You’re Invited to The 3:15 Experiment’s 20th Anniversary Party August 1-31, 2013 3:15am
(Note: Last summer my doctoral fieldwork was on the 3:15 Experiment; below is one of the papers I wrote on the topic illustrated with some of my 3:15 poems that were published in ArtLife Limited Editions. This year, my fieldwork is on Burning Man which takes place during the last week of the 20th anniversary of the Experiment. Everyone is invited to give it a whirl!)
“Even sleepers are workers and collaborators in what goes on in the Universe.” Heraclitus.
“For it is here, where we stand, that we should try to make shine the light of the hidden divine life.” Martin Buber (2006, p. 38)
“Remember here that the “word” in our culture is inked in black, and this selection of color for ink may be more than merely convenient and efficient. The very blackness of the linked letter supports its indelible fixity and the cursing power of literalism.” James Hillman (2010, p 93)
In 2013, the 3:15 Experiment celebrates its 20th anniversary as an annual “collective consciousness” ritualistic writing experiment where poets from around the globe wake every August morning at 3:15am to write poetry: “writers searching for words from another place” (Dinsmore & Alley, 2006, p. xv). By exploring hypnogogic and hypnopompic states (between sleeping and waking), this experimental exercise challenges writers, and goes beyond the individual act to provide insight into the collective sleeping/dreaming mind to create an epic conversation through an unusual ritual that is individual yet collaborative, disciplined yet open. (Read the text of “Man Ray Kitty Jumps” and see a larger image here.)
On the Experiment website, poet Anne Waldman described the 3:15 Experiment as an act that “alters the lone-voice-in-the-dark-night-of-void mode by being a group assault on time, a break of time, a writing for time, a writing outside time, a writing in time, writing above or below time, and to the north, south, east & west of time.” Twenty year participant Jen Hofer stated, “There is a sense of camaraderie across time and distance and process. There is process and idea clapped together, and the reverb off that clap” (Dinsmore & Alley, 2006, p. xi). Originally primarily an experiment in states of consciousness and writing, participants recorded what was happening during “3:15am mind” with the idea of discovering what connections would be made while writing separately, but together, at the same time for a month while under hypnogogic/hypnopompic influences.
The experiment is now an international movement of poets waking just enough to write then sharing online their 3:15 poems with the opportunity to discover other participant’s 3:15 minds through their unedited poetry published online, and in two anthologies with a third underway.
The 3:15 Experiment started in 1993 at Naropa University when performance poet Danika Dinsmore was working on her Masters Thesis on states of consciousness and the writing process with a focus on Bernadette Mayer’s work in experimental poetry. Mayer, one of the original contemporary experimental poets, suggested to Dinsmore that they “do” an experiment, not just talk about ones from the past. Interested in developing and participating in a writing experiment that took place in an altered state of consciousness that was not narcotically induced, they came up with a middle-of-the-night-between-sleeps ritual to connect the waking with the dream world by writing in a hypnogogic/hypnopompic state to discover how it would guide the language of the writing. They decided to write at 3:15am every night that August and to invite other women poets to join them. In addition to Mayer and Dinsmore, the first year included Jen Hofer (then a graduate MFA student at Iowa State University, now the author of several books of poetry and a faculty member at Cal Arts), LeeAnne Brown who was teaching at Naropa, (now the author of many poetry books and faculty at St Johns University in New York), plus Myshel Prasad and Kathleen Large.
In the early years, the Experiment was by invitation only, and for women only; in 1999, Paul Nelson (living then in Auburn, WA) was the first male invited to participate. Also in 1999, Dinsmore, Hofer, Mayer, and Brown served on a panel at Naropa University about the Experiment; all who attended, men and women, were eager to join and so were invited, opening up the Experiment. Albert DeSilver of The Owl Press (2001) subsequently published a book of 3:15 writings by the four original poets who served on the panel. Organized by date with no mention of the year and only the writer’s initials to mark authorship, the anthology emphasized the collective and collaborative nature of the experiment. In his introduction, publisher DeSilver wrote,
I was irresistibly delighted by the impassioned reverence for that middle hour of 3:15—how it so wonderfully bloomed forward the raw truth no matter how groggy the writer…Each entry equally capable of reconfiguring your poetic clock, and bringing you back to the wide-eyed instant, the irrepressible moment, the divine urgency of the “here and now” in all its raw beauty (i).
