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With Sunflowers As Her Guide, Poet Tunes In To Dream Life For Debut Collection

Writer Jackie Wang's debut poetry collection is called <em>The Sunflower Cast A Spell To Save Us From The Void.</em>
Nightboat Books
Writer Jackie Wang's debut poetry collection is called The Sunflower Cast A Spell To Save Us From The Void.

Our subconscious knows more about us than our waking selves. And it is often through dreams that we are able to tap into this unknown realm.

Writer Jackie Wang documented her dreams and sculpted them into poems for her debut collection The Sunflower Cast A Spell To Save Us From The Void. The book is a surrealist expression of how social processes and traumas show up in our dreams, and how we can better understand ourselves by tuning into them.

"Anytime I'm going through a really difficult experience, I'm always trying to work it out in my dream life," Wang says.

/ Nightboat Books
Nightboat Books

So she started noting down symbols or objects that kept showing up in her dreams — one, in particular: the sunflower. "As a child, I grew sunflowers," she says. "They had always been a symbol of comfort."

Wang used the sunflower as a guide to figure out what her dreams were telling her.

In her poem "Damnation," written for and about a former girlfriend who recently died by suicide, the sun shows up at the end, symbolizing a kind of salvation.

This sun will be our last song

It will come loud and crazy

bathing our arms in

unbearable ringlets of light

and the light will be

the break you will call

the only prayer intoned

to wake you from the nightmare

But Wang says the significance of the sun is two-fold.

"There's two faces to the sun and the sunflower because there's also an obliterative quality to the sun," she says. "The process of staring into the sun, it just blots out all consciousness."

"Damnation" appears in the book as part of a grief interlude. Wang says she wrote the bulk of the poems in that section during a transitional period of her life, when she was living completely alone and off the grid. So, for her, the sun in the poem also represents a mystical "leaning into the pain and suffering," a kind of staring into that blinding brightness.

Indeed, we often try to remain in our comfort zone by blocking out all suffering — but pain finds its way into our dreams. This happened to many of us, Wang says, at the start of lockdown last year.

"When quarantine [had] just started, people were having dreams of invisible senses of malignance, and evil, and disease kind of spreading," she says, referring to news she'd read during the time. "[There were] also bugs, vermin, and fear of contagion."

Wang says this is because our dream lives index not only personal traumas but everything that's happening in society. So, these dreams were a collective expression of our feelings of restlessness, and powerlessness, during lockdown.

In fact, in the collection the sunflower sometimes shows up around societal pressures. In one instance, Wang writes,

"In the dream I mutter

Capitalism is not a bed of sunflowers

as I hobble around Wall Street

in broken heels."

Here, the economic realm showing up inside the safety of the speaker's subconscious indicates how certain pressures infiltrate the very essence of our being. There is a tension between what is asked of us (in the sense of productivity) and where we are hoping to rest (within our comfort zone).

It is just like this, by tuning into our dreams, Wang says, that we can open up our consciousness and better understand our reality — and our own lives.

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Jeevika Verma joined NPR's Morning Edition and Up First as a producer in February 2020. During her time there, she's produced a variety of stories ranging from Afghanistan peace talks, COVID surges in India and local & state elections. Verma also contributes to arts and poetry coverage for NPR's culture desk, and is always trying to get more poets on air. She leads the Morning Edition diversity council and works on DEI efforts across the network to help NPR live up to its mission.