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Poetry Week: House Dreams’ journey of self-discovery

By Rob Thomas on March 25, 2015

House Dreams
Brick Books, 2014
By Deanna Young

House Dreams begins with an epigraph from Carl Jung.  It comes from Memories, Dreams and Reflections, co-written with Aniela Jaffé.  It describes a personal dream — sometimes called Jung’s House Dream — that came to him at a time when he was examining the unconscious.  The psychoanalyst finds himself in an unfamiliar house.  He descends stairs to the ground floor and finds everything much older.  Pushing on, through darkness and a heavy door, he finds a stone staircase and continues his descent.  At the bottom of the stairs he finds himself.

Ottawa-based poet Deanna Young has said that she writes from both a love of language and an urge to make order from experiences.

“I write out of a compulsion to live an examined life, to make meaning/order out of existence/chaos. Ultimately, I think writing is my survival strategy.”  Her poems use storytelling, plain language and meticulous detail to bend the reader’s thinking inwards.  They are mindful, probing pieces that churn through the minutiae of everyday experience looking for that jolt of understanding.

In the collection’s lead poem, for example, a short domestic flight becomes a metaphor for a lifespan.  “Here we are in the sky/trying not to think about it,” she writes. Then the turbulence starts:

            …Gripping the tray, which
            should be up, I surprise myself
            with a type of yogic breathing.
            Living is nice, on the inhale,
            I am ready on the ex.

House Dreams is divided into five sections. Each one is loosely connected to a locale and each with its own repertoire of personal experiences. Young begins with the most abstract and generalized and proceeds to the oldest, most specific and most troubling experiences.

The section Barachois (a coastal lagoon) collects a series of dreams.  The section The City deals with domestic life in an abstracted cityscape — and ends with a poem called Dislocation in which one house is literally placed on the foundation of another.  Westmoorings explores more specific experiences of displacement behind walls and gates in Trinidad and Tobago.  The Valley is more bucolic, connected mostly (I believe) with the Bay of Fundy area.  While the final section, Middlesex County, which treats growing up with an abusive and alcoholic father includes the most visceral and under-adorned pieces in the collection. “Fuck you for singing your suck-ass songs/up and down my childhood halls,” she rages in Country Music. “Holding us all prisoner/ till black-windowed dark and supper.”

You don’t need to know anything about Jung to get swept up in the story that Young weaves.  You just need to be human — and prepared for a little turbulence.

Deanna Young performs at Versfest on Thursday, March 26.  You can can reach Rob Thomas online.