analyst I saw recommended ‘Inner Work’.)

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