Poetics of Dream Translation 3

This was the last part of my conference, see during which a handful of people from the audience shared recurrent dreams.

Rene Magritte – The Explanation

When I translated the dreams in that chapter of SLF, nurse which were collected years later for the book, my only intention was to write for the sake of writing. I have a habit of reflecting upon my dream content to better understand my current state of mind in my waking life, so this exercise of writing down dreams was a way of doing so. Since I had been publishing them online, friends and readers reacted to them, which was a source of positive reinforcement. I never expected, however, to be explaining any of them.

About dream analysis, Freud says:

The first thing that becomes clear to the investigator when he compares the dream-content with the dream-thoughts is that a tremendous work of condensation has been accomplished. The dream is meagre, paltry and laconic in comparison with the range and copiousness of the dream-thoughts.

The dream, when written down fills half a page; the analysis, which contains the dream-thoughts, requires six, eight, twelve times as much space.

As you have probably observed, the time it took me to explain only 3 aspects of the dream sequence “Daisy” and “Recollection” took nearly as long to have narrated the events in their entirety.

Literary analysis of poetry will probably result in “six, eight, twelve times as much space” as well.

Dreams, if you are able to remember them, are an excellent source for creative material. As a writer, you are able to exploit, through writing them down (or write based on them), what Freud calls the dream-content (what you perceive with your senses) and your condensed dream-thoughts (what you felt and thought in reaction to the dream-content). Both dream-content and dream-thoughts, as played out by your unconscious as you dream, are fragmented, disjointed.

The act of re-arranging this puzzle, to join the loose ends, is the act of translation. As with all translations, original meanings might be lost, but new meaning will be gained, and perhaps even deeper levels of meaning will be revealed through word choice.


The words we choose to name what we see might be clues to what we were really dreaming about – though wordplay and puns, homophones or homographs, or even rhyme. Language structures our very way of thinking, so the relationship between images and language does not go in only one direction.

As an example, I will quote Freud re-telling a dream to illustrate this point, that “one scarcely finds a dream without a double meaning or a play upon words.”

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C in a dream sees a girl on the road to X bathed in a white light and wearing a white blouse.

The dreamer began an affair with a Miss White on this road.

After translating your sequence of dream images to words that are comprehensible to yourself (as well as your potential readers), you will probably have achieved effective poetic prose. By effective poetic prose I mean a combination of words that conveys sensorial experiences as well as emotions with minimal explanations about their particular symbolism (which is what “good” poetry should do – though it’s a matter of opinion).

And if you aren’t a writer, you have poetry within you. Some people might think dreams are a waste of time discussing or even bothering to remember, but the exercise if recalling, wording and sharing what we’ve dreamt can help us cope with the frustrations or questions that bother us in our waking lives. Dream interpretation, which is almost identical to literary interpretation, has much to teach us about ourselves and those around us, but only if we are aware. Like an oracle, or like Shelley’s figure of the poet as a prophet, dreams allow us to look inward and relate to the world outside our minds, therefore providing glimpses of the unknown.

We may never fully understand it, but, as we look out into the ocean and up the sky, there is a promise in all that is uncertain.

Why Stars Like Fish?

Since I’ll probably never be using this introduction again, I’m sharing part of the conference I gave at the UPRH last October, for everyone’s pleasure – of this sort of thing pleases you. 

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 “Why Stars Like Fish?” is a question I am asked very often, not only by people who are looking for clues before reading it, but also some who have already read it entirely. I’ve probably been unfair when answering to both, with replies such as a very secure “well, if you read it I’m sure you’ll get it” – or the distressed and insecure “really, you read it and you didn’t get it?” 

When naming the book, I never gave it much thought. Images of stars and fish are recurrent in my writing, and they share many similarities in their symbolism. I suppose I overlooked the fact that “Stars Like Fish” is a poetic line in itself, one that invites interpretation (whether a conscious or unconscious one).

For those who expect an explanation on how stars are in any way like fish, or how fish can be possibly be similar to stars might be disappointed. Yes, there are stars in the book as well as fish, but there is never a direct comparison.

Before I make my best effort to explain my title choice, I’d like to show you this illustration by one of Prof. Carmen Torres’ students, Michelle (whose last name I don’t know), who was kind enough to let me keep it.

I was excited to see it for many reasons: one, to know that by means of your own creativity you have bonded with a stranger who has reacted through art. We are all inspired by other artists, but we rarely get to connect. Having the opportunity to see an interpretation of your work in an entirely different medium provokes a feeling of togetherness and communication, even if it’s based on a title alone.

A second reason is that, having this self-created complex that “nobody gets it” regarding my title, this student helped me get over my anxiety because, when she showed it to me, with intense emotion I thought “SHE GETS IT!”

I would like to analyze Michelle’s  watercolor as an answer to “Why Stars Like Fish?”

It’s a reversible image of creatures in water and outer space. You may look at it from one angle or another, and its meaning is unaltered (in the same way stars like fish or fish like stars are interchangeable).

But what is the meaning?

Does a starred sky ever meet the ocean’s edge?

From our human perspective, it does. As residents of an island, we might take visits to a shoreline for granted, but we’ve all noticed the horizon, the line where the ocean ends and the sky begins (or vice versa).

Under a dark night sky, however, this line is almost impossible to isolate.

Michelle’s illustration shows both sky and sea, almost blending into one another, but not quite. She painted white dots in the violet space, and colored stars in the blue one. The stars in space resemble stars as we see them, tiny white dots against a dark background. The stars in the sea resemble starfish, or anemone. In a sense, through linguistic signs (not considering definitions), there are stars in both sky and sea.

Now I’d like to focus on the characters: a mermaid and astronaut are looking into each other’s eyes, yet, they’re not touching, but waving at each other.  Where do they meet?

I really had to give this some thought. What seems obvious to me is quite difficult to word, because I’ve never thought of it in words, until this moment, but in metaphor.  We are beings of the earth… the sky and the sea, whether we have a scientific understanding of it or not, are realms beyond our reach. Humans may visit these spaces, in suits that allow us to temporarily adapt, but we cannot naturally experience them.

Hence, sky and sea are where we look to for solace, for a promise that there exists what we cannot grasp: origin and flight, a beginning where there is an end, birth and death (and an afterlife), which is why the sky and sea are elements in creation myths around the world. There are fish in the ocean and there are stars in the sky, so much we know… more than we can count, because we simply cannot.  Stars are born and die as often as fish do, as our own lives are ephemeral… but we manage to live on our own, relative time, as we look beyond the horizon, beyond our atmosphere.

So, how are stars like fish? They inhabit the unknown, and are symbols, in Stars Like Fish, of what we can see – but cannot fully comprehend.

On occasion, we might see stars reflected on water. In our dreams, we may see fish floating in the sky with other impossible objects.