Patience

A stray tweet drew my eye, which then led me to the wonderful Terri Windling blog, Myth and Moor.  Her midterm blog was on Hope and Faith. (I recommend that you read in in full here.) She quotes another favourite writer, Rebecca Solnit. She writes about writing as being a lonely occupation, although I would style it as solitary rather than lonesome.

(Writing) is an intimate talk with the dead,with the unborn, with the absent, with strangers, with readers who may never come to be and who, even if they do read you, will do so weeks, years and decades later.”

Which brings me to today’s focus for gratitude. I am grateful for patience. I am grateful that my mother cultivated it in me. So today’s poetry practice in on patience. But I am also grateful that there are wonderful women writers out there like Terri Windling and Rebecca Solnit.

And I am grateful for readers no matter how few, far between, or late in the day. Thank you, dear readers!

I am also grateful to know so many good, honest criminals who open my eyes to so much about everything that is really pertinent to living.

 

Patience

 

Prison teaches you patience, Michael said.

Writing is a patient art. Also one

that requires daily acts of devotion.

It becomes an article of faith, too.

A musician or visual artist

may get audience real time reception.

Applause in the present. The Wow! is now.

Like a garden, writing starts as seedbed.

What crop will show ultimately depends

upon climate and the weather. And faith

something will come of it all in the future.

Patience is what makes you keep turning up-

pruning, watering, mulching, feeding the soil.

My good, honest criminals and I are

much the same. In so many ways we know

all permutations of patience, not as

saints, or even as sinners. We know how

to do time. We’ve even elevated

it to art. It’s ineradicable

in our hearts. Like writing is for a start.

 

Copyright © Bee Smith 2018

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Everyday Exultations

I was browsing some WordPress blogs I follow and I was impressed by the suggestion of A.M. Pine 100 Bits of Gratitude to expend some energy by concentrating on what fills you with gratitude. I am still in the full flush of a multitude of birthday well-wishing yesterday, so this particularly resonates. I still keep a kind of gratitude journal, although it is more a visual record than a word journal. I will paste in cards from friends and loved ones that kindles a particular thanksgiving in my memory.  You can see a picture of the gratitude journal I collaged in this post. Gratitude Journaling and Thanksgiving.  I have a feeling that these practices may become useful tools in the weeks ahead.

This segued into another phrase I encountered while I was perusing last Saturday’s Guardian this morning (yes, I have become my mother and am way behind with reading the current affairs media. I thought this was shocking when I was young. I guess I am no longer officially young!) The phrase was ‘everyday exultations’, which is perhaps a byproduct or kissing cousin to gratitude. At any rate these were the sparks for today’s poetry practice. Incidentally, I have completed six week!

 

Everyday Exultations

 

a sound cooking pot

rising bread dough

a voice with a song

the company of a wren at the window

 

this is the somehow of the someway

the human race gets up to meet and greet

every day

also with jokes, some word play

 

delight is stone on flint for the candle wick

can turn around a curse

heals the sick

greases the axis of the universe

 

the line of thousands stretches way far back

so I could one day become a daughter

some bread, some water, a sound cooking pot

the blessing of a wren to share the crumbs

 

Copyright © Bee Smith 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Featured Image:

Photo by Jan Meeus on Unsplash

It’s a Mystery!

Some people might call it inspiration. The actual process of writing can be a bit of a mystery.  Personally, I think writers are magpies. We collect shiny things – like ideas- and take them back to our lair and then we rearrange all the shiny found objects and re-purpose them. So the poem I wrote this week has been constructed out of just such found objects: a question someone posed on Facebook, a memory from grade school, a deep conversation with a good friend, a personal musing on the nature of trauma and survival.

Inspiration for writing can be that random. But also, perhaps, it is best to just give the brain a rest. And I ‘parked my head’ yesterday and tried some art in a workshop led by a friend, Morag Donald, of Crafting Your Soul.

I cannot draw. But I love visual art. I love colour. In my next lifetime, if I can actually put in a bid, I would like to be a visual artist. But we did this thing called Touch Drawing, which is really just letting your hand play with shape and space. I have not felt so relaxed in months! And the flu last month felt a bit like a brain fever, with my mental concentration gone walkabout.

 

Touch Trio

 

And this week’s poem.