In 1999, Tod McCoy created The 3:15 Experiment website (http://www.315experiment.com) taking the Experiment public and providing a place for participants to share their work with each other and the world. As more people found out about the Experiment, Dinsmore, Hofer, and Mayer invited them to join.
In 2000, I met Dinsmore and McCoy at the Taos Poetry Circus, and in 2001, Dinsmore invited me to participate in the 3:15 Experiment. I wrote most nights that August and in December 2001, I published one of my 3:15 poems as a broadside with art in the limited edition publication ARTLIFE, and subsequently published many more poems there and in other publications. In 2006, with the assistance of Hofer and McCoy, Dinsmore and I co-edited a 3:15 Experiment poetry anthology between sleeps (en theos press) with selected work from 1993-2005 by 24 poets writing from various time zones. In order to heighten the choral aspect of the Experiment and to showcase the location of the poets and not the poets themselves, the anthology offers an experiment in reading: poems are organized by day and by year, not by poet. Following the publication of between sleeps, I organized a 3:15 Fiesta in Ventura, California which included workshops, panels, and readings with a dozen of the poets in attendance. A weekend of events followed 18 months later in 2007 at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur. At the various readings and workshops, we encouraged people to explore writing in non-narcotic altered states of consciousness and invited anyone interested to join the Experiment.
As the website became more automated, anyone who wanted could join the Experiment and post their poems. The site now hosts thousands of poems written by over one hundred poets at 3:15am. With the advent of a Facebook group, the Experiment has attracted 120 members interested in discovering and exploring their own 3:15 mind as well as the collective and collaborative experiment. In 2012, 30 people RSVP’d to a Facebook invitation to participate; it is hard to know how many people followed through to write because every year people participate but fail to transcribe or post their poems on the website.
As 2013 is the 20th anniversary of the Experiment, Dinsmore wanted to mark the event with a gathering of 3:15 Experiment poets, a reading of 3:15 poetry, and a discussion of the future of the experiment, including an anthology, a panel in 2014 at AWP (see proposal in addendum), and a 2014 summer session at Naropa. Since Dinsmore, Nelson, and McCoy as well as a number of other 3:15 Experiment poets all live in the Pacific NorthWest, we decided to meet in the Seattle area and do a series of events on June 2, starting at 3:15am.
In a marvelous moment of synchronicity, we learned from Nelson that June 1-2 would be the 12th Annual Allen Ginsberg Poetry Marathon, an event that Dinsmore co-founded with Nelson. Subsequently, Dinsmore, McCoy, Nelson and I were booked to read from 2:30-3:15am, to lead a 3:15am writing experiment, and then to host an open mic of work written in that moment. Dinsmore and I spent many hours on Skype coordinating these events and creating Facebook invitations for anyone in the world to join us in writing at 3:15am and 3:15pm Pacific Standard Time as well as the other events for locals. We made arrangements for Hofer to skype in (she was too under the weather to join us). I wrote a blog post to publicize June 2’s brunch to discuss the future of the experiment, and a living room open mic with a writing experiment at 3:15pm.
In the early hours of June 2, Dinsmore, McCoy, Nelson and I had an audience of about a dozen poets, some in chairs, some lying on the ground on carpets or wrapped in quilts.
