Having a good weekend Earth lovers and Poetry writers? I hope so. To spur on geoheritage poems on #MACGeopark sites for our digital Poetry Map, I have been posting blog prompts for a week now with every intention of offering another week’s worth of poetry prompts. All the Geopark sites are open for visits and we are, at long last, able to travel outside our own county. You can get full guidelines and some great research resources by emailing GeoparkPoetryMap@gmail.com . The closing date for entries is 15th June 2021.
Today’s featured site is Lough Annagh, near Belturbet, Co. Cavan. The photos featured today are by my Zoom fitness instructor, Claire Shannon, who lives virtually beside the lough. She is also part of an intrepid group of year round swimmers known as Lake Annagh Dippers.
It is also part of a Special Protection Area and Special Conservation Area as a natural eutrophic lake. Whooper Swans over winter here from their Icelandic summer nesting home and year round residents include widgeon and crested grebes. So plenty of geoheritage happening here to find its way into a poem!
Hello Earthlovers and Poetry Writers! This is Day 3 of a fortnight of poetry prompts to help you write a site specific, geoheritage poem that will put that site on the digital Poetry Map of Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. You still have time to submit your poem. The closing date is 15th June 2021.You can email GeoparkPoetryMap@gmail.com and I can email a map of the Geopark and plenty of supporting material that will give you useful background to many of the sites.
Today I want to look at the interaction between the land and how it influences the development of industry in a region. Belleek Pottery is an international brand. So many of us have been given some Belleek ceramics as a wedding gift or a landmark birthday or anniversary present. When I led the Celtic Women International Brigit’s Day Tour in 2011, a visit to the factory in Belleek was a special request for the itinerary for a group of visitors from the USA.
But the reason Belleek has become the internationally renowned ceramic brand is down to the feldspar and kaolin deposits in the region of Castle Caldwell. Let me quote from the document created for the Geopark Poetry Map project by Martina O’Neill, Development Officer-Partnerships & Engagement.
During the 1840`s the Caldwell family fortune declined, leading to the entire estate, including the village of Belleek, being passed to John Caldwell Bloomfield. It was Bloomfield who commissioned a geological survey of the estate, revealing rich mineral deposits of Feldspar and Kaolin (china clay). These minerals are important raw materials used in the production of fine china and so Bloomfield capitalised on his good fortune by founding the now world famous Belleek Pottery and to this end a large industrial lime kiln is present along the loughshore.
The rock that surrounds Castle Caldwell Forest form part of what is known as the Lough Derg inlier, inlier being the term given to an area of formation of older rock surrounded by younger ones. The inlier allows a window through the ‘shallow’ sub-surface rocks to reveal deeper and older formations. These are metamorphic rocks, pegmatites, have been formed due to the transformation of existing rocks, by heat and pressure. These are coarsely crystalline granitic rock produced in the final stages of cooling from the molten state. Veins of unaltered pegmatite are found in this area, cutting though the earlier rocks and their structure. They contain quartz, microcline feldspar and the micas biotite and muscovite. It primarily this microcline feldspar, along with a clay similar to Kaolin also found on the estat that provided the original raw material for the porcelain produced at Belleek Pottery. Kaolin is typically associated with the weathering of rocks rich in feldspar.
Martina O’Neill for Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark
Do you have a poem about Castle Caldwell or Belleek china? Did you purchase some as a souvenir of a trip to Ireland? Or was it a wedding present? Consider how the land has sustained employment for generations in the area and its by-product travelled the world.
If you do have a poem about this MACGeopark site, please submit your poem to be considered for the MACGeopark Poetry Map. Email me for full submission guidelines at GeoparkPoetryMap@gmail.com.
…at my last post,which implied Spring was a coming in here in Ireland. And it was, pretty much, until the last few days. Then on Thursday we had the most astonishing sunrise. More astonishing still, I was up and at the digital memorialising of it even though the temperatures were sub-zero. Because you know it’s cold when you have to put a hot water bottle on the (outdoor) calor gas drum to coax it to flow so you can have your breakfast porridge!
Red sky in morning, shepherd’s warning and all that… We woke up to a very different dawn, with a barely there light and snow coming down. Only around two inches like, but that is enough for orange snow and ice warnings for the area from MetEireann. My husband fed the birds and I walked the dog before 9:30 am during a lull in the snowfall. The mountain in the sunrise photo was obliterated between heavy cloud and snowfall. The wind, on a yellow warning, did some damage; between the weight of the snow and the wind, a long tear seared the polytunnel’s skin. (Not to worry, since it was scheduled for a re-skinning this spring.) So it has felt as if the Cailleach Beara, or Mother Winter, really was having a laugh at my precipitous statement.