The Unsolved Mysteries of the Multiverse

 

Escapee socks, uncoupled

Like train wagons

Those orphans in lonely sidings

 

One is a found object

Location known

Yet aimless and unpurposed

 

Its other is off

In some alternate space

Living an alternative story

 

Squirreled down a plughole

Or a portal, off to elsewhere

Steaming down the narrow gauge

 

But what of the remaining single sock

Discovered in the tumble drier?

Limp and lifeless

 

Who now populates the crowded compartments

Of the train

Still clattering down the line?

 

The unfound

The man that got away

The woman someone gave away

 

Somehow

The story has been interrupted

By a very important announcement…

 

Those left behind the line stories

Assemble like dusty manuscripts

Cliff hanging off the top shelf of a closet

 

The door is shut

It’s dark

But nothing is quite closed

 

The gnawing unknowing

Somewhere someone elsewhere is living

At this moment your story’s dénouement

 

Stung by the rude interruption, denied

Wondering if there will come a day

For having the courage

 

Or foolishness

Or intellectual curiosity

To do the necessary

 

Reach up, lift down

Sneeze at the dust,

Turn the pages, revisiting

 

Your story

The one that got away

Reappraise the theme

 

Snip the loose ends off the plot

Wrestle the angels of resolution to the floor

With, or without, a plan

 

Take it all back

The characters, places, problems

That disappeared like Houdini

 

Into some crack in the multiverse

But, unlike Harry, had not the trick

To come back from the fathomless

 

Having probed this mystery

Which turns out to be

Much like God

 

As the nuns once said

When evading explanation

It’s a mystery!

 

Call it your personal myth

Make us cry. Make us laugh. Make us clap.

You are the wonder of this tale

 

©Bee Smith 2018

On the Threshold Hovering

You heard of the Lost Weekend? Well, how about a mislaid month? We supposedly cross the threshold of the New Year on 1st January, but it feels like 2018 has been stalled from the start. Being post-flu, post-viral has sapped most of January of any juice; my concentration was blown and needing ten hours sleep a day can put a crimp in one’s productivity. Anything done this month feels an achievement. But it also contributes to the feeling that the threshold of 2018 has not been crossed. Anecdotal evidence collected from friends suggests I am not alone  in this observation. One friend said it felt like the old business 2017 hung over this January making it seem like a thirteen month year.

Fortunately, in Ireland we have the festival of incoming Springtime on 1st February, le Féile Bríd – Imbolc, St. Brigid’s Day, the old feast of the fertility goddess Brighid vanquishing her crone/Cailleach aspect and arising reborn as the youthful Maiden. Imbolc then is a liminal time, another threshold to cross and begin 2018 in earnest.

Also most fortunate, Brigid/Brighid, whether as saint or goddess, is matron to poets and other ‘makers’. So her feast is special to bards and poets, songwriters and artisans, craftspeople of every ilk or silk, and to healers. For in making and creating, we manifest cures, too.

But, back to thresholds. The cover boy for this blog is a wild cat that I have been taming this since autumn 2016 when he began to attach himself to our property. First, we gave him a kennel. Now he has a basket beside a radiator.  Building trust has been slow and painstaking – and I have the scabs from claw marks to prove it! Being formerly feral, he may never completely let go of fear. He may accept our food, love, comfort and care enough to come in from the cold. But will he be able to cast out fear enough to love us in return? That remains to be seen. In the meantime, he and The Old Dog have formed an alliance of aloofness. All they require of one another is that they share oxygen proximally. Another brick in Felix’ House of Belonging, as poet David Whyte styles it.

We all have fears, large and small, that hold us hand on door lintel, immobile. Fear separates us for love, connection and a sense of belonging. The message of St. Brigid and the Celtic goddess before her is in the English cognate within her name – a bridge. And bridges are very special liminal, threshold places. They can be windy places, vertigo inducing spaces. But they take us across to a shore, a beginning or new phase. Liminal places are ‘edgy’ in every sense of the word.

How might 1st February be a threshold place where you overcome some fear in favour of love?  Which,  it has to said, is a large part of the recipe for what Brené Brown calls ‘wholehearted living.’  How might wholehearted living feel or look in 2018? How might an early Christian abbess and proto-femininist and an ancient goddess lead you to have the courage to cross a threshold?

