How I wrote… “how the dream ends”

“how the dream ends” appears in Issue 42


Thinking about how this poem came to be is an especially pleasurable task because of the way that the question and the title of the poem seem to be speaking to each other: the title who wonders how the dream ends and the question who wonders how the poem comes. I’m glad for the chance to dust off my notebooks and return to early traces of this poem, first scribbled in my “September 2021—November 2021” notebook.  

I bring up the notebooks because they are the bread of my writing process. I tend to gather and accumulate material and then go back to it to make poems. Often I’ll write in paragraphs and long sentences and lists and fragments. I record the weather (inner & outer), the sounds I hear, the images around me. Then I assemble, pulling scraps from here, collaging, shaping. Probably the most important piece of all this is that I love to write in a long stream first thing in the morning, reaching for the pen even before I’ve left my bed. Jean Valentine once said something beautiful about writing very early before one is truly awake, from inside the gauzy dreamworld where language is still strange. Where our minds are submerged in the water of dreams. You know how you can dream up stuff that you could never think of in your linear awake-mind? It happens to me all the time—bits of language, memories, surreal combinations of people and places in my life. There is a capaciousness to dreaming that makes the impossible possible.

I’m also often thinking (and talking) about Fanny Howe’s notion of bewilderment as a poetics and an ethics. She says a bunch of amazing things in that essay, noting the “roundness of dreaming” where many things can be true at once. To me that is essentially the work of poems, too, especially as someone with my set of identities. Queer. Diasporic. Multilingual and peripatetic. Mixed up. The need of poems for me—or at least one of the needs— is for nonlinear narratives of simultaneity and in betweenness, where time and place can interact outside of the chronological order of things. This also makes me think so much of the word constellational, a word that lives beside the immense work and wonder of Aracelis Girmay. How constellational seems to gather us and connect our many points. How it also makes of us a sky, a night of stars.   

Those are a lot of sentences that are helping me get to this next thought, which is that how the dream ends emerged from dreaming, which is to say it emerged from the work my mind and body were doing after I returned to a very old place, a place with deep roots in my origin story. The poem was happening while I slept, trying to work something out about what it means to go back, to both belong and unbelong, to never quite be resolved/fixed in place. To dwell in connection to earth, to carry love stories that are also wounds, to shoulder younger selves, separation from our mothers, and hunger, and loneliness. So much desire and searching in the poem. 

One other thing I’ll say is that the poem’s syntax made room for a lot of the leaps and connections that appear in how the dream ends. This seems important to notice in terms of how the poem came into being, one thing arriving after the next. I love how the syntax is like a hand outstretched: one thing helps remember the other, bringing elements and objects together like metaphors. Once this, now this. This land with that land. Today with back then. This donkey with one from long ago. The poem branches outward but stays rooted around various impulses: to remember what it was to be me (cue Joan Didion), to try to understand what is multidirectional, to reassure, to be unable to know how something will end and to practice living there.


Janan Alexandra

Janan Alexandra is a Lebanese American poet and educator. She recently joined the English Department at The Hotchkiss School where she teaches literature and creative writing to young folks. Janan’s work has received support from the Fulbright program, the Martha’s Vineyard Institute for Creative Writing, the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets. You can read her poems in Beloit Poetry Journal, Ploughshares, Gulf Coast, Mizna, and elsewhere online and in print. In addition to writing and teaching, Janan plays fiddle in a folk duo called Sweet May Dews. Website: Instagram: @laptitevaliserouge

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