However, it livens up what I am now terming Pandemic Groundhog Day. For those of us who have really stuck to minimising our essential trips (most to the village that is 3km from home) and taking exercise within 5km, it amounted as a major change of scenery to take the general waste to the tip 20 km away. We also needed the nearest health food store 32 km away, last visited the first week in December after Lockdown 2 lifted, for items unobtainable in the village. It felt like visiting Babylon.
The sheer grind of keeping the household tidy, supplied, hygienic, fed and watered, as well as taking our prescribed thirty minutes of daily outdoor exercise has been energy sapping. It may, in part, be the toll the January injury took, but I am now coming round to the conclusion that there is a chink in my pandemic stoicism. There has been a death from Covid in the next village over from us, according to the local undertaker’s wife. (The things you learn while doing the weekly shop!) And I posted off two Recuperation CARE parcels in the past ten days. This variant is picking off the younger generations and hitting them hard.
Yes, the Cailleach laughed. Winter is not over yet. Even so, I did a panic online shopping spree last Sunday when I saw a report that Brexit has slowed plant and seed supplies into Northern Ireland, where our nearest garden centre is located. A quick online snoop had me ordering willy nilly from various Republic of Ireland sources, alarmed at all the ‘Out of Stock’ labels. Still need to source spuds and yellow onions.
Meanwhile, my friend Morag’s blog post seems to be pointing me in the right direction for digging myself out of my creative funk. My zoom classes and students probably kept the creative flame kindled in 2020. I need to acknowledge that I receive so much from that contact and be grateful for them. It might be time to make contact with those creative colleagues again to keep inspiration’s flame alive. I am thinking that it might be time to recommence the poetry workshops, starting with a two month dive into a handful of poetry forms.
I do have a poem in the works, but it is not fully ‘cooked.’ In the meantime, I am pointing you towards a video show I participated in last Sunday, hosted by my friend John Wilmott of Carrocrory Cottage and Labyrinths. I read four poems at roughly thirty minutes into the show. One poem is in the archive, but the others are probably new to blog followers. (https://youtu.be/sfIofvscCyY).
The poem that is in the works was ‘sparked’ by the theme of that day’s show. Hope you get some inspiration. Meanwhile, renewal is on its way. The snowdrops are blooming and the daffodil shoots are braving it through the snow. I just need to be more like them.
2020 has been, to quote one of my favourite YouTubers, Bernadette Bannerman, a dumpster fire. I am sure that all of us have had lows and then still lowers over the course of the year. To mention just one anxiety: the statistic that there were one million Covid-19 positive tests in seven days just last week in the USA alone.
This does not bode well for the holiday season. The UK is in lockdown for a month in the hopes of saving Christmas. Ireland has had a six week lockdown that is due to ease on 1st December. But…as we configure our bubbles there are going to be not a lot of face to face meetings over the holidays this year because indoor groups beyond a household are dubious. This is despite the Aldi Christmas ad where an anxious child keeps asking his parents “Is he coming?” He is constantly reassured. The viewer thinks…oh, Santa. Of course. But the last scene is the child running to the front door and rugby tackling the knees of a elderly gentleman crying, “Grandad!”
My personal Christmas wish is for dry outdoor weather that will allow another household to have hot chocolate outdoors with us. Bring your own cup and chair. My husband is already figuring out how to make a fire pit to help keep us warm. Given Ireland’s damp Christmases Past this is a Big Wish. Are you listening, Santa?
We know we are lucky. We have each other, pets, and good telecommunications. I Zoom twice a week with my creative writing groups, so I get some social interaction beyond the household, even if it is virtual. I phone friends for chats on a daily basis. We have bolstered one another through Lockdown 1 and now Lockdown 2. We have remained well. Lockdown 2 has been a lot harder than the one last spring though. With holidays coming up and getting cancelled or pared down to the minimum there are some doldrums rumbling.
I am not unaware of how a lot of people find the dark days of December very hard in the best of years. And, as said before, this is a dumpster fire of a year. So I have written a 21 day e-course that will drop a little bit of hope, inspiration and virtual company into your email box from 1st December to Winter Solstice. This December may be a bit tougher, but we can still focus on the return of the light, the wheel turning again sunwards and the new growth in 2021.
My aim is to place a light in your inbox window each morning for those twenty-one days. So I have named this shared journey based on a short reflection and daily journal prompt A Light in the Window: A 21 Day Journey Together Through December’s Dark Days.
