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Old 09-21-2018, 10:37 PM
John Riley John Riley is offline
Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: North Carolina
Posts: 3,943
Default Lean-To


Often when I can't sleep
I return to my first city.
I galloped there for years,
plagued with fevers and dreams.
My horse spends his days
in his lean-to next to the barn
that burned down one summer night
as the dry winds
crackled in the trees.
His lean-to made it through the fire
and most nights now
my dream horse grows stronger
and more beautiful than a flame.

Last edited by John Riley; 09-25-2018 at 12:08 PM.
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Old 09-23-2018, 02:08 AM
Ann Drysdale's Avatar
Ann Drysdale Ann Drysdale is online now
Join Date: Feb 2009
Location: Old South Wales (UK)
Posts: 4,422

I slept with this last night. It moved me when I first read it but I have had great difficulty finding the words to say why. Your horse is a kissing cousin of Nemo's pony, which is there always, but would be anyway, even if it wasn't.

The title "Dream Horse" is terrible. It makes the animal into a unicorn. "Lean-to" is better because it is impossible in a way the horse isn't. You say that the lean-to survived when the barn burned down but if there is no barn, then there could be no lean-to. You've established your dream by telling your "lie".

Or just "Horse" because it "is", whether it's there or not.

There is no lean-to, there is no horse. Was there? Did it...? Was it ever? Was it always a pretence, the imaginary escape of a sickly child or is this a recollected horror, put right in retrospect, over and over?

Or the city child's dream of the fantasised rural freedom (I can relate to that) resorted-to again whenever the grim sensation of being in the wrong place rears its ugly head.

I don't need to know. I don't even want the poem to tell me. I have enjoyed its company in a session of sweet, silent thought. Thank you for the loan of your horse.

Last edited by Ann Drysdale; 09-23-2018 at 02:11 AM.
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Old 09-23-2018, 03:04 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
Join Date: May 2016
Location: England
Posts: 2,359

Hi John,

I like the hedging of 'most nights now'. But not all, being the implication.

And most of what Annie said. I think I've said before that it's a rare poem of yours that doesn't move me in some way, but sometimes by the time I've marshalled my thoughts it's slipped away and the next is up. The opening of this made me think of the first line of Proust, another feverish bed-bound remembrance. I'm glad yours is shorter.

(There. Some trademark flippancy)

It's bears rereading because it creates pure feeling. It's emotion even though it may be all symbol. It's also as simple as I want it to be, which I like. Thanks John.

Last edited by Mark McDonnell; 09-23-2018 at 03:07 AM.
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Old 09-23-2018, 09:37 AM
Jan Iwaszkiewicz's Avatar
Jan Iwaszkiewicz Jan Iwaszkiewicz is offline
Join Date: Oct 2001
Location: Hunter Valley, NSW, Australia
Posts: 2,543

It has the sometime impossibility of dream John

Each time I read it and unpack it reveals another trail.
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Old 09-25-2018, 12:12 PM
John Riley John Riley is offline
Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: North Carolina
Posts: 3,943

Thanks for reading Ann, Mark. and Jan. I am happy it's striking a chord. It does with me as well and I don't know why. Feeling is all I was going for, Mark. No symbols--that I'm aware of--here.

Ann, you are so right about the title. I've changed it here and elsewhere.

I've slowly accepted that I can't know if they work until they're written. Many of mine don't and it makes me happy when readers can feel the occasional one.

Thanks again
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Old 09-25-2018, 07:43 PM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
Join Date: May 2013
Location: England, UK
Posts: 2,764

Hi John,

This calls to mind a longer poem you posted here a fair while back which involved a horse, a city (or two), fever, dreams and maybe even a fire. I liked that one too.

I read this as poem of recovery. I see the fire the N's life a destructive/disaster event or period in the N's past. Something small part (the lean-to) containing something positive (the horse), perhaps hope or a sense of vitality or freedom maybe, survived. Now, with the passage of time, this has grown is stronger than than the flame that destroyed. At least, most nights.

I agree with Annie on the title, and also, it robs "dream horse" at the close of the poem of some it's effect, I think.

I had a bit of trouble with implications of "Most nights now, my dream horse grows stronger / and more beautiful". It seems to imply that each night the horse starts off less strong and beautiful than the flame, then most it nights it grows stronger and and more beautiful than it. So presumably, during the day, it's always less strong and beautiful? Or maybe it during the day it's always stronger, then it dips in the evening, and at night either grows (or doesn't). Am I making any sense?

An alternative, I guess, would be to say, "most nights now, my dream horse is stronger ...", though against this, "is" is a weak verb. Or maybe, "most nights now, my dream horse has grown more beautiful / and stronger than the flame". -- meaning, most nights, I see a horse that has grown stronger and more beautiful.

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Old 09-26-2018, 01:36 PM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
Join Date: Aug 2016
Location: Boston, MA
Posts: 1,700

Wow this is something! I've read it a good ten times now and it still keeps crackling. The levels of symbolism keep coming in and out as I read down to the finish.

On the surface of the symbolism is a man who lost his horse in a fire but dreams often that it somehow survived. The horse meant the world to him.
I could go on about other levels of that float through the poem...

The poem has a very light touch while also producing a heaviness that, as Ann said in so many words, stays with me.

Really nice work John.
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Old 09-26-2018, 02:28 PM
David Callin David Callin is offline
Join Date: Jun 2014
Location: Ellan Vannin
Posts: 2,015

I like this too, John. I was wondering why - or how - a city boy had a horse at first. There's my simple-minded literalness in play again . But locating the poem in a land of myth - personal myth - works very well for me.


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Old 09-27-2018, 09:00 AM
John Riley John Riley is offline
Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: North Carolina
Posts: 3,943

Thanks for reading and commenting, Matt. I've changed the title and will work on the strengthening horse. One of the things I'm doing is going back to my old failures and trying to pull out the mystery heart of the longer poems and then not answering the mystery. In so many poems I've over-explained.

Jim, thanks. I'm glad you like it. I'm glad it has levels for you.

David, thanks. I'm often struck by literal-mindedness myself. Resist!

Thanks for the comments.

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