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Juicy Journals & Wild Words
Juicy Journals & Wild Words : Creating a Poet's Journal (Part I)

Juicy Journals & Wild Words

Postcards from the Realm of the Sublime: Creating a Poet's Journal (Part I)

By Molly J. Anderson-Childers

As a poet and artist, I have learned that inspiration can find you anywhere. When the Muse comes knocking, it's best to be prepared when you answer her call. How many times have you "lost" a poem simply because you didn't write it down right away. "I'll remember it later," you promise yourself, only to forget about it entirely. A poet's journal is a valuable tool — a catch-all for the notes and phrases and word-lists and something funny your cousin said last week; a sort of lost-and-found department for pieces of writing that may yet become poems. A faded old map that will surely lead to buried treasure.

Poetic License

Find a small, portable notebook that fits easily into your pocket or bag. I prefer a small hardbound journal, or a tiny spiral notebook. Invest in a couple of nice pens. Carry these things everywhere with you for a week, and take every opportunity to write everything that comes your way. Long line in the grocery store? Just enough time to scribble down a short poem! Waiting for you laundry to come out of the dryer at the Laundromat? Perfect! That'll give you time to work on that new short story. Stuck in traffic? Write a few notes about that short story you've been wanting to work on, or call yourself at home and leave a message to remind yourself to write down that crazy dream you had last night.

These are the tools of your trade. The point of this exercise is to get comfortable using these tools in different circumstances and situations — in short, to write in places you wouldn't normally do so. The ultimate goal is to become so comfortable writing that you can write under any circumstances, no matter how chaotic. Try it for two weeks, then a month. Carry this journal everywhere with you, until it feels more natural to take it along than to leave it behind.

Once you've become comfortable with your new tools, and have a better sense of focus, you will be able to write in public without feeling too self-conscious. Keep practicing until you don't feel strange at all. This may take years! The important thing is to continue to practice, even if we are not experts at it right away.

When you're able to write in public without fear of reprisal, the real fun begins. Listen in on funny conversations and write them down. These scraps of dialogue may just find a home in your next poem or short story! Describe the people, places and events around you — try for thick description and fresh, original detail. "The man with sad brown seal-pup eyes…" "Her voice like fake gold earrings, jangling…" "The exasperated waitress wants to scream, but smiles instead." This is the stuff poetry is made of.

Use a favorite poem, quote, or song as a jumping off point for your own work. This can be a fun way to play with words and get inspired on a rainy day. For example, a few days ago, a fan sent me this poem in an email, in response to a blog entry I'd done about my book, Stealing Plums:

This Is Just To Say…

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox
and which
you were probably
for breakfast
Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

— William Carlos Williams

In response, I crafted this little piece… (Many apologies to William Carlos Williams!)

This Is Just To Say…

I have eaten
the banana bread
in our bed
and which
probably scattered crumbs
all over
the sheets
Forgive me
it was delicious
drenched in butter
but messy

— Molly Anderson-Childers

It is important to take poetry seriously; it is also important to have play with words, to have a little fun with your work. I had a great time crafting that little poem; it may not be a masterpiece, but I enjoyed myself. It loosened up my pen a little, and allowed me to go on and write the next thing, and the next thing, and the next. Exercises like this one can help you warm up before attacking a difficult piece, or working out a complicated theme.

What else belongs in a Poet's Journal? Inspiring photographs can help elicit writing; paste a few in at random, and create poetry that ties in with these images. Magnetic poetry kits, word lists, blank tickets with words printed on the backs, and word-pools are all excellent places to go fishing for inspiration. To make your own word-pool, draw a pool or fish-bowl on one page of your journal. Then, fill it up with words and drawings of sea creatures! The next time you're stuck for a particular word, drop a line into the word-pool. What you catch may surprise you!

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