If you would like to learn more about some of the legends surrounding miraculous Brigid, Goddess and Saint, you can read my poems inspired by Her in my ebook  Brigid’s Way: Reflections on the Celtic Divine Feminine.

No matter how you spell her name, Brigid is the well of inspiration and the flame of purification. May it be so!

Brigit of Kildare

Here is one of my poems included in the collection, which also appears in the anthology edited by Patricia Monaghan and Michael McDermott., Brigit: Sun of Womanhood

Brigit’s Mantle

Lay me down upon your cloak –

Swaddle me. Sing to me

your secrets of always enough.

 

Lay me down upon your cloak –

Wrap me snug.  Tell me a story.

The miracle of always enough

 

Lay me down upon your cloak-

Rock me. Gently now lay me

down in the source of always enough

 

© Bee Smith, 2009. All rights reserved.

Woman Poets: Staying Alive Not Suicide

Forty some years ago I sat in a Modern Poets of America class; I still have the text book. Of the thirty poets anthologised just five women poets were represented – Emily Dickinson, H.D., Marianne Moore, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Sylvia Plath. Sylvia Plath I was well acquainted with because in 1969 I sister was toiling away on one of the first Master’s theses on her poetry. Her novel The Bell Jar was published while I was still in high school and I read it during the humid summer holidays of 1973.

Plath was a classmate of Anne Sexton’s in summer school.  Like Plath, she committed suicide also, a little over a decade on from Plath’s own death. I first encountered Sexton’s poetry in the unlikely place of Catholic University’s Newman Bookstore sometime around 1976. As a neophyte woman poet, it was not heartening to find all these potential role models topping themselves.

“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?
The world would split open.”
― Muriel Rukeyser

 

Emily Dickinson was the first woman poet who taught me that poetry is the work of the subversive, the rank outsider, the desperado – even if you lived within the confines of a house and garden, the wild mind lived as untamed as bees. Plath lived in constant frustration with societal contraint and feminine stereotype. Sexton’s poetry is fearlessly truthful. Her poem on the joys of solitary masturbation can still shock as happened to a friend I recently recommended reading Sexton.  But such reckless bravery may also have been symptomatic of a lack of self-preservation.

Fortunately, during my college years I was exposed to other woman poets. I attended a Nikki Giovanni poetry reading. I found Adrienne Rich. I found Gwendolyn Brooks and May Sarton. I found Alice Walker. I found women who had complicated lives, who loved, sometimes lost, but were still in the game. My bookshelves began to fill with women poets who were survivors.  They did not crucify themselves with their art.  And they were busy telling their truth, even when that meant ‘wearing their ovaries on their sleeves’, as John Ciardi disparaged woman poets back in the 1960s.

Over the decades things changed. In 1973 I was seeking out the first anthologies of women poets, ones who didn’t make it into the syllabuses, but who worked, crafted and wrote and wrote and were published, too. And often forgotten. I now live in the 21st century where the English and Welsh poet laureates and Scottish makar are all women and jobbing poets. This would have been unthinkable when I was beginning to write poetry and wanting to read poems that more readily resembled my interior reality, which was also conditioned by my gender, my body, my hormones, and what society was projecting onto me.

IMG_0611

Anthologies can still be very gender unbalanced. So it was a real pleasure to go to the book launch of four Northern Irish women poets in Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh today.  Arlen House publishers brought out poetry volumes by Medbh McGuckian, Ruth Carr, Maria McManus and Maureen Boyle. The launch was at Enniskillen Castle this afternoon.  McGuckian was unable to read at the launch, but the genuine comaraderie amongst Carr, Boyle and McManus was so heartening to see – Sista’s really are doing it for themselves.

In Maria McManus’s reading of her poem Nightingale I had a sense of that feminine truth telling that splits open the world. The poem is dedicated to Marie Wilson, who died in the Enniskillen bombing on Remembrance Sunday 1987. Seamus Heaney had a famous refrain in one of his poems in North – the Ulster catchphrase ‘whatever ye say, say nothing.’ McManus’s reading acknowledged finally having ‘the conversation’ about the sectarian violence experienced over a generation, and I can tell you virtually everyone in the audience was choked up.

For those of you who want to read these contemporary Irish woman poets you can contact Alan Hayes, Arlen House, arlenhouse@gmail.com. They distribute internationally through Syracuse University Press.

