Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

SKETCH: A STORY (The Writing Life)

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SKETCH: A STORY  (The Writing Life)

I find dreams an important source for creative writing. Sometimes it's a single image or line I recall; other times I awake with almost an entire poem in my mental buffer. I usually try to describe the dream as objectively as possible, not judging whether it is weird or upsetting (or even revealing of my true psychopathology!).
A couple of poems in my published books arrived this way. One was disturbing: a narrative from an island on which I had killed and buried a woman. When the truth came out and my Dad sought my motivation, my dream-self said "Forgive me, father. I only wanted to see what made her talk." I woke up with the ambiguity of that phrase rattling around in my head. (A friend later suggested this dream signified I was having issues with my anima, a charitable interpretation.)
Another time, when I was working on a sequence of poems about Mata Hari that became my third book, I dreamt of her as a 19th-century wooden figurehead, freed from its ship, sailing through the ocean with huge naval ships menacing her. I was both inside the figurehead and watching it from a distance, an amazingly cinematic experience.
The latest gift arrived a couple of days ago, feeling more like a story. But it really, I think, should be an animated short film, as that's how I experienced it. Any volunteer animators out there?

The artist awakes from strange dreams. Around her a white, featureless blank. All she has is a Venus 2B pencil. She presses its point lightly against her forehead and waits for inspiration.
She draws a series of lines meeting at 90 degrees. Obediently a small room formed around her. She roughs out a window, with puffy cumulus clouds, a bare maple visible through it. They appeared.
Lonely, she sketched a dog, nothing fancy, a mutt with dark, spiky fur. He stands, tongue lolling, and hops awkwardly towards her. Because of the angle, she had drawn only three legs. Quickly she adds another, and her new friend bounds up, licking her face.
She fills the bare room with a wall of books, each with a mysterious slash along the spine where a title should go. Then she pencils a fabric hanging, stark in black and white, and finally an oval mirror with an ornate frame. Now her reflection mirror-moves, tracing each of her actions with its other hand.
She draws a deep breath, and adds a door. When she completes the china knob, with its tiny highlight from the window, the door swings out. Beyond its frame stands a dark form, nothing she could have imagined.
Into its open mouth disappears all that she drew, including the dog, sucked up with a woof of surprise. She points her pencil like Harry Potter’s wand at the figure, but it keeps vacuuming images from the graphite tip before she can complete them. The pencil is pulled from her hand, and then her arm begins to stretch out the door.
She wakes up, maybe for real this time. She turns her head, unsettled by the force of the dream. Beside her on the pillow are two halves of a Venus 2B, broken jaggedly across the middle.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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John Oughton

John Oughton is the author of several books, including Time Slip: New and Selected Poems, published by Guernica Editions.

Go to John Oughton’s Author Page