Like those Canterbury pilgrims of old, we need companions. So there is the option of Zooming into our cottage’s fireside deep in the West Cavan countryside on three Sundays, 6-8pm Irish Time/ 3-5pm EST/12-2pm PST.
The cost will be 21 dollars, pounds or euro or whatever is your local currency.
The first email goes out the morning of December 1st, 10am Irish Time.
You can send your expression of interest to email@example.com, which will get forwarded to my personal email account. I will contact you with registration and Paypal details. You can also gift the e-course to family and friends who need a little light during the dark days of December.
Let’s spread some light this December!
Here’s a poem based on a memory from last December. When shall we sing again in a small, crowded space?
A Pool of Light
A splash in this December night, the motley assembly of voices raised in chorus, virtual strangers picking out harmonies, humming along when words fail, beating time to the tunes , clapping, snugged up in this small country pub, turf fire warming the crowd of bodies at the bar and we are
singing, singing, carried along by melody, camaraderie, joy's memory. Hope sounds like our rowdy laughter, applause, the respectful murmur of 'good man' , the parting glass wishing all a 'Good night!' as Ben holds open the door, formally shaking our hands as we leave that pool of light and walk out into winter's dark night.
I hope you will sojourn with me during the first 21 days this December 2020 so we can bask in that pool of light.
So, Halloween tomorrow, that day of the year when the veil between this world and the ‘Other’ world is tissue thin. It is also Celtic New Year over the three days culminating with All Souls Day, aka The Day of the Dead, on 2nd November. The next day is, of course, USA Election Day. And I have been wondering what the ancestors would be saying to my fellow Americans at this historic juncture.
It’s not that all our ancestors were great and good or wise and kind. We know that US history is stained with the karma of slavery and indigenous genocide as political policy. Robber barons exploited immigrant labour shamelessly.
Come to think of it, some of my own ancestors were probably making some of the cigars those FIfth Avenue Robber Barons were smoking. Today, I was musing whether my Great-great Grandfather Rothermel, who surrendered his Hesse-Darmstadt citizenship in 1859, thought it was worth the journey. According to the 1900 census he was 75 years old and employed as a street sweeper. His wife was rolling cigars in their tenement and their daughter, my Great-Grandmother Lizzie Rothermel, was working as a stripper in a cigar factory just as the union movement was forming. They lived a few blocks from Central Park, but a world away from Fifth Avenue. They lived down near the East River where all the city’s sewage and waste emptied into the water. It must have smelled hellacious in the hot, muggy summers in those days without an EPA.
It has taken five generations for Great-great Grandfather Rothermel’s descendents to achieve a college education, including an M.D. and a Ph.D. His grandson, my father, became the treasurer of a major pencil manufacturer because he had been able to take night classes courtesy of the G.I. Bill. As bright Great Depression kids from families of modest means (which was pretty much everyone in the cash strapped 1930s) college was a unachievable dream for my parents.
Opa Rothermel’s grandson, my Grandpa Joe Smith, had been a labourer, a NYC public school janitor and an elevator operator. He died before the Great Depression and the New Deal. His widow moved back with her parents with her three young sons. She washed dishes in a restaurant according to the 1930 census. Her eldest son, my Uncle Howard, left school at 14 and started working for the US Postal Service to help support the family.
I would not be here but for their grit and resilience. But my siblings and I might not have had our meteoric ascent without opportunities funded by federal and state government. For that branch of the family to thrive there needed to be some help.
My father died when I was five years old. My mother was widowed at age 45 with children aged 14, 12, 10 and 5. An insurance policy paid off the mortgage, but for daily cashflow we relied upon Social Security and Veteran’s Benefits and my mother’s part-time employment during hours where I would not become a latchkey child. Her frugality was bordering on genius. We were all bright kids and she got all of us through undergraduate college degrees. A combination of savings, work, our own scholarship and grant funding from state and federal agencies got us all through bachelor’s degrees.
We had help where previous generations wanted for a little of it.
During the 1960s Lyndon B. Johnson launched a ‘War on Poverty’ that saw many imaginative programmes become open to the Smith kids. The National Foundation for Science enabled my sister and eldest brother to attend college summer courses at the Haydon Planetarium and St. John’s University while still in high school. Our Uncle Howard was still in the family apartment in Queens and provided the necessary bed and board and adult supervision to make it possible for them to attend.
When I was eleven the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania offered a Creative Drama course for my age group at the local college twelve miles away. It was every afternoon, five days a week for six weeks. My mother drove me there everyday and waited, doing errands or reading on a bench, until the session was over.
