If only all lives really DID matter…

These past weeks I have been processing my grief over the state of the world, and especially the state of my motherland. If I see one more ‘All Lives Matter’ meme on social media my patience will snap like the taut and frayed rubber band it is some days. Because evidence is very clear that all lives do NOT matter. Ask people of colour. Ask people who are disabled. Ask the single mum juggling multiple jobs and is constantly in debt. Ask any nurse anywhere in the world who is STILL low paid and risking his or her life everyday in our COVID19 world with inadequate PPE. Heck, if you even want to look at the privileged end of the spectrum, ask the female news co-anchor who earns less than her male counterpart!

Everyday we see evidence that ALL lives do not matter. It is not just a divided world, but a deeply unequal world because the operating system is that all lives do NOT matter. There is plenty of evidence that some lives are credited to be worth more. Often they have higher bank balances.

To say ‘All Lives Matter’ to people who have first hand experience that this is not true is to rub salt in a raw wound. It has the same ring of truth to it as “Arbeit Macht Frei”, the slogan over the gates of Auschwitz. Work did not make anyone free there. It was a slogan to pacify. It was propaganda.

Aside from the fact that the phrase has become a dog whistle for white supremacy, what some literalists really are saying is that All Lives SHOULD Matter. That is not the same thing at all. The majority can probably (hopefully) unite behind that qualifying ‘should’ in that phrase. But unity is not exactly part of our operating system either. One would have hoped that a deadly virus disrupting the planet might have had some tonic effect. Sadly, it has not.

Hence, some days I am in deep grief. I am beyond the denial stage. I have experienced the pain and guilt. I have spikes of anger. I have days of depression, crushed by the weight of the wickedness that many deny. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice (or righteousness in some translations) for they shall be satisfied.”

Of course, we will not have that hunger and thirst satisfied until we all start behaving as if all lives actually do matter. That we will have to love the perceived enemy and turn the other cheek just as the late Representative John Lewis did, he who forgave the Klansman that beat him senseless, he who accepted that man’s repentence and apology. That is the true meaning of grace.

Our hearts will have to open up a larger and larger space for that to happen. There will need to be less of the ‘I’ and more of the ‘we, ALL the people,’ not just the person who looks like one’s self, or acts the same, or holds the identical beliefs and opinions. We will need to accept our guilt and repent and then get to that final stage of grief where we find new motivation, become inspired and rediscover hope.

I am waiting to be satisfied. I’ve been feeling mighty hungry and thirsty for a long time. I want to be hopeful. Consider this poem I wrote back in 2016, my longing then for a change in the collective heart, for a world where we find that mislaid moral compass and act with magnanimity. It has been a long time coming. I pray for that collective state of grace every morning.

What Really Matters

It’s been that kind of week
where I have wandered stunned,
blinking my eyes furiously,
weary, wordless.

It’s been heavy weather.
It’s hot somewhere. Somewhere
someone is getting shot
and it’s not so random

who gets to be the duck
in the shooting gallery.
I am weary and tearful, wondering
how it feels

to go through life knowing
you have a target
on your back
for someone to bait and hate?

How does it feel to be
the mother of some son,
permanently on alert,
trying to hide that

big, round bull’s-eye on her
sweet child’s back
just because he is
brown or gay or black?

I want to weep
but there has just been
too much hate this week.
We need so much more

than a safety pin trying
to hold the centre
together.  Risk all for love!
the poet wrote. He was Muslim.

It might start with standing up
to bullies on a tram.
It might end by being
on that same firing line

with the guy who has had
a target on his back
all his life
but this time

he won’t be alone.
It’s not right that it
might matter more
to some

the one who would not let
that guy with the bull’s-eye
on his back go out
into that dark goodnight

on his own. But
it does matter that he
did not go alone.
It matters

that the world
not have a heart
the size
of a pickled walnut.

That someone take a hand
out of their pocket, grab hold
of that marked man,
that they duck and dive

together
trying to stay alive,
getting home to hug
their mothers and their lovers.

Now that would be a good night.
That would be a better day.
There might still be
a few tears,

but Love
would not have taken
yet another
fatal hit.

© Bee Smith 2016


As I see Moms in yellow t-shirts and Dads with leafblowers in Portland, I see people extending the hand that repents, apologises, that wants to get a son and daughter home safe tonight.

The featured image is an official portrait of the late Rep. John Lewis from Wikipedia.

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

The Blank Page

I am back to my waking in the dark poetry practice, which has that Goldilocks ‘just right’ feeling about it. Actually, I woke out of a dream where I was giving a Toastmasters style speech to an very (un-Toastmastersish) rowdy crowd. I knew I had five minutes. I was unprepared, but one thing I knew quite authoritatively was the blank page and how to tackle it. Even when I was interrupted I wove that interjection right back into the speech. When I woke up I had that feeling of…’ooh, I think I pulled that off!’

I know what was racketing around my night dream life was a meme I created yesterday evening for my creative writing workshops. I have not been able to schedule regular weelend sessions locally in 2018 for various reasons. It feels like it’s time to have a short run of classes in later in the springtime.

Word Alchemy Creative Writing Workshops
Feel the fear

and write anyway.

If you hear sneers and jeers

internally

call in Word Alchemy.

Apologies to Miss Emily Dickinson

But now to get down to this day’s poetry practice.