At 3:15am, following our reading where we also discussed the process as well as reading the products of the experiment, I passed out a handout I’d created that listed the rules of the Experiment. It is easy to participate in the 3:15 Experiment; over the years, the guidelines have mutated very little. The basic rules ask participants to engage a part of the mind not normally activated when writing and to ride that hypnogogic / hypnopompic wave between waking and sleeping / sleeping and waking to discover what words want to be written. Some have described the Experiment as being similar to automatic writing; Jen Hofer (in Dinsmore & Alley, 2006) wrote:
The text returns to us or we to it.
to dream of spaces between ferris wheels
& slats of wood.
to lasso resistance
and get on with it.
to get along. (p. xv)
I’ve written a number of 3:15 Experiment poems about the experience of writing in the middle of the night including the following from August 18, 2006 at 3:15am which I read during the Ginsberg marathon:
something about writing the date at 3:15am
makes you feel how fast the days go by
it’s not the same as writing the date
on a check–too many distractions
perhaps it is the malodorous whiff
of the passage of time itself
experienced by marking time
night after night in the
quiet breath of 3:15am
on the one hand opportunity
for grace for words not your own
to spill forth & trouble the page
on the other the terrible temptation
to turn off the alarm & turn over
each night an opportunity gained & lost
each night an opportunity briefly weighed
as light goes on
as pen touches down
as date is recorded
as seconds tick by
as cool night air flows in &
transforms into breath & words
that may or may not
make it to the page
be birthed into the world
be remembered be shared
be driven into day
they belong only to that silent moment
eyes close head body hand pauses
poem takes flight
words do not always belong
to the Wright Brothers
but instead to the dodo
Dinsmore has also written on this theme: “It’s like playing your favorite numbers in the lottery—the day you stop, you wonder if you could have struck it rich?” (p. xv).
In some years, Experiment participants wrote at times other than 3:15am; for example, in 1999, they practiced hypnogogic writing at midnight and noon and in other years, participants wrote at the same time across time zones so everyone was writing at the same time. On the website, participants are invited to post about their process as well as their products. In 1999, Dinsmore wrote,
This year I used a small journal, so the poems are short-lined, tend to move. much writing in the dark at midnite, so spacing not particularly representative of the breath. lots of people, mostly men, in and out of my real and dream life. much deals with several relationships simultaneously. sometimes combining them into one HIM. several got too long and rambly, so I have put * marks where I removed portions of text. everything else remains unedited, including the unintentional spacing. definitely preferred writing at midnite; noon found myself distracted, especially when at work.
As key members of the Experiment agreed that 3:15am was the best time to connect with the collective consciousness and to ride that creative wave between sleeps, we encourage all participants to write at that time. However, following a discussion on the matter during brunch the day after the Ginsberg Marathon, we determined that what is more important than writing at the same time is writing in the altered state of consciousness that comes between sleeps.
During the Experiment, participants may write any length, style, form, content, voice, or rhythm; the most important rule of the 3:15 Experiment is that the work remain raw and unedited, straight from 3:15 mind. Later, participants may edit, collage, or break apart the poems for whatever purpose they choose, but we request to share the raw work with the rest of the group on the website once the experiment is over. Some participants do choose to move from the hypnopompic writing state to an editing state before going back to sleep; typically, these are people uncomfortable with sharing their unedited work or prefer formal poetry, writing in meter.
We advise participants not to reread, review, or share the work until the end of the month, staying in the moment throughout the experiment, writing without hesitation or review, discovering what might be there. Many writers prefer not to read or type up their work at all until the month is over. In this way, the experiment is not disrupted and the mind does not switch to editing mode during the month. Enjoy the surprise collection and journey of August after it is over! In 2012 members of the Facebook 3:15 Experiment Group called it “Christmas” and counted down the days until they could peek at their “presents.” It is very common to forget what was written during the experiment. The closer the participant is to a sleeping state while writing the more likely the participant is to forgetting what was written. The advent and popularity of social media has seen the rise of poets sharing their 3:15 poems “early” on the group’s Facebook page or on personal blogs. While good reasons remain to hold off on reading and sharing the work until after the Experiment is over, participants are free to conduct the Experiment as they desire. It is, after all, their writing and their experiment.
