The narrative of illogic

Sridala Swami
Sridala SwamiApr 25, 2015 | 13:46

The narrative of illogic

This month's prompt was a difficult one. It's hard enough to write a poem, but to wake from a deep sleep and write a poem can be unsettling. I had hoped that it would actually be easier to write the poem, because I was asking the writers to let their unconscious take over. What could have happened is a kind of automatic writing where the words come from deep within the unconscious and the poet is merely a scribe.


The question was always going to be how to critique the poems that are submitted. After all, I wasn't looking for craft, which is a product of the conscious mind. What I was looking for is the unguarded, unmoored language of the subconscious. I expected vivid imagery and incomprehensible phrases. I thought there would be revealing juxtapositions and a jagged narrative of illogic. Like Alice In Wonderland, I thought there would be strangeness accompanied by a complete lack of surprise at the oddities.

We don't often think about how language works. To transit from a state where speech is only an element of a dream, to a state where words are the only means by which to describe the experience of the dream, is to alter the state of one's consciousness.

I hope those who attempted the exercise learnt something from it. Their poems are what they are - I can have nothing to say about the product of their dreams and sleep; I can only identify where the poet, contrary to the prompt, has described the process of writing the exercise instead of submitting himself to the dream state.

In Arihant Verma's 'Visual Cacophany', he begins:

  • In the middle of the night, I panicked
  • That horrid dream shook my senses.
  • Maybe, I was floating over my pale, lifeless body
  • A raw figure molded in flesh, bones and horror
  • Or maybe I was just being rebuked by a teacher
  • for having written a poem instead of an answer.

This is clearly not the words that occurred to him in a state of waking from deep sleep. What Verma has done is to impose a narrative on what should have been a poem made up of the raw material of his dreams. In one line, he says: "Highly eager to falsify what I saw", thus accurately describing what he has done with the exercise. The one interesting phrase in his poem is "self embracing life-tree", which seems like something thrown up by a dream.

Rakesh Seth, in 'Still Life in the Dark', also frames the poem with the reality of the prompt: "Up at night, I am a ghost." He asks questions no person will ask in so many words, when they wake:

  • Do things cease to be, just because the eye can't see?
  • Or do they crunch concurrent with others from memory?

There are also clear attempts at assonance and rhyme that seem imposed; the couplet structure also seems to be the product of a fully awake mind.


The best lines in the poem are these:

  • Now I am ninety, awaiting my bull ride.
  • Now I am five, reluctant to step out of bed.

David Jairaj also spends some lines describing the state of being awake in 'Wake' - "tingling palms, sweaty soles, itchy head". But soon, the poem resolves into a battle between the images of the dreaming mind and the thoughts of a person awake, preoccupied with jealousy, loneliness and responsibility. The poem really hits its stride from the moment the unborn samurai makes an appearance. 'Wake' is a good title, combining as it does a description of a state of being awake and the ceremonial marking of the end of a life.


  • Wake
  • By David Jairaj
  • The quake can't shake eyes to full bloom
  • Squinting for form but searching for meaning
  • Tingling palms, sweaty soles, itchy head
  • Sure as hell, I can't be dead
  • Muses on either side of the bed
  • Freedom to the right, Responsibility, left
  • The pillow partner, kind but impotent
  • Never dares reciprocate a hug
  • Will you love me, even with my desire gone?
  • Where are you breathing right now?
  • Jealousy tears my gut to shreds
  • An unborn samurai slits the cord
  • Behind the wall, witches pound
  • Beans to an uncommon ground
  • Outside the door, a pack of strays howl
  • Anarchy for entrepreneurs
  • The rogue washes the threshold at his feet
  • What wailing tales will he carry in today?
  • With so much happening around me
  • How can I ever be lonely?

This week's final poem by Punyasloka Mohapatra is the one that comes closest to the demands of the prompt. It plunges directly into vivid and specific images of the seaside. Though there is a broad narrative to the poem, it retains some of the mystery and inexplicability of the dream state, without becoming a collection of meaningless phrases chosen for their randomness. There is nothing random about the poem. What is does well is that it consistently find the accurate phrase to describe the image - 'a Piscean God who came diving/Vertically up for air; 'a seagull that came shouldering the sun.' Even the opening words, though oddly phrased, seem to have been written down as they occurred to him in the night.

Here is the poem in full:

  • Tapestry
  • By Punyasloka Mohapatra
  • One man I know by the sea says, it's a seagull that came shouldering the sun
  • From where all my angular visions flatten and end up becoming a line.
  • Another differs, no, sun slipped from the throat of a Piscean God who
  • came diving
  • Vertically up for air. And their Four Flush becomes my faith.
  • This's my present, where truth's birth-chart is altered in the arms of folklore.
  • I know my past too, and people, even that is not a good place to be.
  • When I look back, I look through the eye of a war survivor:
  • Wastes and Wounds and scatters all too great to see!
  • Flick a finger to find the proof of uninhabitability of the air there.
  • It's no wise to circle your own shadow, after all. It eats you up, in the end.
  • So all I do is open up my window to find life, a tall tapestry:
  • Invisible hands decide the thread, color and pattern.
  • You and I are meant to be interwoven as parts of a fuddle.
  • An unconditional acquiescence is all in our hand.
  • Our salvation lies in surrendering.

Thank you all for your submissions. Do look out for next month's prompt.

Last updated: April 25, 2015 | 13:46
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