Eons ago, when I was a student nurse, I did my psychiatric nursing rotation at Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino, California. At the time, before these institutions were decentralized (and before homelessness became such a significant issue) the hospital was a veritable city, caring for over 5000 patients. Many of these were classified as simple schizophrenics, people whose only pathology was that they couldn’t function in society (a number of today’s homeless.)
One day, the instructor gave us an assignment to spend a day, journaling ALL our thoughts. By the end of the day, I was ready to self-commit myself. I learned that my thought processes, feelings, perceptions—all flit about like the bees and hummingbirds in our flower and vegetable garden. The object of the exercise was to show us that there was a very slim thread between those of us who thought we were normal, and our patients.
In the post-realism period of literary history, the era when James Joyce, William Faulkner, Marcel Proust and other literary greats emerged and opened the door to modernism (1930’s and 1940’s), stream-of-consciousness writing became another literary device in the tool box of both fiction writers and poets. More contemporary figures in the world of poetry who turned to this technique include Jack Kerouac and Sylvia Plath. In stream-of-consciousness writing, the poet or novelist turns to the flow of ideas, observations and emotions that invade our consciousness, many times hovering just below the surface. Novelist Virginia Woolf described this process as “an incessant shower of innumerable atoms.”
This type of writing often produces a fair share of challenges for the reader who may struggle to find a sense of connection between one thought and another. With careful reading, it may become apparent, or maybe not.
A couple of weeks ago, when reading the work contributed to Open Link Night, I ran across a terrific poem written by Irene over at Lost in Translation. It’s a great example (even the title is a dead giveaway) of what we’re talking about.
the mind is a flickering thing
I kept looking at the sky, at an angle,
for splendour and beauty. Listening
to a wildness of wind, then rain.
A storm shook my morning sleep.
This is second rain saying, not enough.
In the garden, a woman in a bathrobe
watered the azaleas and dogwood.
Her woolly hair was tied back.
She is Judi Dench, a lingering presence
as Miss Fairfax. I’ve bookmarked her.
I’m making up a story, stitching with
long knitting needles. So you, dear reader,
could nuzzle into a gray knitted top,
for all this falling rain.
The mind is a flickering thing.
It imagines. It thinks about what’s inside
the fridge–long beans, cabbage, & persimmons.
It wanders like a cat on the parapet.
Skimming around the real essences.
It looks at you. It leaps, a gymnast,
a coiled spring. Before you know it,
you’re drenched, inside pelting rain.
Thank you, Irene, for allowing me to use this as an example.
Here are a few hints to help with reading and writing poetry or prose that uses the stream of consciousness technique. Perhaps these will be a help in responding to today’s prompt, which is to write a stream of consciousness poem.
• Choose a topic. You might think of a person, and activity or even a dream. Take a walk, go someplace public, and let your thoughts take flight.
• Write with pen or pencil on paper. Draw pictures. You may even choose to use your writing journal to jot down your own little (schizophrenic) episodes.
• When you write in your journal, be different. Write with your non-dominant hand, write all over the page, not just in lines, write from bottom to top. Write in spirals or shapes. Forget grammar and syntax.
• Review your writing for any connection you can discover between words and phrases and see where your poem will take you.
• Put your work aside for a while before returning to it.
This can be a very fun and freeing exercise—I hope you enjoy it.
• Spend some time playing with your mind, using the above suggestions.
• Write your poem and post it on your blog or website.
• Access Mr. Linky at the bottom of the post and provide your name and the direct URL to your poem.
• Take some time to visit and comment upon other poets who’ve taken part in this prompt. Enjoy each other. We’re a community!
For dVerse Meeting the Bar I’m Victoria C. Slotto, pleased to announce that my novel, Winter is Past, is available in print copy on Amazon.com–now in Europe, as well as in the USA and in most e-book formats. And do stop by Irene’s blog to discover some more amazing poetry!