Similar to recording dreams, participants are encouraged to stay in bed until they are done writing because the point is to ride the dream state, that precarious point between sleeping and waking and sleeping, as long as possible. Many poets nod off in the middle of writing. Participants are also discouraged from using a computer because this disrupts the altered state; using handwriting at 3:15am disrupts the moment less and maintains the physical connection between the mind and the hand (as encouraged by writing teachers and creativity experts including Goldberg in Wild Mind and Cameron in The Artist’s Way). Sennet (2008) wrote:
Two centuries ago, Immanuel Kant casually remarked, “The hand is the window on to the mind.” Modern science has sought to make good on this observation. Of all our limbs, the hands make the most varied movements, movements that can be controlled at will. Science has sought to show how these motions, plus the hand’s different ways of gripping and the sense of touch, affect the ways we think. (p. 149)
In a June 2013 conversation on and offline, Dinsmore said that in 2006, the year her dad died, her mind was processing the grief through her fingers, through her writing, in a semi-conscious recording in this hypnogogic/hypnopompic state, sometimes not even remembering what she wrote the night before (or that she wrote at all). She suggested that that could be said for any and all of our 3:15am work–that it’s processing our days and our dreams. She finds it fascinating that at 3:15am the hand physically does this work of communication even as we are unaware of it. While some dream tenders recommend using tape recorders to track dreams (for example Aizenstat in Dream Tending or Nelson in Nightwing), as far as I know, no 3:15 Experiment poets to date have used this technology.
At the Ginsberg marathon, after a brief review of the rules, about 16 of us pulled out paper and a pen to write. Participants could share their work or not; many of them did. (See addendum for poems written June 2, 2013 by Dinsmore, Nelson, and Potter). Van Franz (1992) explains that “[I]n a synchronistic event something happens materially and psychically, coincides, and is united by a common meaning” (p. 162). Jung points out that causality “consists essentially in the succession of cause and effect. For this reason synchronistic phenomena cannot in principle be associated with any conceptions of causality” (in Cambray p. 20). Meaningful coincidences happen all the time; we just don’t know or notice them. Having the Ginsberg Marathon happening in Seattle where Nelson and McCoy live on the same weekend that I could fly in from LA and Dinsmore could bus in from Vancouver so that we could converge in Seattle was more than just luck; it was synchronicity, a meaningful coincidence. We were able to share our work, our process, and our project with a very interested audience and we were all able to write together at 3:15am, an activity that Dinsmore had longed for for years. If we pay attention and seek to see through the seemingly mundane, the banal of everyday life, we discover the meaning, we can make beauty: “when we are dulled, bored, an-esthetized, these emotions of bleakness are the reactions of the heart to anesthetic life in our civilization, events with out gasping—mere banality. The ugly now is whatever we no longer notice, the simply boring, for this kills the heart” (Hillman, 1981, p. 63).
Watkins wrote that for Hillman “seeing through” can be accomplished by “being-with,” by listening, by noticing the metaphors and images that surround us because they provide clues or insights into deeper meanings (Watkins, 2012, p. 419). Seeing through can counteract the “deprivation of intimacy with the immediate environment” (Hillman in Watkins 2012 p. 419).By being-with the world through a depth engagement of noticing , we can see through the world in an archetypal, mythological, and poetic way. Corbin (1972) explained, “Active imagination is the mirror par excellence, the epiphanic place for the Images of the archetypal world. This is why the theory of the mundus imaginalis is closely bound up with a theory of imaginative function…[which] makes it possible for all universes to symbolize with each other” (p. 9). Writing at 3:15am puts the poet closer to a state of active imagination. Corbin also wrote that “the traveler…can only describe where he has been; he cannot show the road to anyone” (1972 p. 11). That’s what poets and writers do daily: they travel through the world, paying attention, describing where they have been. They often carry around paper and pen, taking note/s, ready to turn these observations, these synchronicities into poems, into meaning.