The Blank Page

The pen caresses it
Pricks its virgin membrane
Spills its ink
on, over, into it.

See what they make -

round, fat-kneed,
crawling, over balanced,
wailing, weepy,
chuckling, chortly
chubby cheeks,
massive headed
(how did it fit
through the nib's slit?!)
Sumo wrestler
babies
in full nappies

pen, ink
paper,
the hand moving
create.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

So…go face that blank page! And if you live in Cavan, Leitrim or Fermanagh get in touch with me by email for an introduction to the blank page and creative writing.

Featured Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

When the Well Runs Dry

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 wane. Wey-hey! The light is returning!

So I have been considering the many associations of both the goddess Brigid and St. Brigit. They are both fire and water women. This year I am feeling all ‘watery’. So today’s Poetry Daily celebrates sacred springs and holy wells. Of which Ireland has many. The poem is an octet -eight lines of eight syllables each. Eight being the number of infinity, it seems to be suited to water.

I was seeking inspiration when I started the day feeling a bit blank as my page. But the patron saint of inspiration never runs dry of ideas. She is also the patron saint (matron saint?) of poets.

When a Well Runs Dry

What to do when the well runs dry?
You dig a new one, so you do.
Where's the cure gone when the well's dry?
It flees into nearby tree. See
the clouties tied, where all wishes vie?
Wells may crumble, silt up, dry.
Water stays holy, cannot die.
Water will ever sanctify.

For those living outside of Ireland I will treat you to photos of crumbling wells, clouties and the shrines that surround many of them. All those pictured are within a ten mile radius of where I live. It’s limestone country. Springs are everywhere. And everywhere are sacred.

St. Brigids Holy Well
Killargue, Leitrim St. Brigit’s Well
Holy well
My local holy well at Tubber before restoration
Holy Well
Holy Well, Belcoo, Fermanagh
Cloutie Tree Holy Well Leitrim
Cloutie Tree at Holy Well, Leitrim
Badgers Well
The Badger’s Well, Glenfarne, Leitrim
Brigids Way Bee Smith poems
Poems celebrating Brigid in all Her glory
Available as a Kindle on Amazon.com

Advent Wreath Weekly Poem

advent wreath

Two weeks ago I began lighting a Sunwheel wreath, which is a pagan version of the Advent Wreath where we light the final candle on Winter Solstice (this year 21st/22nd depending on your location on the planet) instead of Christmas Day. Beth Owl Daughter popularised this custom. This is the season of darkness no matter what your spiritual persuasion or religious affiliation. Jews will be coming to the end of the eight day celebration of Hanukkah, lighting the final candle on the menorah tomorrow, 10th December. It is a human impulse to light a match to a candle wick or an oil lamp in the dark time of year.

Christians will light the second candle  for Love this week. You can find that poem in last week’s post (https://sojourningsmith.blog/2018/12/01/advent/) Meanwhile, pagans will be lighting the solitary pink candle for joy at sundown tonight. When these Sunwheel/Advent wreath poems came to me I heard them with a wee tune in my ‘inner ear.’ Last week I posted a video just in case you feel like singing the poem as you light your wreath. You can find the video and tune  at this link. on my YouTube channel. https://youtu.be/Df3J08djsYg.

So here’s to you…some Joy.

Joy

I light a candle for joy
to celebrate with glee.
I light a candle for joy
for all the states of ecstasy.

I light a candle for joy
praying that all shall be happy.
I light a candle for joy
so elation may shine brightly.

I light a candle for joy
though the world can make you weary.
I light a candle for joy
that we may be less proud and haughty.

Light a candle for joy!
Light a candle for joy!
Light a candle for joy
to bless the dark.
Light a candle for joy
to bless its spark.
Light a candle for joy
so we all may hark.

Let the candle flames blaze with our good intentions this sundown.



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

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 my sister was toiling away on one of the first Master’s thesis 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  a Boston summer school class taught by William Lowell.  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. See the epistolary poem I wrote in reply to that quotation I found so many years ago.

Dear Mister Ciardi,

I can admit to a certain prejudice
against a man who disparaged women,
for having the biological gaucheness,
not all to say, just those jumped up gibbons,
those poets who will go wear their ovaries
on their sleeves, writing brownies and babies.

Against a man who disparaged women
and that category viewed as 'poetess',
or applied arcane masculine doctrine
as to who is fit for poetry's practice,
that having a pair should disqualify
shirt sleeves unless they are styled for guys...

For having the biological gaucheness
of being the chicken with all the eggs,
it riles me up to make a fuss and cuss,
because women poets ought not have to beg
for a place in academe's pantheon
or be a glass ceiling phenomenum...

Not all to say,just those jumped up gibbons,
those who have the nerve to speak about blood,
other things all messy and feminine,
beat breasts, tear hair, wrend garments, defame studs.
That is what will become of poetry
written by people who have ovaries.

Those poets who will go wear their ovaries
spilling their ink on a monthly basis
can write, breastfeed, push the baby buggy
(sometimes with an intense, driving fierceness)
out from under the stairs, out through the door,
turning up on time, sign at the bookstore.

On their sleeves, writing brownies and babies,
the spit up and societal sickness,
is the red badge of all our popped cherries.
Women need the teeth and claws of tigress.
The gloves have come off, Mr. Ciardi.
I am out and proud of my ovaries.



Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

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.

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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


emily dickinson

St. Emily, Matron Saint of Women Poets