Poetry News

Joshua Cohen's Letterform Dreams

By Harriet Staff

At Medium, Joshua Cohen discusses the forms of letters that comprise the texts of our dreams. "The letter I’d like to describe did not exist, it seemed, except in the dream I dreamt for three consecutive nights, December 2009," Cohen writes. From there: 

Coleridge smoked opium and hallucinated an entire poem, “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan / A stately pleasure-dome decree”: whereas I, not a poet and trying to wean myself off Xanax and Vicodin and Percocet, had difficulty retrieving from my rest even a coherent letter.

I went to bed early all three evenings at my parents’ in Jersey, the anti-Xanadu. Three evenings of uneasy slumber and yet upon waking this was all I could recall: an elongated Hebrew lamed (ל), a distended Arabic lam (ل), the rough form of a fishing-hook (lengthened, stretched; though the Semitic Ur letterform is thought to derive from the shape of a shepherd’s staff or cattleprod), a finger curled to beckon, a kinked tongue, a carpet hung from the railing of a balcony and beaten of its dust until the remnant’s pattern was pure black outline (but this is embellishment now) . . . the dream was of this letter only, without color, just a character inked or perhaps even incised in black upon the nothingness that is not black itself, just sleep.

To describe a letter that already exists — the letter “j,” say — without writing it or saying it, is as difficult as describing a piece of music or plastic art: Rather, how to form the lines and how to pronounce the sound and name of that letter can be described without being demonstrated just as accurately, or just as inaccurately, as can the melodies, harmonies, and timbres of a symphony, or the shapes of a nonfigurative sculpture or painting.

Read more at Medium.

Originally Published: August 10th, 2018