Insomnia — a Dansa

Happy Poetry Friday! Welcome, everyone! (Wondering what Poetry Friday is? Click here.) Before I share today’s poem, I’m inviting you to check out my Halloween riddle-ku that I shared on Wednesday. I also shared an invitation for people who have a young student or family member who might be willing to be in a book video (with parents’ permission). So please hop back to check that out if you think that’s you. I’m excited because the excellent Margaret Simon has already sent me a video! Yay! I’ll need at least 5–6 responses to make it work, so fingers crossed.

I spent the first half of this week in Florida, on a stressful and difficult family trip. Ugh. Aging and family dynamics are not for the wimpy, I tell ya. And I got terribly sick with an icky upper respiratory infection. Didn’t sleep well for several nights and had to cancel a storytime, which made me sad! But the not sleeping…ugh. So even though I wrote this poem several weeks ago, it’s an apropos poem to share this week!

This month, the Poetry Sisters tried out dansas. I’m copying Tanita’s explanation of a dansa here: Its opening quintrain (5 lines) is followed by quatrains (4 lines), with a quintrain rhyme scheme of AbbaA and the quatrain bbaA. You’ll note that A repeats because the opening line of the first stanza is the final line of every stanza, including the first.

I was on the flight down to Florida when the Poetry Sisters did their live write last week, so I had no chance to talk about this form with my peeps. But as I wrote it, since I did a short (of course) version, it felt a lot like writing a triolet. Although I didn’t have long to explore the form, I had fun writing my draft.

First, I looked at my Poem Ideas document and picked this from earlier in the month:

10/7/22: Poem idea: ideas like fish swimming around in my head. I want them to be like the whales that pause and sleep hanging upside down in the vast ocean, still and drifting on waves of sleep. But instead they are like sharks, endlessly navigating my brain.

Then I did some rhyme brainstorming:

Sharks are swimming in my head


sperm whales/tales/tails/sails/trails/gales/veils/fails

And then I wrote! Here’s draft 2:

Also, no sympathy needed. I actually rarely have insomnia. It’s just that when I do, I am totally ticked off about it! Hehe.

Here’s what the rest of the crew did. Can’t wait to see what everyone (maybe you, too!) came up with.

Mary Lee


Click here to see all our previous Poetry Princesses collaborations. 

Also, you’re invited to our challenge in the month of November! Here’s the scoop: we’re creating recipe poems! Your choice of form, length, meter, or topic, but each poem will be an assemblage of elements, using recipe text/cooking instructions to create …something. From a recipe for disaster, to your favorite aperitif, you have a month to craft your creation and serve it forth on November 25th in a post and/or on social media with the tag #PoetryPals.And don’t miss the Poetry Friday Roundup, hosted this week by the wonderful Jone, who’s always sharing fabulous photos and poems!

Finally, Jone has the Poetry Friday Roundup here. I wish all students were lucky enough to benefit from the kind of poetry passion that Jone and other Poetry Friday teachers and former teachers share…




30 Responses

  1. I’ve had a couple of bouts of insomnia recently, and your poem nails what it’s like! I hate it when “my lullaby of numbers fails!” I also appreciate hearing about your process!!

  2. The poem about insomnia definitely spot-on. Have had my own share of 3 A.M. rousings lately, Laura, and you wonderfully captured the feeling of circling sharks. I hope things are resolved in Florida!

    1. Hi Tunie–good to see you here! You deal with so much. And it’s so frustrating because we need to be well-rested to cope with all the other stuff! Wishing you sweet sleeps…

  3. More and more I have the “thoughts like sharks” swimming in my head. I turn to melatonin most nights. Sleep is so important to an overall feeling of health. This poem is just right and adds a bit of humor and lightheartedness to an irritating problem.

  4. ha! You captured the dreadful self-defeating circling of insomnia perfectly—I’m not asleep, why am I not asleep? I want to be asleep, go to sleep! The stalking, the helpless floating.…you’ve nailed it, my friend. I hope you sleep in a safe cove the next several nights!

    1. Sadly, still coughing my way through the night. But waking up from that isn’t as annoying as not being able to get to sleep for no good reason, so I guess there’s that?

  5. Laura, I am sorry that you are feeling ill and the insomnia makes you even more exhausted. I know the feeling of insomnia. I thrash around also. Your dansa is clever and aptly describes the endless time spent whirling around in a sea of unending thoughts. Thanks for sharing this poem and process that can be a wonderful mentor text and background matter on insomnia. I really enjoy writing dansas but it isn’t easy. I kept coming back to my poem. When a new thought popped, I’d have the rhyming dictionary as a resource.