The 3:15 Experiment poets also pay attention in the middle of the night, going to the limits of the light, willing to “think at the edge” (Casey, 2012, p. 98). “Being in the world,” wrote Ed Casey (2012), “is going out on the edge of it” (p. 111).Orienting ourselves to how we live mythologically and metaphorically gets lost or repressed; Cushman (1995) argued that the self conforms to its historic time and place, and as Cushman made plain, it is not easy to subvert the dominant paradigm that exerts its mighty power to ignore the beauty of the world that surrounds us. However, some of us are realizing, following Corbin (1972), that there is more to the material world, there is “the world of the image, the mundus imaginalis: a world that is ontologically as real as the world of the senses and that of the intellect. This world requires its own faculty of perception, namely imaginative power, a faculty with a cognitive function, a noetic value which is as real as that of sense perception or intellectual intuition” (p. 7).At 3:15am, we are on the edge of waking and sleeping, we are released from the strictures and structures of the dominant paradigm—the editor sleeps—allowing us to experience active imagination, the anima mundi, to be more connected to the unconciousness, to a dream state yet aware enough to record as poetry what we notice. At 3:15am, “metaphors are more than ways of speaking, they are ways of perceiving, feeling, existing” (Hillman 1975, p. 156). While there is certainly a sacrifice of sleep, Kalshed (1996) reminds us that to sacrifice “means to ‘make sacred’” (p. 61).
In the sacrifice of sleep for the past 20 years, 3:15 Experiment poets make sacred and “rekindle imagination and find a world ensouled.” Writing in an altered state at 3:15 provides “a revisioning, a fundamental shift of perspective out of that soulless predicament we call modern consciousness” (Hillman, 1975, p. 3). We are seduced to the sacrifice of sleep by how we are able to see through and are provided with unexpected insights and poetry, enough so that poets like Dinsmore, Hofer, McCoy, Nelson, and I and many more return to the Experiment to write at 3:15am every August. In his essay “The Seduction of Black” Hillman (2010) pointed out, the “’word’ in our culture is inked in black, and this selection of color for ink may be more than merely convenient and efficient. The very blackness of the linked letter supports its indelible fixity and the cursing power of literalism” (p. 93). At 3:15am as we write, “each moment of blackening is a harbinger of alteration, of invisible discovery, and of dissolution and of attachments to whatever has been taken as dogmatic truth and reality, solid fact, or dogmatic virtue. It darkens and sophisticates the eye so it can see through” (Hillman, 2010, p. 89).
Buber, M. (2006). The way of man/Ten rungs. New York, NY: Citadel Press. (Pp. 3-40)
Casey, E. (2012). Quelle surprise! Going to the edge of things (with and for James Hillman). In S. Marlan (Ed.), Archetypal psychologies (pp. 97-112). New Orleans, LA: Spring Journal Books.
Cambray, J. (2009). Synchronicity: Nature and psyche in an interconnected universe. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press.
Corbin, H. (1972). Mundus imaginalis or the imaginary and the imaginal. Spring Journal, 1-19.
Cushman, P. (1995) Constructing the self, constructing America (pp. 1-209). Cambridge, MA. Perseus Publications.
DeSilver, A. (2001). The 3:15 Experiment. Woodacre, CA: The Owl Press.
Dinsmore, D. & Alley, G. (2006). Between sleeps. Seattle: En Theos Press.
Franz, M.-L. von. (1992). Psyche and matter in alchemy and modern science. In Psyche and matter (pp. 145-168). New York, NY: Shambala.
Hillman, J. (1975). Re-Visioning psychology. New York, NY: Harper and Row.
Hillman, J. (2010). The seduction of black. In Alchemical psychology (pp. 82-96). New Orleans, LA: Spring Publications.
Hillman, J (1981). The thought of the heart & the soul of the world. Dallas, TX: Spring Publications.
Hillman, J. (1983). Healing fiction. Dallas, TX: Spring Publications.
Kalsched, D. (1996). The inner world of trauma: Archetypal defenses of the personal spirit. New York, NY: Routledge.
Sennet, R. (2008) The Craftsman. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Watkins, M. (2012). Breaking the vessels: Archetypal psychology and the restoration of culture, community, and ecology. In S. Marlan (Ed.), Archetypal psychologies (pp. 414- 438). New Orleans, LA: Spring Journal Books.
