David Harsent: ‘After a night’s sleep there are dreams to transcribe – their images endure’

The author on dreaming white landscapes, the dangers of Lycra-clad cyclists and why it’s faster to write a libretto than poetry

What I have to hand when I wake depends on my dream-feed. I don’t sleep much. If I’ve had a white night – not uncommon; not troubling, either – there won’t be dreams in store. If I’ve had something akin to what people call “a good night’s sleep”, which for me is five or six hours, there will be dreams that I’ll transcribe, then walk away; at this stage in the game they are best abandoned. Images endure, or some sense of the atmosphere of a dream: its barometric pressure. Recently, I’ve been dreaming white landscapes, sometimes as observer, sometimes as fugitive.

I handed the manuscript of Salt to Faber in September last year. Turning in a new collection almost invariably leads to a fallow period. A few days ...