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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Praying in Random Places

I have written elsewhere in this blog that writing poetry, especially when I was writing a poem a day for 365 consecutive days from September 2018 until September 2019, is a spiritual practice. So it seems appropriate to write about prayer in the Sunday Weekly poem. As Samuel Becket said:

Samuel Beckett meme
Sam Beckett looking all prayerful

Samuel Beckett spent a portion of his youth at the Royal Portora School in Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh, which is not a million miles away from where we live. We live in this edgy part of Ireland where Cavan meets Fermanagh meets Leitrim. Last Sunday found us doing some life laundry (and literal laundry, too) in the nearby town of Manorhamilton, about sixteen miles from us. (NB: we live an average of twenty miles from anywhere in three directions that is a recognisable centre of population, with a number of commercial outlets and services.)

So this is what I do when I have a spare hour and a half when I can multi-task with a domestic task.

In the Mace in Manorhamilton I Sit Down And
 
It strikes me that, sitting
at a laminate table, on a banquette,
drinking my coffee, and imitation
pain au chocolat, that
 
this is a good place to pray
while my laundry cycles,
getting all sweet-smelling and
washed. It’s all auto here,
 
not just the petrol pumps, but
what dispenses coffee,
the washing machines, the drier,
the factory’s template exact
 
cut of tabletop after tabletop,
like an assembly line cookie cutter
(they sell good cookies here, too)
where I sit eating my machined pastry.
 
This is a good place to pray.
Where everyone is just doing their best,
Bless them!
Wiping tables, swabbing the deli counter,
 
totting at the till, making change,
nodding, and being pleasant.
But then, this is Leitrim after all,
and people tend to be.
 
So this is a good place to pray,
because praying is not automatic,
with the distant hum of the radio chat
behind the rumble of the chill cabinet.
 
Copyright © 2020 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Noodling

It’s been quite the week. And I might have taken the Wolf Moon eclipse as my Sunday Weekly poem’s subject matter. But then we had an eclipse at Wolf Moon 2019 and I wrote one then. And I did write a draft of 2020 version, but I figured we might need to mix things up a bit this week.

Or nature might have been my muse. We have had some spectacular skies here this week as a parenthesis to the full moon’s eclipse.

sunrise
sunset

But nah! When you have houseguests you tend to think a lot about menus. So food has been my muse. Also, there is a lot of music being played in the house.

 Noodle
  
 I want to stretch that infinite string
 of dried dough that has become 
 an elastic grace note pulled
  
 from the magic pot of water 
 at a rolling boil that’s be-bop
 and it soars round in its steam
  
 and you can keep it plain or do it
 fried, or meaty, or saucy or so
 spicy it feels kind of naughty,
  
 its cayenne kick that turns 
 to a croon till that bit of old dough
 is swooning onto your plate and it all
  
 started with a migrate out of the east
 on a camel’s back west, travelling
 the old Silk Road route and all along
  
 the people named it their way –
 gnudel or nouille or the even faster
 pasta.  Noodles are the original jazz.
  
 Each place would sing its song
 on a plate no matter what its name,
 served up the sauce wherever it came.
  
 We kind of like this noodling
 with flour, water and the odd spare egg.
 It’s poor people’s princely fare
  
 that can sing a mean hymn of praise
 and swoop into some melancholy longing
 for your baby who just stayed
  
 and never followed your string, 
 just sucked it all up with your silky voice.
 It’s all jazz and the world is just
  
 a pea served with your noodles.
 And all of us are just following
 that elastic note on its last string.
  
 Copyright © Bee Smith 2020. All rights reserved. 

Featured image Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash

The Day the World Ends

I have been on a bit of a digital break over the holidays, but here we are with the first Sunday Weekly poem of a new year and a new decade. I fully intended to do a 2019 reflection on 30th December, but as it happens I became fully engaged in baking for an alcohol-free New Year’s gathering with friends instead. The days slipped by and then Sunday morning rolled around and I needed to write the weekly poem. This is not to say that I did not write over that week, because I did, but that is material that has been submitted to an anthology of women’s writing with the working title Bloody Amazing!

No sooner than the New Year’s decorations were taken down, I looked onto social media and I find words like Armageddon and apocolypse being bandied about. Immediately, (I am not lying) Archbald MacLeish’s sonnet The End of the World came to mind. Macleish lived through World War I, served with the precursor of the CIA in World War II, saw the Cold War and atomic bomb threat, and wound up his days in the Library of Congress. According to the text book anthology I used in college, The End of the World was published in 1926.

While perusing some the the decade reflections in print media I noticed that 2016 is considered the worst year in the 2010-2019 decade. Yet, it was the happiest for me as I married my long-time love that year. (Though at the time some friends did say it was the anticipated happy moment that was keeping them going and reason to get out of bed in the morning.) Anne Lamott echoes this observation in a book I got for Christmas, Almost Everything. (Canongate, 2019). This quotation in the Prelude inspired today’s Sunday Weekly poem. As did Dickens in Tale of Two Cities when he observes that it was both the best and worst of times.

Love is why we have hope.

Anne Lamott, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope

 
 The Day the World Ends
 
 Love is what opens eyes to a new day
 even by lunchtime you will metaphorically and
 literally be standing in a pile of poop and
 are cursing the thoughtless owner
 of some beloved dog who eyes that human
 with unconditional regard.
  
 Who is pawing and cajoling the beloved
 to just get up one more day. Even if 
 it may be the End of the World today.
 Have you seen that internet meme
 of the rescued kangaroo hugging and clinging
 to its human saviour? Love, it seems,
  
 will always be there in the fray.
 Remember that couple leaping from 
 the inferno tower, hand in hand, on 9/11?
 Or all those last phone messages left , every one
 saying I love you and Hug the kids.
  
