The "journey inward": Crafting the Unconscious

 Pape'ete, Tahiti (January 2016)

Pape'ete, Tahiti (January 2016)

The anthology Twentieth-Century American Poetry describes the goal of Deep Image School poets’ collective as “the journey inward, the recognition of ‘one’s very self’ through the unknown ‘interior universe’ of primal archetypes” (Gioia 780-781). I came across this quote while working on my senior project and realized I had grown to incorporate these ideas into my poems. It started with something as mundane as journaling.

When I was required to journal for a class, which I often was in my humanities degree, I had to resist the urge to announce my displeasure. Journaling, to me, was always more of a chore than an enjoyable activity; meticulously scribbling down the events of the day seemed to be a waste of valuable time, and, frankly, I struggled to avoid sounding like those cringe-worthy “Dear Diary” entries everyone wrote as a kid. If you’re as critical about your writing as I am with my own, perhaps you can sympathize. I really didn’t understand the purpose behind journaling and felt embarrassed reading my jumbled thoughts.

My opinion on the subject didn't change much when I traveled to Ireland for a May Term trip my sophomore year. I wanted to keep an account of my days, well aware that I’d want to look back on all my experiences and relive them through my words. Despite this desire, I dreaded the monotony of recordkeeping, and this mindset carried over into my trip. It probably didn’t help that by the time I was back in my hostel bunk every night, exhausted from walking—or getting lost in—the streets of Dublin, the last thing I wanted to do was recount the details of the day until my hand ached and I’d grown sick of reviewing them.

Then again, when I knew I was going to spend a semester abroad in Tahiti, French Polynesia, I thought about that hand-cramping devil and dreaded it. This time, however, I knew how often I would crack open my journal and read. Whenever I felt nostalgic about Ireland, I’d pull out my little notebook and feel, for a second time, my all-caps excitement for the food at McSwiggan’s or the seal colony in the Aran Islands. But even knowing this, I put off purchasing another journal for my Tahiti trip for so long that I forgot about it until I was two minutes from the airport for my departure.

Tahiti was truly the game-changer for me. I didn’t journal every single day, but I made sure to get to it as often as I could. It became part of my routine. To be honest, the hours I spent curled up on my bed in the corner of my room, with pen to paper as the light disappeared from my open window, are now some of my fondest memories.

In my journal, I gave up on writing anything other than my unedited opinion because I wanted to be able to go back and read the words that expressed exactly how I felt in each moment. I also knew that if I ever wanted to use those ideas for creative work, I would have the time and opportunity in the future to edit and refigure them. I read my Tahiti entries quite a few times before this semester, my last semester of college, began, but amid the production of poems for my senior project, I realized how essential those memories are for creating meaningful images.

My senior portfolio is inspired by my travels and the work of the Deep Image and Surrealist poets. I analyzed a few poems by Mark Strand and was somewhat familiar with the Deep Image School prior to the start of my senior project, so I chose to pursue surrealism in addition, in order to challenge myself to branch out of my writing comfort zone.

My research began with the French poets—specifically André Breton who led the Surrealism movement. A quote that popped up in numerous texts comes from his “Le Manifeste du Surréalisme” (“The Manifesto of Surrealism”). Breton says the aim of surrealist poetry is “to express—verbally…the actual functioning of thought.” Twentieth-Century American Poetry explains that Breton’s manifesto “focused on seeing the world anew through chance-based techniques, particularly automatic writing and free association; probing the mysterious realm of the unconscious to tap the raw power of the imagination” (qtd. in Gioia 778). Automatic writing—writing that is unfiltered and from the unconscious—has been a controversial topic, particularly when debating whether or not it can be considered poetry.

Seeking out the unconscious is such a critical part of surrealism, so I decided to take up the practice of automatic writing. I’ve found that it’s still difficult to let myself move further into a realm void of preconceived poetic visions in order to document everything that comes to mind for a set period of time. It’s a step beyond the difficulties of journaling, but it has so far brought about ever-changing material from which I can pull and edit fragments and create new poems.

As both a contributor and editor for Sequel, Simpson’s annually published literary arts journal, I find it beneficial to promote writing exercises such as automatic writing. But it’s also beneficial to teach the ways in which poets can shape and edit that inspiration into a carefully crafted poem. While it might be frustrating to slog through words you’ve thrown out onto the page in a matter of minutes, stepping away from it for a while and returning to it later on can change your perspective and offer new creative avenues for your exploration. It’s not always easy to access the unconscious when you want that ideal first draft, but opening the door and allowing those images and emotions to feed your motivation lets you form those meaningful parts of yourself and your memories into original works of art.

The practices of journaling and automatic writing have helped me find a way into myself. Through these methods and the practice of editing my own work and putting it up for review by my SC Publications peers, I’ve been able to thrive as a humanities major.


*Gioia, Dana, David Mason, and Meg Schoerke, editors. Twentieth-Century American Poetry. McGraw-Hill, 2004.  


--Sidney Griffith, '17