There was a motley group of kids from both Columbia and Montour counties. We were guided by a skeletally thin, eloquently chain smoking Austrian Jewish refugee, Professor Frohman. What he made of us I cannot imagine, but he worked wonders for me. Before this course I was withdrawn behind a fourth wall of bereavement over my father’s death. I was painfully shy and probably depressed, too. I was a mouse. Over the course of that six weeks, my lion was born. Bit by bit over my teen years, my brio returned.
Because of that publicly funded course I was less scared of the world. Professor Frohman somehow facilitated a space where I became more brave, even as we imbibed his passive smoke.
In the fifth generation we received help, the kindness of strangers funded by federal and state tax dollars. We benefited from LBJ’s administration’s vision of The Great Society. All of the Smith kids worked blue collar jobs during our undergraduate years. My sister waitressed. My brother’s cleaned out the friers each night at the Wise Potato Chip company. My first job was quality control inspector checking emboidered days of the week on bikini panties.
But those were means to an end jobs before we found a life in medicine, education, administration or communication. The world opened to us. Three of us have passports and have travelled abroad.
We were all bright, but so were my mother and father. And probably those ancestors hand rolling cigars and sweeping streets were bright, too. We just had some help. We took what opportunities were offered and ran with them.
That tax funded help began to dwindle during the Nixon years and then dried up during the Reagan administration. The 1980s famously saw the Margaret Thatcher quotation that there was no such thing as society (which may actually be a symptom of psychopathy.)
There are still immigrants striving. But where do today’s Dreamers get the help to thrive?
It should not have to take five generations for an immigrant family to not just survive, but thrive.
Unless your ancestors were indigenous Americans, the story of your family on the American continent began with a migrant. How many generations has it taken for your family to strive before they could thrive? If they still aren’t thriving maybe it is because you never had the opportunity to benefit from the kindness of strangers in the form of a tax funded helping hand given ungrudgingly.
If you did have help, pay it forward. And, as Mr. Rogers told us on PBS back in the day “there are always helpers.”
My life probably would have been very different without LBJ and the Commonwealth of PA. Think about that this Election Day.
As part of my weekly cherishing of myself, this past Sunday evening I registered for a live Zoom by Dolores Whelan and Mari Kennedy on the “Gifts and Wisdom of the Celtic Tradition for these uncertain times.” The Celtic religious traditions – both spiritually and socially – were quite different until Christianity went the way of Rome after the Synod of Whitby in 665 CE. Between the Celtic spiritual sensibility and the Brehon legal system based on reparative justice as opposed to punitive measures, life on the Celtic fringes was the light that blazed during the Dark Ages. Brehon law lingered in the Gaelic areas of Ireland up until the 17th century and was a liberal system that enshrined women’s rights when few existed elsewhere in European civilisation.
Nor did the Whitby Synod completely extinguish the underpinnings of Celtic spirituality and religious practice. The popularity of John O’ Donohue’s writings tapped into a hunger for that older wisdom creating something of a renaissance.
Ancient Celtic wisdom revers nature, contemplative silence, the giving of hospitality as a sacred duty, and the porous veil between our material world and ‘the other world.’ Dolores gave us an Irish proverb in translation- “Tir na nÓg is behind my house.” As Mari Kennedy discussed, the ancient Celtic world a millenia and more ago operated so that individuals were responsible for being in ‘right relationship’ with themselves, with the land, with their neighbours and with their god. Sovereignty was not just for the high king. It was, and still is, about living with integrity and maintaining that wholeness in all one’s dealings. That right relationship with all four is the cross surrounded by the circle of wholeness. Right relationship opens a way for there to be reparative justice rather than the punitive justice of our current systems.
The Celtic world was not afraid of darkness or death. The Cailleach is a terrible hag and rules winter. But she is also credited with being the Creatrix of our known world. The Celtic New Year – Samhain – or Halloween as it is known elsewhere – is at our darkest time of year. Out of that darkness the light is reborn at winter solstice.
I am reminded of the time I listened to our cat Zelda purr her litter of kittens into the world as she sat beside me. A few months earlier my husband sat with our cat Sophie as she purred her way out of this world. Birth and death both require labour; they are two sides of the same coin.
We are in that liminal space (there’s another point that Mari brought up in the webinar!) where we are witnessing the death of our old known world. The birth of the ‘new normal’ is not yet with us. We stand on our threshold with the door open. We are between the old model of our known world and the yet to be seen new model. We are needing to hold our uncertainty and stand with it – in our own integrity.
