Life after Lumb Bank has felt chaotic with competing commitments, complicated by the fact that every single one of my pack of Irish girlfriends has an April birthday and there have been or will be four family birthdays, two significant landmark ones. Then there are the house guests arriving next Tuesday and the fact that writing women tend not to prioritize Spring cleaning until the prospect of visitors looms large. All this springtime activity is severely cut into my reading time.
When I returned from England I was confronted with a stack of Saturday Guardians from the three weekends I was gone that I have only managed skimming. I study the Saturday Review section for new titles that I want to put on reserve at the library. I also felt hungry for fiction reading when I got back but now I am reading more critically, noticing how different authors elide the narrative voices. Mostly, I’m noticing that many novels just have too many words in them. It costs a pound to reserve a book in Enniskillen Library; although living in Cavan I’m also eligible to have membership in Northern Ireland, which opens every single library in six counties! (I also have membership in counties Cavan and Leitrim; eight counties worth of literature SHOULD be enough to quench any woman’s thirst for reading matter one would think.) For someone with a prodigious reading appetite and small budget the reserve system is ideal so long as you are prepared to be patient. Some people idealise nurses as angels. My angels always are librarians!
I once attended a Masterclass given by Dermot Healy, a Cavan born poet and writer. One of his most memorable quotes from the weekend was that “to read is to write.” So all the while I am hoovering up fiction, poetry and life writing I tell my Beloved that I am actually writing. Or perhaps looking for inspiration to lead a workshop, as sharing the inspiration of Lumb Bank and Manchester is on the horizon.
I was in Cavan Town earlier this week and saw some of my Creative Colleague Crew at an evaluation meeting with Catriona and Emer, who organised the trip to the UK through Cavan County Council. The only negative comment on the project was a unanimous verdict on the dire ‘cuisine’ on offer in the hotel package in Manchester. Eating together was great for cohesion. Uniting in disgust over frozen vegetables gently dehydrating under heat lamps was probably never intended as a team building exercise. If there had been a dedicated vegetarian on the trip they would have suffered malnutrition. What we are preparing for now is the next phase where we will take our knowledge and the fruits of our writing activity into the wider community.
There will be a further phase where we will engage in public readings at the Johnston Library, or give workshops to various constituencies in Co. Cavan. Creative self-expression should be listed as a human right. The work of social inclusion often intersects with learning how to confidently flex one’s creative muscles. The means, or medium, for that creative self-expression can be in dance, making music, singing, painting, drawing, using fabric, beads, pen, ink. To create we exert some muscle – the breath in the diaphragm when we sing, the joints flexing as I tap this blog on my laptop, the twist and turn of sinew as a dancer lifts their leg, the photographer lifting shoulders and wrists balancing the camera to frame what they see. Making art is all about the body, even as I am reading the optic nerve and all the magic of light and shadow working the miracle of seeing and reading text on a screen, newspaper or paperback. In making art we are, in the words of poet David Whyte, “a body in full presence.”
Thank you, Sister Donna Marie
for teaching me how to read,
for translating the shapes
on the pretty frieze above the blackboard,
the curvature of vowels,
the ogham of consonants,
until the a for apple
became a whole world,
a globe spinning on the axis
of words, spilling
a swift course,
flooding the banks of the Nile
where I am Moses in the basket,
found and feted.
Thank you, Sister Donna Marie,
for giving me the power to hold back
oceans and for guiding me
to the very mouth
uttering the secret name of God.
Bee Smith sojourned in March 2014 with the Leonardo da Vinci Life Long Learning Programme “Developing Creative Practice Across Borders” to Yorkshire and Lancashire organised by the Cavan Arts and the Social Inclusion Unit offices. She is keeping up the new-found creative writing habit now she is back home in the wilds of West Cavan.