Archive for the ‘poems based on dreams’ Category

predatory streak

the taxi driver
pulls out of the queue, skidding
wildly, his patience
broken — poor man! — how can I
use this to my advantage?

In the dream I was a passenger in the taxi, calculating whether my driver had made the right decision from the point of view of reaching the destination of my journey. Now that he’d reversed out of the traffic queue, he was going to have to go round by a longer route. But what if the queue were to disperse any moment? So much for the dream. In the process of writing the poem, I found myself writing ‘Poor man!’ and it all fell into place. I could juxtapose an expression of pity next to the raw self-interest I’d felt in the dream. Yesterday I was reading about Nietzsche and his critique of pity as a decadent emotion. I don’t agree with him at all. But I have to admit the poem, as it turns out, puts his case very well.


if I could only
get beyond my own contempt —
I might see the world

I have been worried in the past week or two, to find myself remembering nothing whatever of my dreams each morning. In terms of organised religion, I am a complete dilettante — unable to derive satisfaction from religion at all, because my loyalty is spread so thinly between so many different ones. But if there were such a religion as ‘paying attention to one’s dreams’, then I would be a lifelong pious devotee. Hence my unease and even alarm when I don’t recall anything at all in the morning. Finally this morning I remembered a small fragment. I was playing soccer, dribbling towards the enemy goal. I encountered a boy named Stephen Venables (a contemporary of mine at school), but felt desperate to know if he was on my side or the opposing team. This unanswered question was left hanging.

This poem is about contempt, which is the only word to describe how I felt towards Venables in reality. He was much better at football than me. I was much better at schoolwork than him. His father was a vocal supporter of the school rugby team whereas I had made it into the team if anything despite rather than because of my father. It’s a question whether the contempt in this poem is mine or my father’s. And by the time I had thought about this for a little, it became a poem about a sort of generalised blind contempt with no object. I grew up dealing with (or not dealing with) my father’s tendency to pour his contempt onto specific people behind their back. Or indeed to their face, indirectly. My attitude to Venables mimicked my father’s towards various people. But how did my Dad get to be like that?

I saw former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks being interviewed yesterday, by journalist Andrew Marr. He was talking about how the Book of Genesis shows us how to recognise ourselves in the ‘other’ (Cain and Abel for instance). I was impressed with his sincerity compared with the general run of politicians and journalists who talk about politics on Marr’s show most of the time. In my dream, Venables is either ‘on my side’ or else on the opposing side — in which case he is by definition ‘other’. And so I can draw a moral from the entire experience of dream/poem, which amounts to this: Contempt is a defence against otherness. Like I said — paying attention to one’s dreams can be like a sort of religion.


seventies heartthrob
David Soul — look at him now
barely able to
walk — so old, so old — more like
a wizened tree than a man

I don’t really have much to add to this by way of explanation. Dreaming of the name Soul must certainly have been suggested by the chapter of the book I’m reading by Charles Nicholl called The Chemical Theatre. It’s about the influence of 16th century contemporary alchemical publications upon the imaginations and writings of Shakespeare, Jonson and Donne. I was reading about Donne yesterday, with examples from his poetry. There was much talk of souls.

The theme of old age — or at any rate late middle age — i.e. the age I am now — cropped up yesterday in the course of my delivering a testimony of lived experience of paranoia as part of my job. I succeeded quite well, better than usual when I do these talks, in getting across the general shape of my life (as it appears to me), as being largely a story of homelessness and mental illness with just a little coda of the most recent ten years spent being ‘normal’ with a job and a relationship. My audience, during questions, kindly asked me how difficult must it have been to adjust to the ways of society at such a late age.

Arising out of my blog two days ago about Stendhal, I was reflecting that he died aged 59, the age I am now. Shakespeare and Beethoven both died in their late fifties too (actually Shakespeare was 52). In that sense, I am an old man.