This was all very synchronous for me. The previous Friday I sat with my husband and a friend outdoors mulling over how I might devise a course that would speak to the the long days of December. With indoor visitations disappearing across the map as areas lockdown because of localised Covid19 spikes, I wondered how the Covid19 Christmas would look in 2020. I had already emailed siblings in the States asking that we don’t do the present parcel routine this year. I really do not want my siblings – all over 69 years of age – queuing for a long time in a post office, potentially exposing themselves to pathogens.
On Saturday, a discussion with some students who stayed in the Zoom room after class helped clarify what I can offer. And, credit where it is due – thanks to the late Mammy Rountree who helped construct the name for the course.
Which will be…21 Days Journey through the Dark Days of December. I will be writing more about this next week. For now, just know that my hope is that there can be a community of souls helping each other hold the uncertainty as they wait upon the return of the light.
I am typing this blog sitting on a hot water bottle. Blessings upon the inventor and patenter of this rubber vessel of comfort to those aches and pains that assail the body. Blessings upon all their descendants, too, for that matter! I have two furry muses close by me – the little dog and Felix, the ex-brawler feral turned lover (most of the time – he’s not completely lost the brawl in his nature, but it is most often incited by a protectiveness toward the smallest critter in the house, the feline princess.)
We are digesting the news that the second wave of Covid19 is well and truly begun in Ireland. Dublin is on Level 3. No ‘wet’ pubs for them, though elsewhere in the Republic they opened. (Madness!) Northern Ireland has also introduced new restrictions. Just don’t visit people at home; well, only one other household allowed to mix with another. Domestic transmission seems to be the one getting the blame this go round. The rationale is that there is more control of potentially infective behaviour in public spaces. Yet the two potential cases I have heard of anecdotally are in schools. Judging by the rugby scrum of teenagers queueing outside a supermarket in Carrick on Shannon during their lunch break last week this is hardly surprising. Young ones crave connection as much as any human; teenagers, however, have much less impulse control. One wonders what the long term behavioural effect of Covid 19 will be on the next generation.
Today is equinox, the equal length of night and day, here in Ireland. It was this day in 2001 that I arrived in Ireland and pitched up in Dowra, the first village on the river Shannon. Which was the sole fact I could glean on Google about the place where we had found a house to rent as our initial disembarkation point in the Republic. Little could I have guessed that this small village – yes, the first one on the River Shannon – would become the place where I have lived the longest in my lifetime.
There was a brief flutter of months in Queens, NYC, when I was born. Then the next longest stay was spent in a small town in Pennsylvania. University took me to Washington, DC for some six years in total. London in England equalled that span before we moved north to Leeds for fifteen years.
During the pandemic I am especially grateful that we took the risk of moving country and also, crucially, moving into the countryside. I cannot imagine not having the ability to get outdoors, to not have a garden to get away from the four walls, or a lonely lane to pace up and down with the dogs during Lockdown. No wonder urban dwellers are so keen to get out and about despite the risks.
No one who knew me in that former life would have ever guessed the deep contentment in living so off the beaten track would give me. But there is the fact of it as we sit outdoors looking at the landscape stretching from Cavan through Leitrim to the heights of Arigna in County Roscommon. “A fine mess you got me into, ” my husband often quotes fondly, since I was the one who lobbied hard to move to Ireland in the first place. The Belfast Treaty and his eldest sister’s death at age 54 dissolved his objections.
Nature has been the great comfort during this trying year. (Also, baking!) In my Zoom Creative Writing workshop this past week we touched on Creative Nonfiction. The ‘homework’ assignment took inspiration from a chapter heading in M.F. K. Fisher’s book How to Cook a Wolf ; write an essay on how to give comfort. The alternative is to write on Ten Essential Things to Do Before You Die.
The year is dying, even if the virus is not yet. I woke at 6am to darkness. I watched the last shaft of sunlight pierce through cloud last night around 7:30pm. We ate our lunch and supper outdoors on Sunday and had a socially distanced cup of tea with a friend outdoors yesterday. This morning felt like autumn had arrived right on schedule. It is time for warm, fuzzy, woolen socks. I walked on the beach in sandals last Friday. That will be their last outing until summer 2021.
I did not plan to have a poem for this post. I thought that it would be strictly prose, which is the focus of the next five weeks for me as we move into Short Story in our Zoom creative writing workshops. But then…Surprise! Like joy, a poem randomly turned up.
I sense the wind is singing,
catch its joy
as it blows past in the breeze.
Hold it - briefly -
to my breast, swaddled
in the soft wool nest
of my oldest sweater.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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