  6. I read this before I went to sleep last night (or tried to) and couldn’t stop thinking about it. I think you’ve found perfect examples here and I love the comparison of the shark and the whale.

    1. Thank you, Tricia. I do think of whales as dreamy and comforting (except for orcas), and I think of sharks as foreboding. So I was liking my comparisons, too, for once!

  7. I’m just in awe of your ability to continue the sea metaphor throughout the poem. Not an easy feat, but it works perfectly. I’ve never written a dansa, but it will now be added to my list of forms to experiment with. Glad you are back and hopefully feeling better.

    1. Thanks, Rose. Nope, still sick. Ugh. But thanks for the nice words. I’ll look forward to seeing what you create when you get around to a dansa. I’d like to do more, I think.

  8. As a frequent insomnia the blood in the water is — *chef’s kiss* — perfect. If only the stupid things would just settle, but NO, thoughts just act like they have to keep moving in order to survive. Ugh. I love how you provided a breakdown of your process — I didn’t really HAVE one this time, but I like how you put your rhyming words out there.

    1. Thanks, Tanita! Happy to have the insomniac’s seal of approval–haha. I often start with the rhyming words when there’s any form I’m going to need more than just pairs of rhymes for…

  9. As someone who experiences insomnia quite often, I can relate to your poem. “thoughts, like sharks…” so true, so true! Great poem, Laura!

  10. Oh yes, I know those insomnia sharks well (sigh). Your poem says it all. Sorry to hear about the recent respiratory infection. Take care. xo

  11. It sounds like a very messy week, Laura. I am in awe that you managed a poem that speaks so well to anyone who experiences insomnia. I too, love the truth that “My lullaby of numbers fails-”. Hope all is more settled now.

  12. Insomnias no fun especially when your sick and need that sleep ????. Your poem captures that sense of ????‍???? weary so well and places us smack in the middle and of those awful preying ????. Hope you’re feeling better soon! And thanks for your terrific poem Laura!

  13. I’m fighting insomnia right now too, Laura! It’s so tough. Also aging parents and serious discussions are hard — been there done that. And, I’m sure I’ll be doing it again in the future. My folks are in NY and are 86 and 85. Not for the faint of heart is right! But, as usual your poetry is beautiful and spot on. Thanks!

  14. Appreciations for bringing us thru your poem-creation process for the monthly Sisters creative gig. And the result, so elegant, the metaphors & ideas. A flap & slap of the sea, for thee.

    And please heal as quick as can be from that Flori-dud or Flori-duh! adventure. Wrangling our way thru the housing/medical system for elders requires a Ph.D in what : gerontology, perhaps! Plus a few other specialties. Good luck to them & to you, sweet talented Laura who deserves to be floating on a sweet, calm seatop. XO

    1. [p.s.Laura, about Scotland & your GREAT avian photo.
      Were you by any chance at well-regarded Highlands Manor & Lands? My creative wriring/kidlit partner & dear longtime pal & hubby [ naturalists] visited 3 great Scotland regions in October. Isle of Aaran, the borderlands, near a historic area that began with S, & this Manor Field Station & Lands operated by a Scottish nature author who is a Lord & his wife, a Cordon B. ‑trained chef & a Lady. Made me want to levitate there posthaste!


      1. Oh, meant to reply earlier. We were in Cairngorm National Park, staying at Dalmunzie Castle Hotel, and we had Elite Falconry come up and do the falconry with us. Amazing! I would like to go to all the places your friends went to, too, though!

  15. Laura, I am frequently urging teachers to share their process with young writers and your post brings your personal process to the reader’s attention. The journey is often unique to each writer/poet, but provides such insight to less experienced writers. While insomnia is an unwelcome visitor, it has delivered your poem to the world, and that is something of a delight.

  16. I love it! I’ve been stuck in a triolet track lately. Just can’t climb out of it. LOL. But, it’s ok. It’s serving me well in this super busy month of school and prep for my state professional conference…insomnia has been biting me too. Now, I need to think of whales — what a beautiful image! And the combination of aging and family is NOT for the wimpy. It’s as challenging as teen years. Hugs to you in the growing pains.

  17. I hope your are on the mend. I feel very lucky that insomnia doesn’t show up often (other than sometimes my brain doesn’t want to turn off.

  18. The circling sharks! What an apt metaphor for the swirling thoughts that can lead to insomnia. Love that!

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