Get Happy

The week has been bookended by two storm systems. Storm Ciara wailed away last weekend. Storm Dennis is huffing and puffing in a kind of toddler tantrum way as I type the Sunday weekly poem post. A little turlough was forming from the overflow of our drainage ditch yesterday. Today’s high winds seem to be evaporating some of that local flooding. By all accounts, it has been a week to stay in and write. I have three new ones in the works and some more from past weeks that could have another look to see if there is some life in them. But the one I have chosen to share is hot off the notebook this morning.

I subscribe to the marvellous Maria Popova’s Brainpickings blog, a source of great information and cogitation. The poem today was sparked by a stray line she quotes from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “insistence on the moral obligation of happiness.” For more of that bracing stuff I refer you to https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/03/05/elizabeth-barrett-browning-happiness/?mc_cid=966870fe8e&mc_eid=54fa9531a9.

The ensuing poem is a mash up with memories from a childhood nurtured on winter Saturday television, entranced by the black and white films of the 1930s and the choreography of Busby Berkeley. In 1930, in the wake of the world economic crash and before the New Deal that began to address social welfare, Fred Koehler penned the lyrics of “Get Happy”, which Harold Arlen put to a tune that any evangelical revivalist meeting would find familiar. Its emergence at that particular point of social history is pertinent. Just like Gold Diggers of 1933 could end with the show’s ultimate Forgotten Man number that has”Brother Can You Spare Me A Dime” interleaved after all the lavish choreography of “We’re in the Money,” there is a lot of popular zeitgeist packed into the cultural artefacts of any period. But so, too, is a morality transmitted in those same artefacts. Elizabeth Barratt Browning would have seen a moral imperative in Koehler’s lyrics.

Get Happy
 
Happiness vaccinates,
even in the most homeopathic
of doses.
There is quiet joy in a bunch of tulips-
pink, white, mauve and deep purple –
presented
while winter storms howl and wail.
Consider, too, the resilience of garden croci
and snowdrops,
their white blooms piercing a glum day
clouded, shadowed, grimly
darkening.
 
Be happy. Sing and dance the day away,
even if it is only worth just
the ten cents.
Keep it up. In the intervals
massage your crushed toes and drink a long
glass of water.
Keep it up. Raise your voice no matter
if you think it’s out of tune. You can speak, so
keep it up.
Rise and rise, like the sun.
You know how to make your own fun.
Get happy!
 
Copyright © 2020 Bee Smith

If you want to check out the original inspiration of the poem and listen to Arlen and Koehler’s “Get Happy”, You Tube has a great Judy Garland version from 1950. https://youtu.be/2U-rBZREQMw.

For more thoughts to provoke removing the obstacles to happiness I refer you to the original Popova article https://www.brainpickings.org/2020/02/12/anne-gilchrist-walt-whitman-happiness/?mc_cid=966870fe8e&mc_eid=54fa9531a9

Divination

I am going to be taking a midweek dip into the archive to review some of the oldies from the year of consecutive 365 poems a day. This one still appeals to me.

Sojourning Smith

Still recuperating and finding mornings are on go slow. I am cutting myself some slack. Sometimes I don’t want to do this poetry practice. Or feel that it is impossible. There cannot possibly be anything more to say. I am out of words. But then there is some thought that I think I might be able to something with…but I beg indulgence.And will spare you the ruminations I started with this morning…”what is poetry actually for?!” under the headline…Squeezing the Pips…of Poetry.

Instead, this came out of the real poetry practice.

Divination

Diving deep into the deck
let me just ask some questions
of You, God.
Ones somewhere between
bone to pick
and petition.
There's the two big ones.
And what do You know
about money?
I mean, really...
How much change jangles
in God's pockets?
That's like asking
what is the sound
of a single clapping hand...

Which…

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We, Perceiving the Past Week

Normally, I would have written a poem earlier in the week and then buffed it up a bit by the time I come to post the Sunday Weekly Poem on this blog. This week has not been a normal week on so many levels. I spent a few days in bed with a severe cold. I lost my voice (a worry for a poet, who sees metaphors always lurking in the psychic underbrush.) I slept a great deal. I watched snippets of news as the history flickered across the screen. I felt stuck and unequal to writing anything.

In those times when the well is crying ’empty’ I sometimes turn to other’s words. This video clip I found on YouTube of Adrienne Rich reading her poem In Those Years seems to speak our times.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WXRSUQ7C8No. It will take less than a minute to watch, but it has been a touchstone for me this morning.

