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How to Write a Dream Poem

by Bruce Lansky

When you're asleep, the logical part of your brain is shut off while the wild and crazy part of your brain does whatever it darned well wants. That's why poems about dreams can be so much fun. They can be rich in creative imagery, written in a stream of consciousness style, or "wouldn't it be great if..." wish lists.

I think my favorite dream poem was published in Sweet Dreams. It was inspired by a Robert Louis Stevenson poem my mother used to read when she'd tuck me into bed.

My Bed is Like a Sailing Ship

My bed is like a sailing ship-
when I'm tucked in, I take a trip.
I leave behind my busy day
and sail to places far away.

I sail past beaches, gleaming white,
with palm trees swaying in the night.
I watch the waves break on the shore,
and then I see my bedroom floor!

I blink my eyes, I scratch my head-
my ship is home, I'm back in bed.
My ships goes sailing every night
and sails home in the morning light.

© 1996 by Bruce Lansky, reprinted from Sweet Dreams with permission of Meadowbrook Press

In this lesson, I'm going to give you several starters you can use to get your students to write different kind of dream poems.

Here's a poem that's fairly easy for kids to write because it's written in free verse. It is simply a collection of dreamy images woven together. All your students have to do is imagine some dreamy place and then weave together images they might encounter there. Like the poem above, I suggest that your students end the poem with the writer waking up in bed after dreaming.

Tropical Dream

After tossing and turning for what must have been an hour or so,
I find myself lying on a tropical beach,
the waves gently licking the sand.
I gaze up at the sky and notice some pelicans
soaring and swooping, looking for lunch.
There's a catamaran sailing offshore,
swept by the wind that is cooling my brow.
etc.

Here's another free-verse poem starter. This time, it's a collection of sleepy thoughts a child might have before drifting off to sleep.

Sleepy Thoughts on a Cold Winter Night

I'm cold.
I pull my blanket over my head.
That's better.
I find a comfortable position
and start breathing slowly.
I wonder what it would be like
to be a bear and sleep all winter.
I guess you'd have to have a pretty big last supper,
or you'd have to wake up in January to find something to eat.
I wonder what it would be like
to be a fish and sleep at the bottom of a lake.
I guess you'd have to have gills,
or you'd have to come up to the surface every ten seconds or so
to get a breath of air.
etc.

Here's a starter for a different kind of free-verse dream poem. It could be a dream narrative or it could simply be a "dream" in the sense of "I wish I were rich and famous." I was going to call it "I Have a Dream," but it's not exactly what Martin Luther King had in mind (I was in D.C. when he made that speech), so I changed the title.

My Dream

Every kid needs help with homework.
Well, most of us anyway.
So I start an Internet company called "Homework Helper."
I've lined up the smartest kids in school
to explain math and science, edit papers,
and correct homework before it's turned in.
Anyway, as soon as the kids at school find out,
they flock to my website.
When kids from schools around the country start logging on,
I know I'm on to something.
But my parents have no idea what I'm doing,
until the day that a reporter from People magazine calls my mother
and says he wants to interview her "brilliant" son
for their next issue!
etc.

Here's another wish list. If you've read any of my list-poem lessons, you already know that these are easy and fun to write. Again, there's no need for your students to worry about rhythm and rhyme.

I May Be Dreaming, But Wouldn't It Be Great If...

…I were a genius who could get straight As in school without having to do any homework.
…My parents let me eat dessert first and then anything else wanted.
…My little sister moved to an island off the coast of Madagascar and I never heard from her again, except on my birthdays, when she'd send me a card with money in it.
…Instead of making me go to Sunday school, my parents would take me and my girlfriend to the amusement park, where I could practice the Golden Rule on the roller coaster by holding her hand whenever she got scared.
etc.

I could go on, but I've been up all night. It's almost time to go to work. I had trouble sleeping, and after reading a dull book, I got out of bed and decided to do something productive-like writing a poetry lesson. If you can't dream, the next best thing is to write dream poems. Funny, I suddenly feel sleepy.

Maybe I'll just close my eyes and.....

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