I laugh at my own
joke — I’m a professional
— he
baulks sharply — victim of his
own squeamishness, or kindness

Titus Alexander wrote a book in the nineties called Unravelling Global Apartheid, which I browsed curiously one day without really comprehending. A couple of years later, I heard about some sessions called ‘Seeds for Change‘ which were being run at Union Chapel in Islington in the run up to the Millennium celebrations. They were weekly discussion groups, run by Titus Alexander, and I attended quite a few of them. At that time, I was four years into my relatively new life as a ‘mental patient’ and still getting used to it. I was also unemployed, with little prospect of paid work in the future (as it seemed at the time). The exchange with Titus recorded above has stayed with me ever since. He was really quite upset and set about proving to me earnestly that I was not a professional schizophrenic. Last night I dreamed of an informal community of sophisticated university intellectuals from Germany or Scandinavia, among whom I felt neither quite at home nor entirely excluded. It set me thinking about the whole matter of whether I am overeducated, or just self-educated, or what? I never fit in quite anywhere, and wear my intellect with a curious mixture of fierce pride and furtive shame which seems to bear almost no relation at all to the world of academia where intellect is celebrated professionally. Titus is quite a maverick in his own way too. So that’s perhaps why we had that moment.


fire — sweeping across
the land, uncontrollable,
an Act of God — and me —
what am I? — a fire sweeping
the landscape of my own life

Triggered clearly in the first instance by a routine visit at work yesterday from the man who inspects and services our fire extinguishers — I dreamed last night of some kind of horseracing track whose carefully cultivated grass surface had caught fire. The poem took considerable effort. It may be slightly laboured in the way it spells out the idea of interpreting a dream image by referring it to my own personality. In terms of verbal elegance however, it works quite well. I am mystified what the dream means at any deeper level. Maybe it follows on from yesterday’s post about pornography, with the fire obviously suggesting sexual passion and desire and concupiscence in the broadest sense of lust for life.


rewind all the way!
scroll back to the beginning!
— put me under a
microscope, reveal to me
how I became what I am!

The tongue-in-cheek implication (that ‘what I am’ is somehow equivalent to a disease) is maybe a bit clumsy. And the irony may not be transparent enough, or it may be too transparent. But overall, I like this poem. It seems to express how completely I am hypnotised by psychodynamic theory, and at the same time to leave room open for doubt. Satire, even. It was triggered by a poorly remembered dream involving a childhood friend named Max Landsberg whose website I was browsing last week. I knew him as Edwin, and we haven’t been in contact since 1978. Around the age of fourteen we became entangled in a bully-victim relationship where he was the bully and I was the victim, although earlier in childhood we had been close friends. I dream of him fairly often, and all I understand, concerning why that might be, amounts to very little. My poem this morning arose at the point where I started questioning for the umpteenth time, what is the message that lies embedded for me, in the figure of Max Landsberg? I gnaw at this question like a dog with a bone. My poem parodies the gnawing.


Jung’s psychology,
like a Rembrandt self-portrait
presents one man as
the world — who am I? — and why?
— answers on a postcard, please

This morning I remembered a couple of fragments of dream. Quibbling about which of two psychoanalysts was older: one was 90 and the other was 100. Recapturing the exact sensation of wonderment, thrill and poignancy associated with William Walton’s music for Henry V, written for the Laurence Olivier film in 1944, which I saw in the cinema when I was very young and didn’t understand much of it. But later in childhood, I discovered my father’s 78rpm records of the music, and managed to transfer it onto tape. I am very fond indeed of Howard Jacobson’s column for the Independent and Saturday morning usually finds me reading his weekly article online. Given the fervent patriotism of Henry V, I discovered a synchronicity in his latest offering this morning: a topical issue connected with the St George’s flag. So patriotism and group psychology (same thing?) was the starting point for my poem. But, thinking about the phrase ‘group psychology’ I lapsed into an old rut of thought about the phrase ‘Jung’s psychology’. My first ever introduction to Jung’s psychology at the age of fifteen was a book called funnily enough An Introduction to Jung’s Psychology. The picture of Jung on the cover had an enormous impact. After a few years, I noticed the potential for a play on words. ‘Jung’s psychology’ could mean something more along the lines of ‘rat psychology’ or ‘group psychology’. Not so much the study of the mind by Jung, as the study of Jung by the mind. Same thing of course, but I often used to wonder if the ambiguity was intentional. τετέλεσται is the original New Testament Greek for ‘It is finished’.