Turn a Journal Entry into a Poem
by Lynda McKinney Lambert
Are you having trouble trying to get a poem started?
Does it seem like you are looking at a blank wallwhen nothing comes into your imagination?
Those are the times when I begin to think in a different way. Instead of looking at the moment, I will metaphorically turn around and look backwards for my inspiration. This works magic for me, usually.
Writers often discover treasures for writing poems and other literary pieces when they look back into history. They seek out additional insight and information on something they think is interesting. You may want to try this method, too. Look into your thoughts or ideas, something that seemed curious about. Don’t you just want to know more about that thing that captured your attention as you wrote in your journal?. Just one little detail or one image can lead you to unearth some fine gems in your own writing. Why not give it a try!
This one way of working that inspired some of my best pieces. Typically, I keep a travel journal on my trips. I make sketches of interesting things I encountered and I write short notes from day to day as I record my experiences. My travel journals later become the raw material I looked back into long after I returned home. The things I find there can be exciting new revelations, or even unexpected surprises. Sometimes I can see things much better after I have been away from my journal for some time.
Let me provide you with an example of one of my journal reflections that gave me information I could use to write a poem.
On a lovely summer day as I enjoyed the fragrance of the fully blooming roses in a formal garden in Salzburg, Austria, I was thinking about hoe I would remember this place. I had my journal with me, and began to jot dow a few notes. The famous Mirabell Gardens was a place where I vitied so often during my summers there as a college professor who taught a course called, “Drawing and Writing in Salzburg.”
I wrote some quick notes about the palace – it’s location in the center of Salzburg, and the fascinating Archbishop who commissioned the building of the palace for his mistress and their many children. I used a basic ball-point pen to make a few line drawings of various aspects of the architecture, the gardens, and the fortress on the mountain top that overlooked the palace.
Later, I looked into some historical notes on this intriguing story. The people who had lived in this magnificent palace became so real to me that I began to imagine their lives in a personal way. This story did not have a happy ending. The Archbishop eventually make so many political enemies that he was eventually arrested and imprisoned in the fortress dungeon where he spent the remaining years of his life. He died in prison in the fortress, high above the city, overlooking his palace. His mistress, Salome Alt, fled with their children to Wels, another city where they were safe.
You can do a little scribble drawing, take some quick photos, or jot down some descriptive notes in a journal. Later, when there is more time to think it over, use those thoughts and images when you craft a poem. It only takes a few visual or text notations to awaken memories.
Turning Journal Notes into a Poem:
Explore the HISTORY:
Consider the history of the place and the people who inhabited it.
Write down some historical notes. They can be made on location as you are visiting a place and that is the best way to begin. Later, when you are back home you can do some additional research to gain even more information to set the stage for the historical context.
Example from my journal:
Mirabell Palace, sits like a jewel in the heart of Salzburg, Austria. It was originally called Altenau, was built in 1606 by the Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau as a home for his mistress Salome’ Alt and their children. The famous Mirabell Gardens surround the palace. Fischer von Erlach designed them . On the grounds are stone sculptures that are perched on the pillars on each side of the gates as you enter the palace grounds. They are massive, much larger than life. They are depictions of mythological heroes. In other places you can find sculptures such as unicorns, a Pegasus fountain, gloriously blooming flowers spilling from large urns and a magical rose garden all enclosed by local wrought ironwork.
The stone urns sit atop the pilasters that surround the lush gardens. Each urn seems like it is literally spewing glorious flowers like a waterfall they are bursting forth from the urns. I sit and make pencil sketches of the urns. Each one is different from the others; each has a different design. All are massive.
Wolfe spent the final six years of his life imprisoned in Hohensalzburg Fortress which overlooks the city of Salzburg. The fortress prison was his destiny as he was held prisoner until his death in 1612.”
Look over your notes and think about bringing something to life from this place and the people who lived there. What do you think they might have been like?
Example from my journal:
When I walked through the mansion, and sat in the gardens, I thought of the love that a man had for a woman and the children they had together. Because Wolfe was an Archbishop, marriage was not permitted for them Yet, she was clearly his mistress. She bore 13 children to him. The Mirabell Palace was built for her and the children.
When I learned that Wolfe was imprisoned for the final 6 years of his life, I began to think of what might have been going through his mind in the prison dungeon as he thought of his beautiful mistress and their children. He would never be with them again.
I have imagined Wolfe may have smuggled love notes to Salome’ during those six years of imprisonment. The focus I would choose to write about would be the imaginary love notes he sent to her.
My poem developed, as I wrote a series of tiny “love notes” from Wolfe to Salome’ – Here is what developed, in the poem “Salome’s Garden.”
I chose to write each “note” using the Haiku form. It’s often used to express love. Below, you can read the poem I developed from journal notes, my memories, imagination, and history.
(Haiku notes from Wolfe, smuggled from prison)
IIf we could measure
The length of our time on earth
Before we began the journey
I would have hoped
for golden days alone,
in the garden
Pegasus can fly
When waxed begonias bloom in
Is our garden lush?
Yellow marigolds touched by
Morning’s cool damp mist?
Do our marble stairs
Come to life during the night
When the putti dance?
The orangerie waits
Near the end of the garden
Hidden, out of view.
The scent of roses
Permeated my cell tonight
Just before twilight.
“Salome and Wolfe”
We danced down pink marble stairs
Hot candles flickered.
Lions guard our steps
To the secret garden path
Where the dwarfs carouse.
Created putti to frolic
On pink marble crests.
I miss your soft touch
Long to be near you at the
End of my journey
You are my crown jewel
In the snow that melts away
Everything I touch.
When our garden fades
Icy frost covers windows
I will remember you.
Our children will dance
In gardens we created