Exploring Your Subconscious Through Poetry

Luke Edley explores how mining your subconscious for random word associations can make your poetry truly unique.

Image Credit: 
© Chris Martin / Used With Permission

Anyone can write poetry, but few can be experts in it. Therefore, it’s difficult to stand up and say there’s a right or a wrong way to write it, especially if you’re like me and you’ve never had your work published before. Whether your poem rhymes, or whether it doesn’t, poetry can come in many different forms and styles, so the only honest advice a poet can give is to refer to their own process and explain why they feel it works for them.

In my case, I am a big believer in letting my subconscious run wild when I’m writing poetry. That doesn’t mean I think poetry should be wantonly surrealist, or should verge on being nonsensical, it just means I let my thought processes go off on tangents and try and hit upon something abstract, a striking fusion of words and meanings, to express my thoughts more poetically.

My own view is that the best poetry should have many layers of subtext, hidden meanings and metaphorical equivocations, so the only way I can bring those out in a poem is by drawing up tenuous associations in my head and running with them. In a sense, this is mining my subconscious, not just for past memories, but also for inferences, fragments, recollections or loose connections floating around in my brain box as I write.

Let’s take a look at this passage from ‘By Jingo,’ my poem about Brexit, to demonstrate:

Tucking into dripping
a gravy boat spills forth
with a brigade of ageing dullards,
their hip bones battle-worn.

Without wanting to spoil anything, this passage is intended to be about a group of elderly people at a pub dinner table (hence the word ‘ageing’ in the third line). While I was writing it, word associations freely popped into my head, presumably surfacing from my subconscious (‘tucking in’ to eat, ‘dripping’ as in pork dripping but possessing a double meaning of ‘drip’ like a tap, so when placed together with ‘spills’ it foreshadows some of the jingoistic opinions they spew later in the poem. They’re also fairly disgusting verbs too, as if they’re salivating.)

The ‘gravy boat’ has an overt meaning, of being poured over a dinner plate, but ‘boats’ also move on water and would slosh around, thus keeping with the other aqueous-sounding terminology. However, my mind also thought of ‘gravy train’ (meaning something entirely different, the idea of a pampered lifestyle these elderly folk may have led) so I used the word ‘dullard’ to nod towards a train metaphor through onomatopoeia, as if it’s a locomotive bell, while also expressing that these people are idiots (‘dullards’). The ‘brigade’ infers military, but also suggests uniformity, conformity of mindset, as does ‘battle-worn’, to convey a general sense of being this group of elderly people being a wartime generation.

Later, there are more noticeable references to this group being post-WWII patriots, pumped up with jingoistic ‘golden age of British Empire’ rhetoric, so plucking words from my subconscious and toying with them really helped me to put that across. All of the juxtapositions in that earlier passage help lay the groundwork for how the poem progresses later. Admittedly, not all of it is noticeable to anyone but the chronically analytical, but it’s still there for a reason.

Such random pairings would probably not have been included had it not been for my jigsaw puzzle-esque method of throwing words together from my subconscious to find a poetic seam to sew it all up. To me, that’s exactly what makes a poem such a joy to write. I like poems to use words in a playful way to describe something from a slightly obfuscated angle, whilst ensuring it doesn’t lose all meaning or power.

Next time you write a poem, try it – dwell on a topic and let your mind go off on a tangent, follow your subconscious instincts, trust your gut feeling, and see what you can shape out of random words. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find the end result is uniquely you, and will prove that exploring your subconscious can often make your poem original and distinctive enough to stand out from the crowd.

Poet, humorous fiction writer and novelist. Fond of satire. Interested in comic novels, black comedy and tales of satirical derring-do.

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