Woman poets have managed to stay alive and sometimes even thrive. But still I do mourn the fierce imaginative flames of Plath and Sexton.  This is the poem I wrote about that Boston summer when they both attended Robert Lowell’s poetry workshop. It appeared in Magma poetry magazine back in 2003.

Cocktail Hour with Anne and Sylvia

 Of course, we would meet in a bar,

dark as our wombs,

the banquettes lined in wine Marquette.

 

Three sexy Scorpios – one golden girl,

one sloe-eyed brunette and me

showing the ashes of middle age.

 

It would have to be August

in a limp Boston loosening

her corsets against vapidity

 

and the heat.  We would meet

at this watering hole,

cackling over very dry martinis

 

or maybe a couple vodka stingers instead.

We would watch the spills on the bar

Spread like Rohrshock blots.

 

We would all cheerfully wear our

Ovaries on our sleeves and make course

jokes about male poets and their pricks.

 

Flirting academically with the bartender

We would order more nostrums,

Crazy Women swivelling gaily on barstools.

 

You both would be happy.

You’d swear off crucifixion by art,

Decide to survive, become grandmas,

 

Grin and flash nicotine-stained teeth,

Wear cliché purple hats and scarlet lipstick

Living more potently than legend or myth

 

© Bee Smith 2003

Gratitude Journaling and Thanksgiving

“Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling. Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse.” – Henry Van Dyke

This November has had the theme of gratitude from the start and well in advance of the American feast of Thanksgiving that will be marked tomorrow. Earlier this month, my friend and creative colleague, Morag Donald of Crafting Your Soul, co-hosted a gratitude journaling workshop with me. Combining creative writing exercises, guided meditation and craft work, we led participants to collage covers of A5 notebooks or scrapbooks where conscious note can be made of all those acts of kindness that occur in our life. I chose a scrapbook where I can paste in images to remind me of all the myriad miraculous events and details that populate one’s days. So far birthday cards, chocolate wrappers, newspaper snippets and headlines, and more have been pasted in. I also use words, but I keep it brief. It is also acts, in part, as an aide memoire.

There is anecdotal evidence that the practice of gratitude journalling greatly contributes to a feeling of happiness and well-being. Over the past decades there are any number of books and articles written encouraging people to embrace the practice of gratitude. Which is really a reminder to not take for granted all the acts of kindness, random or deliberate, from strangers, friends, even institutions.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, that great feast of family, food, football (for some) and the official opening of the Christmas shopping season in the USA on Black Friday.  I am long gone as an ex-patriot and there won’t be any turkey and cranberry sauce for us tomorrow. (Sadly, my Irish husband does not understand my liking for pumpkin and all kinds squash, succotash and sweet potatoes; this hampers any meal planning if there are no more than the two of us eating in on Thanksgiving Day.)  Since I have to post Christmas presents across the Atlantic, most have already been bought, wrapped and despatched already.

There is also the issue of celebrating a narrative that does not admit the impact of the colonising of North America and consequent displacement and genocide of its original inhabitants. Some maternal ancestors were early Quaker settlers in the Burlington, New Jersey region. At least I can say I come from people who paid the natives for their land, which was a rare occurance back in the day. The Lenape chief Ockanickon is buried in the Burlington Friends Meeting cemetary, reflecting the integration of Europeans and indigenous peoples at the beginning of the settlement. But even Quakers were slave holders in the 18th century, so I cannot be certain that all my ancestors were always on the right side of history on all questions of morality. The Burlington Quaker mystic, John Woolman, had his metanoia regarding slavery as an apprentice clerk when he was required to write out a bill of sale for the purchase of a slave. He did so just the once; he approached his employer afterwards and said he could not, in good conscience, do so ever again. His employer may not have comprehended his morality, but he did respect his ‘light’, as Quakers would call it.

So how shall I mark Thanksgiving 2017? I will be having a routine mammogram free, courtesy of Breast Check Ireland. I will cherish our old dog who is as loving as ever even in an illness that will ultimately earn her angel wings. I will bless the names of our vets, Sinead and Thomas,  who care for her.

But I will also bless those cranky colonial ancestors who braved leaky wooden sailing vessels to migrate to another world, circa 1630-something. I will be grateful that I inherited their itchy feet.