A storm has been tearing through our part of Ireland all yesterday evening, with the rain lashing and the wind huffing and puffing and, occassionally, roaring. It made for a restless night for me. It still has not expended all its energy. When I eventually emerged earlier today, I still had no clue what to write. I considered revamping something from last week’s workshop. But that seemed a bit feeble and lacking in moral fibre. Adrienne Rich was still rolling around my subconscious. So, it being the Sabbath, I turned to a text. Not from scripture, but from the alternative service as written by Emily Dickinson. I picked a card from my “Divining Poets: Dickinson” pack created by David Trinidad for Turtle Point Press. This is what Emily had to say to me this morning. (And though she was a recluse for much of her life, she had lived in Washington, DC for time when her father served in Congress, lived in the time of slavery and abolition debates, read despatches of a Civil War; though isolated, she didn’t need to visit a moor to be able to know a moorland landscape.)

Renown perceives itself

And that defiles the power

Emily Dickinson

 We, Perceiving the Recent Past

“ Renown perceives itself
And  that defiles the power.”
-          Emily Dickinson

This is us now. Or at the very least
the 70% who know we are no better,
and definitely worse than those beasts
that claw, purr, slobber, and wag the tail.
 
Idealists betrayed grow into cynics
who throw their principles out with
the baby bathed in the kitchen sink.
Because we all really bought into the myth.
 
Which may also account for how lawyers
seem to proliferate and we seek our day in court.
But they are much like those humble sawyers
buzz-sawing trees into planks to make into forts.
 
What shelter can be found when built of smoke
and mirrors by blinkered folk who love the roar
of the crowd, the greasepaint stroked
on clown face,  and sleight of hand candy store.
 
Bloated self-renown, the kind that thrives
in reality TV, defiles. The power, trapped
in the Fun House Hall of Mirrors, survives.
But the plate glass tower’s windows  are cracked
 
by the mournful pile of birds' corpses tossed
by gale force currents, whose beaks beat the glass,
their bodies’ evidence  of a reality without gloss,
left on the ground, hard and fast.
 
A single hand clapping makes no sound.
But it still can wave farewell to all the carnival clowns.
 
Copyright ©Bee Smith 2020. All rights reserved.
Emily Dickinson app'd
Emily – app’d

Featured image Photo by Josip I. on Unsplash

Brigid's Day Poetry Inspiration

The Sunday Weekly poem falls on the Christian feast of Candlemas. It is the day after St. Brigid’s Day, and, according to one bit of folklore, Brigid, aka the Mary of the Gaels, was midwife at Jesus’ birth in the manger.  The Gaels get metaphor and myth, so please do not try and figure out how a woman allegedly born around 450 AD was in attendance at a birth in 0 AD. Time travel of the literal, or sci-fi kind, does not enter into it. Or our Weekly Poem this week. Though St. Brigid, and her predecessor, the goddess Brighid, is the inspiration for the Weekly Poem.

Yesterday I had the honour and pleasure of co-facilitating a Day Retreat on the theme all things Brigid with my creative colleague, Morag Donald. Morag  is probably the only certified teacher of Touch Drawing™ practicing in the island of Ireland.  It’s a brilliant way of cutting through all your objections that you are not artistic, or can’t draw, are not visual or particularly creative.(Yes, dear Reader, I have been one of those people.) But each session always leads to a sense of surprise and discovery. Also, it’s fun. Like an adult version of finger painting, but I mean it in the sense that you are approaching it with the innocence of your child self.

Celtic Heart by Morag Donald http://moragdonald.com/

My session was a creative writing session that used Brigit themes and symbols associated with both saint and goddess . These are, I found in further research, myriad.  My own ‘sparks’ were not exhaustive.  Just take it as granted that both the goddess of myth and the feisty Abbess of Kildare are much beloved for being ‘nasty women’ who generally managed to spread the wealth around and have their way. (Plenty, or galor in Irish, is the same word for enough in Irish.) The eternal flame re-ignited by nuns in Kildare Town Square in 1993 has coincided with the slow, but inexorable rise in the esteem and self-esteem of women globally.  The Abbess of Kildare, St. Brigit, (also going as Bridget, Brede, Breege, Bríd, Ffraid, Bride) is invoked in labour wards, by the children of abusive fathers, and at LGTQ gatherings. She is matron saint of sailors, farmers, dairymaids, prisoners and judges, poets and scholars. She was fond of cows, sheep, poultry, and in a story I only just discovered this week, one who had a way with feral foxes. She is particularly classless in gathering all in her capacious mantle of compassion. The greedy generally bend to who will and behave better. But, most markedly, she was a canny woman to have navigated an increasingly patriarchal medieval world.   While the Abbess of Kildare obviously had the political skills of a ‘cunning hoor’ (as they say in Ireland), she also respected the wildness of the natural world. A mighty woman altogether, she managed to be ordained a bishop by chance (or the work of the Holy Spirit depending on how you want to read that story.)

