What Does it Mean When… ?

My dreams have been highly charged with symbolic images lately, more than likely due to my reading of Man and His Symbols, by Jung et al. I’ve scribbled a few haphazard images down in my journal, but there’s been little free time to think about what the dreams might mean. Instead, I’ve been reading poetry, attending readings, grading papers, planning for classes, cooking a few dinners here and there, and trying to revise a few poems.

I qualify any interpretations of dreams with a big question mark, because it takes a long time to see the patterns in dream symbols. What does it mean if I see a horse lying on its side in a ditch? The only way to know is to take a wait and see attitude.

I let the image simmer for a while, and if it stays with me, I’ll free-write about it. I’ve come up with some rollicking prose poems that way. They’re self-indulgent, but very fun to write. My current project is about miniature foxes.

One of my favorite fiction writers is Kelly Link. She writes about zombies, mysterious rabbits, and homunculi, among other topics. Her stories lend themselves to anyone who enjoys dream imagery, postmodern fantasy, or magic. You can download portions of Magic for Beginners from her website.

riverbabble's summer soltice issue now online

Below is a flier announcing riverbabble 15. I have a short fiction piece included. It’s a few days after the solstice, but the evening light is still with us, a nice time to read. Here’s a direct link to my piece, ‘Dusk.’

Celebrate the summer solstice

and start your summer reading with


Bloomsday issue

is now online at




Margot Comstock, Sara McAulay, Bev Vines-Haines, Patsy Covington, Kyle Hemmings, Rick Spuler, Thomas Kearnes, Andrew M. Lopas, Ward Jones, Marjorie Carlson Davis


Rafael Jesús González, Francine Witte, Anthony Adrian Pino, Julene Tripp Weaver, Charles Clifford Brooks III, Luigi Monteferrante, Jason Price Everett, Paul Lobo Portugés, J. Bradley


Doug Mathewson, Christine Swint, Andrew M. Lopas


Christopher Novak

Visit us here:


Popular British Ballads

As part of the MFA program I’m starting, I need to read and ‘explicate’ many poems. Although I have three years to complete the readings, I’m beginning now because I’m a nerdy book worm, un ratón de biblioteca, as they say in Spanish.

To make the project more interesting, I thought I’d share some of my observations of the poems I read. Let me make one disclaimer: I’ve never been a scholarly sort of person, and even though I’ve been a teacher and a student all my life, I’m more apt to share my gut reactions rather than a true literary analysis. Unless a professor requires it, I doubt I’ll read what real literary critics have to say about the poems. Hope that’s OK with everyone.

Popular British Ballads begin my list. Reading these ballads is like getting a glimpse into long ago daily life in the British Isles. The first one I read is titled Lord Randal. It’s Scottish, from the 1500s, passed down to us by Francis James Childs, who compiled and edited The English and Scottish Ballads, 1892-1898. You can read every single one of them right here.

The end words of each stanza are the same: son, man, soon, down, and in fact each line ends with the same phrase or question, because it’s a song.

A young man named Lord Randal is asking his mother to make his bed because he is sick at heart and he soon will die, both from heartache and from poisoning.

The mother goes on to ask him what he’s going to leave behind to all his loved ones. At first those stanzas made the mother appear to me like a mercenary sort of mom, the kind who ‘knows the price of everything and the value of nothing’ (Oscar Wilde’s definition of a cynic). I thought, is she kidding? The kid is dying and she’s already divvying up the loot?

But more than likely death was more a part of everyday life then, and practical matters like wills were discussed openly. The talk of leaving behind worldly possessions also adds to the pathos of the story, that such a handsome young man, and wealthy too, is dying.

Of course he says the girl who has double crossed him will only get ‘hell and fire.’

In addition to this version I found on Youtube, there are also Appalachian singers who’ve recorded many of these ballads, as the songs were passed down to them by their ancestors.

