What does poetry mean to you? If you’re looking for a straightforward narrative, description or argument set out in rhythm and rhyme, you’re in the wrong place. Not that Molly Bloom has anything against form – though the more formal or repetitive the rhythm, the more insistent the rhyme, the less likely you are to find it here. It’s the obvious, unambiguous statement that in Molly’s eyes has nothing to do with poetry. I am drawn once again to Emily Dickinson’s injunction to tell the truth but tell it slant.
We were talking the other day, my partner Penny and I (that’s her impersonating Molly in the cover photo, not for the first time), about sleep, in particular about the role of dreams in the preservation of mental health. It’s a truism that dreams help you process the experiences, perceptions, perhaps anxieties, of your waking day. What is perhaps less apparent is the significance of their doing so in metaphor. We are in trouble if we cannot distinguish dream from reality (and the question what that may be is beyond the scope of this wee essay), but our dreaming life remains vital for the ongoing formation of our understanding, intellect, and character.
From the moment of our birth – perhaps, who knows, even before – we engage with our perceptions of the world by pattern-matching. Only by recognition of similarities between events, things, feelings, people are we able to recognise them, interact with them, anticipate their behaviour, know how to fit our own to suit. Everything we encounter, outwardly or inwardly, is reminiscent of something else. The more unexpected the matched pattern, the greater perhaps is its capacity to excite or enlighten us. In this way dream is fundamentally creative, essential to creativity.
Not that all art – poetry or any other kind – need be overtly surreal, depict or recount a dream. The metaphorical nature of dreams, after all, makes them unsusceptible to any reduction to literal narrative. Anyone who will insist on telling you their dreams is almost bound to lose the thread while delivering a dull, over-literal account of something actually experienced as much stranger, more involving, than they can either recall or convey verbally. Even if speech seems to be involved, dream is a fundamentally non-verbal medium. You cannot capture a dream by describing it in words. The necessary unreliability of dream memory is only a part of that. The ever-shifting metaphor is the crux.
Poetry – what I think of as real poetry, poetry of the kind that appears in Molly Bloom – is in all these respects like dream. It pattern-matches. It makes, reveals, chances on unexpected and exciting connections. It may confuse, excite, tease and linger in the mind in ways that may escape you the more you try to make ‘sense’ of it. It is beyond – in a sense above – conventional sense. It may defy logic, be arational, certainly unparaphraseable. It is, nevertheless, essential to a particular understanding of the world, yourself, your place in the world. It is ineffable, strangely important, importantly strange.
Aidan Semmens, editor, September 2019