While I did not have the scope of going into the technicalities of poetry making in the workshop I did stress that Jane Hirshfield says that good poems have the element of surprise in them.  By grabbing four symbol cards, I encouraged participants to try and make connections with all of them, even the really random ones and that these might be the building blocks of poem once they had more leisure at home.

This is what I made of these four symbols associated with St. Brigit:  poultry, cows, forges, printing presses.

Iron Eggs

A poker, red hot, plunged
into the enamel cup,
its iron mingling with milk
as a cure to settle the stomach,
or buck you up when you feel fairy frail
on days you walk around with one layer
less skin on your hide, contemplating
the embryo of alchemy.
 
Iron cast. Like a spell.
Or an egg of an idea pressed onto a page
by forge and fire before the digital age,
that tells a story one thousand fold and
more. The magic in the lore.
The miracle that begins with
just a spark from an ordinary hearth.
 
Copyright ©Bee Smith 2020

We had an afternoon of making non-traditional Biddy Dolls. It was an old custom in rural areas to make a kind of infant Baby doll Brigid, representing the new life of the earth, in doll form to bring into the house. But St. Brigid is all about adapting. It’s how she has remained a living presence, never quite culturally forgotten, in Ireland.

It is funny how things that we think are non-traditional actually turn up to have some sort of folkloric truth. The creative DNA never forgets. This watercolour shared with me by artist Amy Bogard (www.amybogard.com) is of St. Brigid holding two of her more traditional symbols, snowdrops and a flame. The little fox in her lap insisted on being in the picture. Amy went with her creative  instincts anyway although she was a bit bewildered. She asked me at the time if I knew anything about a fox and St. Brigid. I didn’t. And then! And then! Years later I discovered just this week this bit of Brigid folklore on this website. http://www.askaboutireland.ie/learning-zone/primary-students/looking-at-places/kildare/saint-brigid/legends-of-st.-brigid/. Who knows what archive of folklore yielded that nugget which is now preserved on the internet.

Amy also created the cover art for my ebook of praise poems to Brigid, both goddess and saint. Please check out her blog Micromovements. Support artists. We are collaborating, no matter the form our art takes. It is Brigid as the weaver of all creation made manifest.

Available as a Kindle on Amazon

Featured image of snowdrops, another Brigid symbol, Photo by Phil Hearing on Unsplash

It's An Other Thing

Really shifting gears with the theme of the Sunday Weekly Poem this week. Sometimes it is important to name what it is in the ether that is exhausting everyone. Because, have you noticed, that people do comment how exhausting life is these days? It’s just in the ether and on the air waves. So,without further ado, I shall just launch into the weekly poem and then let you go about your business and perhaps have a little cogitate.

An Other Thing
 
Your mentioning that
You’re not from around here,
that from the very sound of my tongue
you presume with your follow up,
Are you here on holiday?
Even though the items travelling down
the check-out conveyor belt
are the ordinary stuff you get on a weekly shop.
Your default setting is  narrow assumption.
I am in the line up for the mug shot and charged
She’s not one of us.
 
And othering is so exhausting.
 
Your mentioning about that one:
She’s too pale, too dark, too fat, too thin,
too flat, too curvy, too dumb, too smart.
It’s just about making someone else feel
unworthy.
It’s just a way of saying
You are not me! You are not mine.
And apart from it being boring
 
othering is so damn exhausting.
 
Your mentioning that:
I’m not comfortable
is a micro itch that’s getting
all fired up for a macro scratch
that can wind up into a major maul.
All because what you see
is not a mirror version of Me.
 
Yeah, othering gets so exhausting.
 
Your mentioning this stuff
makes it all about you and your envy.
Put downs don’t raise anyone up.
But I get that you’ve been raised
to think that life’s a big contest and
there’s only one who can Be Best!
Relax now, brother and sister, it’s not a test.
No one wants to rain down shame.
There’s room enough in this parade
for varieties of every shade.
 
