• Amber Shockley

Other People's Poetry: "The Dream" by Ricky Ray

Down with OPP? Yeah, you know me.

Let’s take a deep dive into the first three lines of Ricky Ray’s poem “The Dream,” published at HeavyFeatherReview.org:

"In which the monster emerged sludgehearted and fond of hares.

And triplets were born of a wish that blew itself apart.

Candleflame ignored the wind."

First, a confession. I seldom read the titles of poems. I’m like a rabid animal scrounging through trashed McDonald’s debris. I want to find and get to the meat as quickly as possible. Somewhere along the line, I picked up the idea that titles are superfluous annoyances.

However, when I get to the first line of this poem, I immediately hit In which, referencing the title. So, back to the title I go. There, I find the poet’s assertion: Dream.

But can the poet be trusted? (Can poets ever be trusted?) One trick to reading poetry is to keep it loosey goosey. You want to read attentively, but stay cool - don’t get too eager to nail things down. Hold the hammer, but don’t yet flex your bicep. Language and meaning float in poetry, and you want to wait with an open hand for them to come to you rather than try to reach out and grab them. Loosey. Goosey.

“In which the monster

Next, we have the monster. Monsters are scary, but so far we’re trusting the safety net of dream, so we can move boldly forward tentatively presuming that the poet is showing us a common nightmare and not a) awake and hallucinating, b) using “monster” as a metaphor for a horrible person or that c) there’s an actual monster.

Caveats: 1. The dream itself could be using “monster” as a metaphor for a horrible person 2. Anything could happen in this poem. We know nothing. 3. Never trust poets. Always read slowly, with curiosity and suspicion. Every word counts.

Lucy is the poet. The football is the poem. You are Charlie Brown.

So, we’re introduced to a monster in a poem titled The Dream, not “The Nightmare.” Curious, right? From the beginning, the poet is providing tension.

Tension - presentation of opposing ideas, moods, conclusions - is something you should always BOLO for in poetry. Many poets, including myself, live in a state of constant tension. It only makes sense that this would make itself manifest in our work. One simple example of tension is the use of oxymoron, however in my experience this tactic is often sophomoric and clumsy, while more subtle efforts are more effective.

Let’s move on.

“In which the monster emerged

Next, we read emerged. By the way, see how slowly I’m going? Every. word. counts. Here, the poet chose emerged. Not “walked up,” and not “suddenly appeared.” Emerged. What feelings and connotations does that word bring up? Off the top of my head, I think: Babies emerge from the womb. Small, furry animals emerge from holes in the ground. Neither of these are threatening. Also, emerged implies a gradual process, so we presume, even if threatened, one could run away or grab a stick and bop the offending party on the head before it offers us any harm. Still, the word emerged is not exactly graceful or pretty on the tongue, thus does not portend such. Hemorrhoids emerge.

Not graceful or pretty.

“In which the monster emerged sludgehearted

Welp. The poet just cracked his knuckles and made up a new damn word, then.

Another BOLO in poetry: language play. Here, the poet plays by creating a new compound word from two known words: sludge and hearted. These words carry their own sets of history and baggage, their own connotations that, when smashed together, further work to employ a particular tension in the poem.

Sludge we can easily associate with “monster” and “emerged.” One could expect to read this sentence: “The monster emerged from the sludge.” Plus, further connection is made with the music of repeating “g” and “d” sounds: emerged, sludge. Not to mention the similar, slack-jaw vowels. In this poem though, whether or not the monster is emerging from sludge, sludge is within the monster. That’s new, interesting, yet still fits a typical concept of monster.

But wait. Hearted. If we accept that sludge is within the monster, within this poem we must accept that the monster has a heart. The poet - Frankenstein genius - has paired sludge with hearted. Even if sludgy, can we tolerate that monsters have hearts at all? That’s new, interesting, and does not fit our typical concept of monsters, which are more often synonymously heartless.

More tension. Now we're getting somewhere.

What does it mean to be sludgehearted? Could this be a new word for sad? I am put in mind of Humorism, specifically its theory that melancholy, or depression, develops from a sluggish concentration - a sludge - of black bile in the body. What feelings does the word sludgehearted bring up in us, the readers? Do we fear this poet’s monster, or begin to pity him?

Questions upon questions. Now we’re really getting somewhere.

“In which the monster emerged sludgehearted and fond of hares.”

Reader? Pardon me. I must away to burst into tears.

At this point, you must allow me the liberty of assumption. I can not help but read “and fond of hares” as lovingly fond in the manner of Looney Tunes’ The Abominable Snowman when he holds and loves a bunny-suited Daffy Duck whom he names George, rather than “fond of hares” as in going back for seconds of rabbit stew.

Taking the former meaning, “fond of hares” is such a heartbreaking end of the first line.

The first line.

There are two more in this examination, and forgive me but I must rush through them due to technical difficulties experienced earlier. The day wanes.

And triplets were born of a wish that blew itself apart.

For expediency’s sake, I shall present the images this line called to mind in GIF form:

Yes, those are twins, not triplets, I know. My point is, the tension continues. We have the pleasant, Disney-like “born of a wish” (your heart makes) followed by the violent, mystical “blew itself apart.” This line is at once as innocuous and damning as the science of cells dividing.

Candleflame ignored the wind.

Finally, we arrive at this third line. Notice the efficiency of language. “Candleflame” instead of “the flame of a candle.” I admit I would have been tempted to write the latter, if only for the flow of words. I wave and flutter my hand when I stop to read aloud while drafting and, like Mariah Carey, I think it might tend to make me a little extravagant on the microphone. Also, note the personification choice of ignored. Every word counts. Not “withstood.” Not “braved.” Ignored. A wish blows itself apart, then a candleflame ignores the wind. Tension.

In this poem, tension is brought to us by consciousness - each object in the poem is conscious, each word in the poem is conscious, and of course here the poet is conscious at the highest level, requiring the reader, in turn, to elevate their consciousness in order to find meaning.

Tension. Consciousness. Bullseye.

The poem goes on. Please go read it. Both the poet and the journal are new to me - I would encourage you to explore them.

* If you are the poet, and find anything I've said here to be complete bullshit, or even a little bullshit here and there, please reach out and let me know.

© 2020 by Amber Shockley.