 Hold each other on days when you are not
 beloved. When the one you loved is lost forever,
 has turned its back or gone on without you.
 On that bleakest of death knell days,
 go! Reach past the fire and flood threatening
 to engulf and obliterate, because
  
 even on the day that is the day that is
 the End of the World, you will open your eyes,
 stretch your hands and  arms and arise
 the miracle of yourself who loves and
 can be loved in return and today may be that day.
  
 And that shall never be obliterated by
 false moves, mistakes, flood or wildfire burn.
  
 Copyright © Bee Smith 2020. All rights reserved. 

Featured image Photo by Dan DeAlmeida on Unsplash

Last Sunday Poem of a Decade

It is the final Sunday of 2019, not just the final Sunday weekly poem of the year, but also the final poem of a decade that marked my most solid commitment to improving the art and craft of poetry writing. I woke up early because I am especially excited to be going to see the new cinematic version of Little Women today, with some of my favourite women friends. And also, it feels appropriate to close off the year with a homage to two of the most formative women writers. Because I encountered them in childhood, I learned that writing was a fit occupation for women. I also grew up in a household with an elder sister who was a writer, so even though there was a dearth of women poets in anthologies or studied at school, I had these 19th century role models.

I first read Little Women in an abridged form when I was around eight or nine as I recovered from one of those childhood illnesses that kept you in quarantine for a fortnight. I became a rabid Alcott fan and over the years acquired Little Men, Jo’s Boys, Eight Cousins, Rose in Bloom. I found An Old Fashioned Girl at a library book sale. A Garland for Girls and Cornelia Meig’s Alcott biography, Invincible Louisa appeared under the Christmas tree. By the time I was twelve I could have had an MA in Alcott. I had all but her Gothic early fiction, which was still out of print in the 1970s. In my early teens I was a devout transcendentalist and had moved on to Thoreau and Hawthorn’s Blithedale Romance. One summer vacation my brother, mother and I had a little pilgrimage to Orchard House where I bought the pamphlet Transcendental Wild Oats. I drew a little water from Walden Pond as I would from a holy well. Alcott made me.

Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
Louisa May Alcott, literary shero

Emily Dickinson was my literary sister from another mother. I discovered a biography of her in the public library when I was about eleven years old and began to read her poetry and write cryptic ones in her style as a tween. Very fitting that my brother in Brooklyn should include some Emily Dickinson Divination cards in my Christmas box this year (many thanks, Steve!) . I have been drawing one daily, along with a Susan Seddon-Boulet Animal Spirit card for clarification.

Omen Days
The Omen Days – Day 4 draw

I will be doing this daily during this Christmas season that is ‘time out of time.’ From St. Stephen’s Day (or Boxing Day) on 26th until Women’s Little Christmas (or Epiphany) on 6th January, it was custom to scan nature for omens of the year to come. But these literary divination cards were just begging to be used for the Omen Days. There are twelve months in the calendar year and twelve days of Christmas. Hence, looking for signs and portents of the year to come during these days that were considered, and still are, a gateway time of endings and beginnings. There is more about them in this post from last year. https://sojourningsmith.blog/2018/12/26/the-omen-days/

But now to the final Sunday Weekly poem of 2019. I played around with a five line format a lot in July this year that takes a quotation as its first line. To find out more about the form, check out this post https://sojourningsmith.blog/2019/07/06/all-poets-can-do/.

In this case I have used Dickinson’s own words for the first and final lines.

This Being Mortal

Mortality is fatal.

Grief becomes our work in progress,

constantly hunting for what’s been lost –

The love that so eludes us,

The Soul there – all the time.

Top and tail lines by Emily Dickinson

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

I will do a quick New Year post mid-week. Then it will be back to the Sunday Weekly poem schedule.

Christmas Morning

Over much of the 365 consecutive days of writing a poem a day writing I did between September 2018 and 2019, I was awake during the early hours of darkness, alert before dawn. While I have happily back slided into more slothful habits since then, this week in the run up to Christmas has seen me waking in the dark again. This morning I had to itch to write a poem , which I have been rationing to once a week while I have tended to other projects. But this morning, with the cat who three years ago was an uncivilised feral purring at my side, I reverted to how I welcomed Christmas this time last year. Little did we know then that he was destined to become my muse. He was then an outcast, who has now come in from the cold.A little poem is my Christmas present to my readers. I am grateful to all who have faithfully commented, liked on Facebook, and kept me on task.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 Christmas Morning 
  
 The sky is a greyish white as the first of day's feeble light 
 illuminates the charcoal outline of bare limbs 
 on winter's trees. Today, we sing out hymns 
 to the evergreen, and of a star bright enough 
 to pierce a world whose soul is toughened up
 and feels plunged into deep, darkest night, 
  
 that cries out to be rescued and saved from ourselves 
 who for centuries have long so misbehaved 
 to our discredit. We have pained one another, 
 lost the thread of our kind and our love. In vain
 we refrain All is well! All will be well! 
 There speaks faith and hope. That's what we tell
 ourselves is the gospel of love. We wave away 
  
 for just this one day the state of our dismay 
 with gods and worldly fates. And with our hate. 
 Let there be love in hearts and hands. 
 Let the outcast come in and the stooped stand. 
 The crooked is straightened like that angel 
 perched up over the nativity's manger. 
 For one day let us all know this pause and poise.
 Let there be peace on earth and in every voice. 
  
 We dream of this miracle but once a year
  in the darkest nights, so hope may give us cheer. 
  
 Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved 
   

Featured image Photo by Imran Ali on Unsplash