In A Far Cry from Kensington, Muriel Spark wrote:

the quality of insomnia depends entirely on what you decide to think of.

I don’t suffer from insomnia. Ever. I do have a few sleepless nights. And when I do, I tend to try and write poems in my head. The repetition is often just as effective as counting sheep.

When I have talked myself to sleep with a draft poem for a few nights, I usually walk down to the village and sit in the hotel bar and fiddle with words on paper while I have breakfast. And then I walk back and listen to the words in my head again.

Perhaps the fact that a lot of the revision process takes place while I’m walking explains the fact that the dominant metre in so much of what I write is iambic.

The following is a different take on Time passes. As usual, it’s posted here as a draft, rather than a finished poem. I particularly don’t like the list format.

Sleepless at four a.m.

Beside me
your unchanging breathing
tells me you don’t hear
the noises of the night:
– the constant river
– the church clock
– the velvet owl’s hoot
and the answering screech
– stray dogs hunting… A snarl
of cats tumbles through the dark
beneath the window and you stir

only to sleep again. I listen
to your breath and count
the seconds till you wake.


Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

3 thoughts on “insomnia”

  1. Ah, you’re lucky. I could put ‘Insomniac’ on my passport. I sometimes wake and just stay awake listening to snores or rain. Other times I wake with a title or line in my head, and words start to form, then develop and have to be written down or they’ll be forgotten, and by the time they’re on paper I’m often wide-awake till dawn. Here’s an old poem of mine, reflecting some of that.



    Another all-nighter.
    Last quarter reading
    In an arc of yellow light.
    Mad scribbling between chapters:
    The bare bones of two poems
    About old lusts by other lamps.

    Six o’clock.
    House begins to stir.
    Big bed waking overhead.
    July firstlight at the window.
    Pleased with myself
    In the dimming arc of night.
    Two fresh poems to nurse!
    Old lusts to smile about,

    Upstairs, soon,
    In today’s sheets.


    1. Partly I meant I “*don’t suffer* insomnia” in the same way that my father used to have a colleague who “*enjoyed* ill health” – hence the Muriel Spark quotation. And partly, yes. I’m lucky that it isn’t often, so when I do have a sleepless night, it’s to revel in, because the nights here are so glorious.

      Thank you for the poem: “old lusts by other lamps” – yes!


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