I borrowed this poetry writing lesson from Claudio “Storm” San Miguel, who created it when he was with in the 1990s. As Storm describes it:
Perhaps one of my more successful projects involved dreams and wakefulness. I asked the students to first isolate a brief moment in time. The time between entering the classroom to sitting down, sharpening a pencil, waking up to opening eyes, etc. I wanted all the concrete details they could remember. After spending perhaps 10 minutes (I really don’t know how long) writing, I asked the students to flip their paper over and to remember or make up a dream that had at least one element of the real time in it. From there we combined the two for the results you see before you. I think the success came from the foundation we had already built in discussions on the variety of dreams, nothing is what it seems, and the many faces (masks) we wear daily.
When I have done this I have followed Storm’s model, prefacing it at the very beginning by walking in and talking about my own experience of a dream intersecting with the real.
Once with a group of ninth-graders, I talked about a dream I had the night before about walking in downtown Houston. In the dream I’m outside, of course, except some architects are building a great dome over the skyscrapers and into the sky, so that the sky really is a ceiling. Everything is becoming “inside.” I think it is beautiful in a way, but they are using bricks for material. The sky/ceiling has nearly reached the top if its arc, when the bricks begin to fall piece by piece. The people begin running and moving. I see a brick hit someone in front of me, and feel frightened, at the same time relieved because it is not me. I wake with the sense that I could be hit at any moment, but then immediately forget the dream.
These particular ninth graders, who were often listless or ornery, were listening. Then, I said, I got up, had my breakfast, drank my coffee, thought about what I was going to do during the day, did some work, got ready for school, jumped in my car and turned on the radio where I heard something about Bosnia that was particularly upsetting, but I couldn’t think about it because I was going to school, and I pulled up on Watson street and up over I-10 about to turn west, when I looked out over the Houston skyline and suddenly remembered my dream, and the feel of bricks falling over my head. Here the dream connected with several waking thoughts—my movements around Houston, catastrophe in Bosnia, the possible sense of being overwhelmed, even, by my own work. The students got this, talked about it, the odd synchronicity of remembering dreamtime in the midst of the day.
It is more effective if you are willing to share your own experiences of the idea you are trying to put forward. That is often enough for a warm up. From this point, you could choose to pass an example, such as this one by Nadia.
Student Sample: Dream/Real poem
5:59 a.m. My eyes open only to be greeted
handfuls of clouds in an endless sky
always light with the touch of the sun
rainbows stretched across the horizon
unicorns gracefully dancing for rain,
darkness. As the gravity pushes on my lids
I am shaken with a sudden
I fall down a winding slide,
the slide stops yet I am still falling
noise. This noise I hear 5 days a week
Now in silent darkness
I land in a black alley.
Everyday. Still dark outside I lay in bed,
in my blanket of security.
I get up, I begin to run
running away from a man
a man with a knife chasing me
I am safe, I am happy, I am at home
I hear my death song
playing on a piano.
I am playing the piano.
I then realize I have a whole week
ahead of me. Only to look forward to the
by Nadia, 9th grade
contributed by Jane Creighton, Writers in the Schools