But just saying:
Your insecurity is slipping.
And, by the way,
you’ve made it into
an othering thing
because someone else is
too much of the very thing
you’d like to be
 
and this othering is so very, very exhausting.
 
Copyright © 2020 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Featured image by Darius Bashar on Unsplash.

After the Poetry Marathon, the Work

…really begins. What I found out by writing a poem a day for 365 consecutive days was that I had stamina and focus. I could sit down and write longhand and then transcribe and refine on a keyboard and post it out in the world to prove to myself that the day’s job was done.

By the very nature of the process some of the work was lame. But not all of it. Some of it just needed tweaking, punctuation, better spell-checking, chopping, and rearranging. Editting, in other words.

I have been really fortunate to have been given a grant from the Cavan Arts Office to work with a mentor/editor since October. The process of finding the mentor was more difficult than anticipated, but I ultimately found the right poetry midwife for me. Maggie Hannan has the knack of when to guide me to puff and when to push and then squeeze out the revised draft.

It’s made me a better crafter of poems, the new ones written in the aftermath of the marathon. Poems generally do improve, like a stew or soup, left alone for a day or two for the flavours to macerate. When you stir the pot you know what to add or how to improve on the recipe. (I like food. With the holidays and house guests I have been cooking a lot. Please forgive the food metaphors.) The Weekly poems I publish each Sunday have sometimes had up to seven days of sitting and getting seasoned.

But make no mistake. Editting is hard. It’s not so much about killing your babies as, to paraphrase Maggie, as when and where to separate the conjoined twins so they can go to live and breathe in separate cots.

By nature I am a fast writer. I get lots of ideas and learned long ago the trick of slipping under the internal censor’s radar to get that first draft down. (Don’t ask me how. It’s maybe a superpower.) Editting is slow work and one that can try the less patient. This process that began by myself last August has taught me that craft is not slipshod. It is slow, painstaking, sometimes boring. It also brings out the inner insecurities that can snare you and make you give up. Unless you have that mentor/editor to companion you in the process. Who is patiently keeping you at it and quietly encouraging you.

The solo collection work is ongoing with revised poems piling up. I can see the end in sight. Almost. I had a certain idea about it in the beginning, but that went out with the tide many moons ago. Now I am swept up in the process and letting the poems lead me a comma and cut at a time. But soon it will be time to take the next scary step and approach publishers.

While I have an enormous sense of gratitude to Maggie, I also want to say thanks to you readers, those who faithfully keep in regular touch, as well as those who just pop by now and then. I have had three special reader/friends who trawled through the old posts at the beginning of this editting process to suggest ones they felt were the strongest or really resonated.

But I am also often surprised and touched to find from my stats that there is someone in Liberia or Finland who cares enough to read what I have written. I wonder that my descriptions of this misty Celtic isle are of interest to so many who live on the Indian subcontinent.

When you are writer, some days it really does feel like the world is the size of a pea.

When the Well Runs Dry

It’s useful to look back to what I was writing about this day in another year. This post is particularly pertinent as I completed my brídeog, or Biddy doll, this day last year. On St. Brigid’s Day 2020 I will be leading a day retreat that will include creative writing, art AND we will craft a biddy doll, too. We are fast approaching not just the Chinese New Year, but the old Irish season of Imbolc, the time of earth’s renewal. It is time to wake up and grow things! What will you be growing over the next few months?

If you are in Ireland and want a day retreat to celebrate the multiplicity of St. Brigid’s wonderfulness, full details are here:   http://bit.ly/2NHkOMy

Sojourning Smith

I finished making my brídeog (Biddy Doll or St. Brigid’s doll) yesterday. The festival of Brigid (or Brigit or Brighid or Bride) runs from 31st January to 2nd February and coincides with Imbolc, the ancient Celtic festival that heralds spring time. And the return of the goddess Brigid in her maiden form. And the Feast Day of St. Brigit, Abbess of Kildare, one of Ireland’s three national saints. What you need to know about me is that I celebrate the coming a springtime (even though the upcoming Wolf Moon is also known as the Snow or Ice Moon) with as much fervour as most people reserve for Christmas, Thanksgiving or Halloween. I prepare, decorate and bake. And if there is snow that is no bother. The point is that the days are getting much lighter. When you live in Ireland that is is something to celebrate. Winter is on the…

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