I will bless them for their idealism and their calculated risk taking. I will be thankful that I have inherited both their tendency to flinty morality and tender conscience.

But above all, I bless and thank the Lenape people, who welcomed my ancestors, sheltered them in the caves on the banks of the Delaware River, who taught them the ways of squash, corn and bean, who helped them survive in a harsher climate than they knew in their old world. For this I am thankful, for without them, there would have been no descendents born, wed, bred.

What I am most thankful for this Thanksgiving is connection. For the kinds of connections that can be made in poetry.  Also, the human kind of connections, all the little heaps and piles of kindness.  Thought of in that way, lineages are wrought from the seemingly random decisions to behave kindly, to help another human survive another day, to live and to love.

I realise that not everyone has had such a benign experience or  even expectation of life. But, I pray ‘May Love cast out Fear’ daily. Perhaps, my ancestors did, too. That is my hope this Thanksgiving.

 

 

Geopark Ghosts

New month and another inspirating jaunt out with fellow creatives on Cavan Council’s Ancient and Wild project. Journeying with the Cavan Arts Officer, we met in a remote corner in the southwest of the county. At Trinity Island we contemplated place and its impact on people, as well as the function of memory and time, and how all interplay in creating art in all genres. This project seeks to explore the relationship of artistic expression and the unique landscape of the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark, which straddles the Cavan/Fermanagh region.    And, as well, the subject of ghosts and haunting cropped up in conversaton.

Trinity Island is an watery outpost as the rim of the geological ribbed moraine, the largst on the planet.  A causeway links it to drier, higher ground.  Privately owned by the O’Dowd family, who steward this heritage site, we viewed the ruins of its Abbey and learned of its long history of humans inhabiting this space.

Trinity Island

Trinity Island Abbey was one of three abbeys in this ancient landscape. Founded by the Premonstratensian order of monks, it was a daughter house of the Abbey on Trinity Island in Lough Key, Co. Roscommon.  Tom O’Dowd describes them as ‘White Canons’. The ‘White Fathers’ or Augustininians had their Abbey in nearby Drumlane. Elsewhere in the Geopark Augustinians had an Abbey in the middle of Lough Erne at Devenish Island; they also give their name to the White Fathers Cave in Blacklion, West Cavan.

Trinity Island Abbey

With their white cowls it is little wonder that the lady who was the solitary congregant at Mass in the ruins of the Abbey one wild Christmas morning mistook a ghost for a real priest. Tom was told by another priest that if one of the ordained died before saying a Mass for a Special Intention that sometimes their souls suffer from a guilty conscience. And they come back looking to fulfill their promise. Because the lady could find no mortal priest who had journeyed out into that Christmas storm to say Mass that morning.

The other Abbey in the area was a remnant of the Celtic Catholic tradition that was subsumed after the Whitby Synod in CE654. So the Trinity Island area had three abbeys all within a short paddle along the tributaries of Lough Oughter.

The O’Dowds have uncovered various archaelogical treasures over the years, which have been whisked to the secure haven of the National Museum. Replicas of finds are given to the landowners and we were shown a Celtic cloak pin and a stone face of a man circa 700BCE.

We had thought provoking talks by artist Patricia McKenna and musicologist/musician Sean McElwaine exploring the interplay between landscape and art and music.  Sean also introduced me to new Irish trad band The Gloaming. Check out a sample of their work on You Tube, which includes the haunting fiddle of Martin Hayes, here.The Gloaming.

But what haunts me is that long jawed, wide, generous smile on the face of a man sculpted sometime more than 1,300 years ago. The horizontal lines across his cheeks might have been facial tattoos.  Which might have been interpretted as fierce. The weathering over time has given him a bit of a cauliflower nose, but this man looks more of a lover than a fighter. That smile speaks to me of an ancestor preeminantly happy and confident in his own skin. I would have been happy to know him and imagine him living close to the water and fenland. Perhaps he carved the wooden boat, or cot as it is called, discovered in the Trinity Lough’s mud. It was resubmerged, unlike this visage who smiles out at us from the ages.  He thrived. Possibly his descendents survived. I hope so. Who would not want to descend from such a Happy Cavan Man? Whatever his personal story, that face shines out, immortalising our ancestors long before they began to document the story.