Critical Essay on “The Toni Morrison Dreams”
The title of Alexander’s Antebellum Dream Book (2001) suggests the tenuous and sometimes illogical thread that strings together the images in these individual dreamlike poems. Like a book in which a person records her dreams, logging the fanciful plots as they surface in memory upon waking, this collection presents separate poems that more or less exploit the liberty of dreams in order to step beyond the ordinary into fresh combinations. These combinations are often dream-like images or juxtaposed scenes that are not restricted by verisimilitude, logical sequence, or cause-and-effect relationships. The poet, like a dreamer, allows free association and seemingly random images to float into the text and on that sea of receptivity and fancy, the reader moves from one topic to another, observing how wish fulfillment, animated fears, and psychic disclosures take shape and become in some cases weird elements of plot. “The Toni Morrison Dreams” comprises four vignettes, all pertaining to an appearance Toni Morrison makes at a conference held at Temple University in Philadelphia. In these little scenes or dreams, the narrator gets as close as she can to the famous African American novelist and Nobel Prize winner.
In the first vignette, the scene takes place in the morning right before a writing workshop conducted by Morrison is to begin. In this dream, Toni Morrison expresses her hatred for “conference coffee,” and the...
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Dreamlike Style, Strategic Placement of Words and Lines, and Allusion in "The Toni Morrison Dreams"
In “The Toni Morrison Dreams,” a serial poem with a subtle and edgy quality, Alexander uses language to create allusions to race. Alexander also strategically places words and lines in the poem for maximum impact. The author conveys a strange, dreamlike tone in the words and events that are chosen in this poem.
The four parts of this serial poem revolve around the interaction between the narrator and the African American writer Toni Morrison. There is a workshop and a reading. Two other portions of the poem seem to serve as segues, much like a dream might proceed. The procession of the poem seems oddly spontaneous—giving it a dreamlike, unpredictable quality. For example, the poem seems to start out in the moments prior to a reading or workshop by Toni Morrison. It feels as if this is indeed the beginning of a day. Toni Morrison can now “start her day properly,” having received the kind of coffee she likes best.
It then makes sense that the workshop scene would follow in part two of this serial poem. But part three comes out of nowhere, much like a dream might proceed. The reader cannot be sure what prompts Toni Morrison to remark on and love the narrator’s baby. If Toni Morrison does not love the narrator’s work in the workshop, but loves the baby, did the narrator bring her baby to the workshop? Or did the narrator and Morrison meet at another time? Or is the third part of this serial poem...
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