Here’s a version I found on Youtube by poet and painter Michael Foster:


And here’s the ballad:

Lord Randal

“O where ha you been, Lord Randal, my son?
And where ha you been, my handsome young man?”
“I ha been at the greenwood; mother, mak my bed soon,
For I’m wearied wi hunting, and fain wad lie down.”

“An wha met ye there, Lord Randal, my son?
And wha met ye there, my handsome young man?”
“O I met wi my true-love; mother, mak my bed soon,
For I’m wearied wi huntin, and fain wad lie down.”

“And what did she give you, Lord Randal, My son?
And wha did she give you, my handsome young man?”
“Eels fried in a pan; mother, mak my bed soon,
For I’m wearied wi huntin, and fein wad lie down.”

“And what gat your leavins, Lord Randal my son?
And wha gat your leavins, my handsome young man?”
“My hawks and my hounds; mother, mak my bed soon,
For I’m wearied wi huntin, and fein wad lie down.”

“And what becam of them, Lord Randal, my son?
And what becam of them, my handsome young man?
“They stretched their legs out and died; mother mak my bed soon,
For I’m wearied wi huntin, and fain wad lie down.”

“O I fear you are poisoned, Lord Randal, my son!
I fear you are poisoned, my handsome young man!”
“O yes, I am poisoned; mother, mak my bed soon,
For I’m sick at the heart, and fain wad lie down.”

“What d’ye leave to your mother, Lord Randal, my son?
What d’ye leave to your mother, my handsome young man?”
“Four and twenty milk kye; mother, mak my bed soon,
For I’m sick at the heart, and I fain wad lie down.”

“What d’ye leave to your sister, Lord Randal, my son?
What d’ye leave to your sister, my handsome young man?”
“My gold and my silver; mother mak my bed soon,
For I’m sick at the heart, an I fain wad lie down.”

“What d’ye leave to your brother, Lord Randal, my son?
What d’ye leave to your brother, my handsome young man?”
“My houses and my lands; mother, mak my bed soon,
For I’m sick at the heart, and I fain wad lie down.”

“What d’ye leave to your true-love, Lord Randal, my son?
What d’ye leave to your true-love, my handsome young man?”
“I leave her hell and fire; mother mak my bed soon,
For I’m sick at the heart, and I fain wad lie down.”

A review of Clare Jay's Breathing in Colour

Breathing in Colour Breathing in Colour by Clare Jay

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars

Clare Jay’s Breathing in Colour ( Piatkus, Little, Brown Book Group, March 2009) weaves together threads from many disparate areas of life – dreams, travels, the creative mind, family dynamics, memory, and relationships between men and women. The story, which takes place in the UK and India, blends the characters’ dreams into the narrative with seamless artistry, no easy task (which I know from my own experience of including dream imagery in my writing).

Throughout the course of the novel the reader learns about synaesthesia, a condition in which a person perceives sounds or smells as colors, or numbers and certain letters of the alphabet as colors. Both the mother and the daughter in the novel are synaesthetes, and Clare Jay does a superb job describing how the two characters view the world. Jay is not a synaesthete herself, yet she illustrates their world with vivid accuracy, allowing the reader to glimpse what it might be like to have such ultra heightened senses.

I met Clare Jay two years ago at a conference for the International Association for the Study of Dreams, where she told me about the novel she was then writing, her lucid dreams (knowing one is dreaming while in the dream state), and her technique for inducing the writer’s trance, which involves yogic relaxation (she is also a yoga instructor) and the recall of dream imagery. I still remember the character I came up with after attending one of Clare Jay’s workshops involving dreams and creative writing. It was a panther woman who sat at the end of my bed. In fact, I’ve written a poem about the panther woman – she holds a special place in my pantheon of fictional characters.

The characters in Breathing in Colour, both the dream man and the ones who walk the earth, are alive with color, smells, texture, and nuance. They are more than three dimensional because of Jay’s bright, sensitive use of language. It’s like going on a magic carpet ride.

Be sure to visit Clare Jay’s beautiful website and blog, where she has information about her next book, Dreamrunner.

View all my reviews.