Ledger of the head’s transactions,
log of the body’s voyage,
it rides all day in a raincoat pocket,
ready to admit any droplet of thought,
nut of a maxim,
narrowest squint of an observation.
It goes with me
to a gallery where I open it to record
a note on red and the birthplace of Corot,
into the tube of an airplane
so I can take down the high dictation of clouds,
or on a hike in the woods where a young hawk
might suddenly fly between its covers.
And when my heart is beating
too rapidly in the dark,
I will go downstairs in a robe,
open it up to a blank page,
and try to settle on the blue lines
whatever it is that seems to be the matter.
Net I tow beneath the waves of the day,
giant ball of string or foil,
it holds whatever I uncap my pen to save:
a snippet of Catullus,
a passage from Camus,
a tiny eulogy for the evening anodyne of gin,
a note on what the kingfisher looks like when he swims.
And there is room in the margins
for the pencil to go lazy and daydream
in circles and figure eights,
or produce some illustrations,
like Leonardo in his famous codex –
room for a flying machine,
the action of a funnel,
a nest of pulleys,
and a device that is turned by water,
room for me to draw
a few of my own contraptions,
inventions so original and visionary
that not even I — genius of the new age –
have the slightest idea what they are for.
from Picnic, Lightning
1. Reread Billy’s poem and notice the small details he records in his journal: a color, a date, a doodle, a flash of wing, a quotation, a worry, a random fraction of an idea. Turn to a fresh page in your journal, and quickly write down a list of what comes to mind — snippets of thought, things you can see without leaving your chair. Take no more than 5 minutes for this first exercise.
2. Take your journal, a smaller notebook, or a folded piece of paper and something to write with, wherever you go for this week. Take it with you from room to room. Haul it with you to the grocery store. Place it beside your bed when you sleep. Vow to go nowhere without it. And use it all the time. Consider it a grab bag or a dust pan; sweep up and save as much as you can. Like Billy’s “net [towed] beneath the waves of the day,” use your journal to capture as much of your week as you possibly can. Don’t be afraid of being thought eccentric. You are the new Leonardo of your neighborhood!
3. When the week is over, look back over what you have written. Mark the words, images, passages, that strike you on this rereading. Is there anything there you’d forgotten? Anything you’d like to write more about? Pick at least 3 pieces of your writing that you will expand upon. Don’t consider this as a “creative writing” exercise (unless you really choose to); instead, use this as an opportunity to e-n=l-a-r-g-e your thoughts and feelings.