#11: Sleepyhead

Lockdown in England continues – as does our online poetry community, Try to Praise the Mutilated World. The prompts are here every day, and free. Access to our Facebook workshopping group costs £10, and lasts for the duration of this lockdown. The group is a place for mutual feedback, and is private so that your work in progress is unpublished. We have guest readers via Facebook Live on a Sunday – today it is Forward Prize-winning Malika Booker. Join us at any time through November. See the PayPal button at the bottom of this post.

Did you sleep well? Sleep is the hard-earned peace at the end of the day, the time when dreams defragment the brain’s hard drive – and your subject for today.

Sleep is an abandonment, a supremely physical act of letting go. Yours may be triggered by a nightcap, an audiobook – or fever, the motion of a boat, fatigue after running a marathon, the sound of a Russian woman folding towels. Some of you fallen asleep somewhere you shouldn’t – at a party, at your desk, during sex – or you have you nodded off on the bus, and missed your stop. Think about the room you normally sleep in; how it feels, what sounds or sensations there are, what book is tucked under the pillow. Think too about the most remarkable places you’ve slept. I’ve slept in a Greek monastery and in the bellies of tall ships; on the shores of Ullswater in a sleeping bag; in many anodyne hotels and a few dodgy youth hostels; and at festivals, with distant music booming in my ears. Where have you laid your head down – and where are you sleeping nowadays, when so many options are unavailable?

For most of us sleep is a refreshing ceasefire. Other poor souls wake up at 3am staring doom in the face. If that is you, then tell us what keeps you awake at night. Be specific, because a phrase like ‘worry’ is so generic that your reader will pass by without registering the actual feeling. ‘Ian being a dick again about the car park,’ or ‘the fact that Vanuatu is sinking’ would do it. Night sweats, a prowling cat, a baby that you temporarily want to smother; the aftermath of an argument; a frozen shoulder; a bottle of Merlot; the prompt you are writing for a poetry blog; all of these might keep you awake. If your first instinct is comedic, don’t be afraid to go dark. It’s night time, after all, when most of us crash out.

If you sleep alone, tell us what pleases and displeases; what you miss and what you revel in. If you share your bed with someone, think about the shapes and sounds you make in your dozing and dreaming. There might be a rhythm to your sleeping, or a dance in the way your bodies fit together. Does your other half get up at 4.00 to make a cup of tea, then come back with cold feet? Where do they go when they sleep? Did you sleep differently with a previous lover, with your toddler – or with the chihuahua?

Write a sleep diary, a lullaby, an aubade, a sheep-counting chant, a celebration of the shared or unshared bed. Write about someone else lost in sleep; the homeless, the genocidal, the blackbird singing from next door’s TV aerial. Whatever your subject is, dive deep. Sweet dreams.

Join our Facebook workshopping group

Join our closed Facebook group at any time in November, for feedback from other poets and access to weekly readings. Pay £10 by PayPal below, then find Try to Praise the Mutilated World on Facebook and ask to join (use the link in the first paragraph above). We are already 300 strong and there’s a lively, friendly community helping each other to write their way through the lockdown.


Published by Jo Bell

Poet, boater, archaeologist and former director of the UK's National Poetry Day. One third of @OnThisDayShe. Erstwhile UK Canal Laureate.

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