Poems by Danika Dinsmore, Steve Potter
written at 3:15am June 2, 2013 (3:20-3:30am)
Allen Ginsberg Marathon, SPLAB, Spring Street Center, Seattle
I open the door to Allen’s image, our light
streaming into darkness shadowed sleepy poet eyes
but no one says stay out
A shock his face a blast of
memory has 20 years passed so casually
3 husbands 4 cats
not from my barren womb
something that pricks at me
some primal need to leave
a carbon copy behind
a small ear to whisper into
on sleepless summer nights
A small hand to lead somewhere – a fairyland, a car seat
like Allen I am childless
The Naropa lawn was strewn with the children of poets
I remember Anne’s Ambrose
running across the lawn that later housed
the Allen Ginsberg memorial library
The tent of poets long gone
The naked LSD battle banished in favour
of University accreditation
Bernie says What happened?
why can’t we draw on the trees?
Why can’t we pass out, pass around
trade hats like lovers
Oh, Naropa, you seem like a dream
someone else had and called it my life
Oh, Allen, you awkward little man
your left-sided lisp
your squint into the sun
your Blake tears
your days in the body done
If I did birth a child
I’d like it to be a reincarnated poet
someone to bring more love
into this world.
At 3:15 everything is possible
the wheel turns
the wheel turns
the wheel turns
oh sleepy wheel of fire
sputtering in the ear forest
among the gumball saints
and alley sharks of dead America
where the neon heroes drain the puddles
with Illinois senator intestine hoses
singing glory hallelujah to the moth farmers
beside the stinging lake of syrup
Addendum 2: AWP Proposal
Conference Event Proposal AWP 2014 Conference & Bookfair in Seattle
Submitted: 10:38 pm on Wed, 05.01.13
20 years of The 3:15 Experiment: Poetic Journeys In Altered States of Consciousness
Type of Event: Poetry Craft and Criticism
Event Description: In August 1993, at the Naropa Institute, Danika Dinsmore and Bernadette Mayer invited a handful of poets, including Jen Hofer and Lee Ann Brown, to a literary experiment in collective consciousness. After it went online in 2000, the experiment expanded its reach, and now, twenty years later, hundreds of poets from around the globe have woken at 3:15 AM every night in August to write. Learn how to join and discover why so many have chosen this path of transformative literary sleep deprivation.
Statement of Merit: How many collaborative writing experiments can claim to have lasted 20 years? What was it about Naropa, then Seattle, and the Internet that set the stage for this shifting menagerie of poets? From its roots in Dinsmore’s MFA thesis on Bernadette Mayer’s work, two anthologies, several books, and countless individual poems have been published. Many say participating in the experiment significantly changed their poetic lives as they wrote from this space of between sleep consciousness.
Category Tags: Craft Discussion – Poetry – Feminist – Pedagogy – Professional Development – Reading – Regional Focus – Tribute
First Name: Gwendolyn Last Name: Alley
Email Address: email@example.com Organization: Pacifica Graduate Institute
Professional Designation: Adjunct Professor Gender: Female
Audio-Visual Requests AV Needs: Internet AV Statement of Need: It would be great to access the internet to show the 3:15 Experiment website and examples of the work there. If Bernadette Mayer is unable to travel due to health concerns, we would like to have her via the internet (a video or possibly skype her in. This would be wonderful but not necessary to the success of our session. We are tech savy and I teach in a “smart” classroom.
Moderator: Danika Dinsmore (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Participant: gwendolyn alley (email@example.com)
Participant: Paul Nelson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Participant: Bernadette Mayer (email@example.com)
Participant: lee ann brown (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Begin at 3:15 AM on August 1st or any day after. Continue each day until August 31. The idea is to write in a hypnogogic/hypnopompic (between sleeps) state of altered consciousness.
You may write any length, style, form, content, voice, rhythm, etc.
DO NOT EDIT your work. This is raw stuff, baby. That’s part of the experiment. You are welcome to edit, collage, break apart the poems later for whatever purpose you choose, but please SHARE THE RAW STUFF with the rest of the group here or on the website once the experiment is over.
(Optional) Do not read what you have written until the month is over, except to skim the work to make sure everything is legible.
September 1: Transcribe your scribbles. (Don’t edit!!)
Submit raw work to the 3:15 website on your own page. See what others have written in 2013 or previous years.