Posted by: janesstories | April 15, 2010

On the Necessity of Reverie by Mari L’Esperance

On the Necessity of Reverie

Mari L'Esperance

Who knows where poems come from? After all these years the answer is still a mystery, and I prefer it that way, for it is mystery that gives the best poetry its power. When I sit down to write, I have found that the more I can allow myself to be in the mystery, in the “not knowing,” the more likely the poem will show itself to me in its earliest, inchoate form. If I am too forceful or goal-directed at the beginning, the poem remains hidden, refusing my invitation to play. At this tender, nascent stage of the poem’s life, a climate of permission, spaciousness, and play is critical. The editor’s eye and ear enter in later, but not now. Now is when a state of reverie is needed.

I can best describe reverie as a partly conscious, partly unconscious, aimless hovering of the mind that allows me to drop down into that internal dreamspace where the earliest beginnings of poems reside. Some call it daydreaming. Others call it woolgathering or staring into the middle distance. Meditation or a long, solitary walk in the woods can induce what may feel like reverie. Whatever the means of entering it, this particular state of mind is everything to the emergence of the poem, at least for me. For poem making is not an intellectual exercise at this stage in the poem’s development, nor should it be. In reverie the logical, reasoning, thinking mind recedes into the background and allows feeling, intuition, imagination, and bodily sensation to take over. It is by way of reverie that I metaphorically hold the door open for the poem and invite it in. Not forcing it. Not willfully directing it. Not imposing pre-conceived notions of how and what the poem should become. For the poem will have none of this and will soundly refuse my attempts. Instead, I must wait—with patience, receptivity, and curiosity. During this phase I may scribble words, phrases, scraps of ideas and images without commitment or conscious direction. Often I will read the work of others, moving intuitively from book to book, poem to poem, allowing reverie and my interior world to alchemically work with what I am ingesting and eventually reveal to me that first seed of the poem. Something internal hooks onto something external and the poem has begun.

In this faster-than-the-speed-of-light age when we receive so much information online and increasingly use the Internet to publish and market our work, it can seem that reverie is fast becoming a rarefied experience reserved only for the monastic or the hermit. Most of us cannot, and would not want to, completely detach ourselves from our communal and material lives to live that sort of existence. But this does not mean that reverie is beyond our reach in our daily lives. It may require more mindful intention and effort than it once did, but it is possible.

After several months of deliberation and false starts, I recently rented a shared writing space with another poet—a space that we will each use on alternating days. At home I share an office with my husband, making it difficult, if not impossible, to focus enough to write poems. I spent considerable time and energy agonizing over the additional cost of a writing space and whether or not my poems and I deserve such an “indulgence”. But I eventually concluded that a dedicated writing space was necessary if I was to take my work seriously. In this small, plain room in a warren of similar rooms in an industrial neighborhood, with its one window looking out at buildings, trees, and the Berkeley hills, I give myself full permission to close the door on the outer world and its demands. I am alone with books, paper, pen, and my interior life—no phone or email or Facebook or other interruptions and distractions to impede my experience. It is a kind of heaven on earth, a sacred container, a protected place in which reverie, and poems, can safely unfold.

______________________________________ Photos by Martin Takigawa
Mari L’Esperance’s first full-length collection The Darkened Temple was selected by Hilda Raz for the 2007 Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry and published by University of Nebraska Press in September 2008. An earlier collection Begin Here was awarded the 1999 Sarasota Poetry Theatre Press Chapbook Prize and published in 2000. L’Esperance’s work has appeared in several literary journals and anthologies, most recently in Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry by Sage Cohen (2009 Writer’s Digest Books) and When the Muse Calls: Poems for the Creative Life, edited by Kathryn Ridall (2009 Pomegranate Press). A two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, graduate of New York University’s Creative Writing Program, former New York Times Company Foundation Creative Writing Fellow, and recipient of residency fellowships from Hedgebrook and Dorland Mountain Arts Colony, L’Esperance lives and writes in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Glenda Bailey-Mershon’s review of The Darkened Temple can be read here: #mce_temp_url#


  1. i love this post, which seems to be about carving out a space to dream, to write.  And I’ll remember 
    Mari’s wisdom as I try to carve out space to create  fiction! 

  2. Thanks for sharing Mari’s beautiful wisdom here!

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