The Dissident Daughter

Day 20 of NaPoWriMo/GloPoWriMo practically begs us to get out of our comfort zones. It is preaching revolution in one’s poetry practice. So what can you do to mount those barricades in form or content? I have Alice Notley’s volume Grave of Light. She practiced poetic disobedience alright.  So today I am attempting to cross all my personal poetry taboos. This means there will be rhyme. There will be form. There will be light verse! And there will be a tale of disobedience.

Here’s the prompt.

Our craft resource for the day is Alice Notley’s essay, The Poetics of Disobedience. In it, Notley advocates for a poet to “maintain a state of disobedience against…everything.” By this she means remaining open to all forms, all subjects, and not becoming beholden to “usual” methods for writing. Whenever we are sure that there is one “right” way to write, or some specific set of topics that are the “right” ones to discuss, we should ask ourselves, what part of experience are we leaving out? And why?

Our prompt for the day (optional as always) takes its cue from Notley’s rebelliousness, and asks you to write a poem that involves rebellion in some way. The speaker or subject of the poem could defy a rule or stricture that’s been placed on them, or the poem could begin by obeying a rule and then proceed to break it (for example, a poem that starts out in iambic pentameter, and then breaks into sprawling, unmetered lines). Or if you tend to write funny poems, you could rebel against yourself, and write something serious (or vice versa). Whatever approach you take, your poem hopefully will open a path beyond the standard, hum-drum ruts that every poet sometimes falls into.

The Ballad of the Dissident Daughter

 

It’s not that she’s being truculent.

Or even gives me much cheek.

It’s the silences when she goes absent

that I wish she were more shriek than geek.

 

It started when she asked if we could subscribe

to Newsweek instead of  our usual, Time.

I blame her brother, who gave her a MS magazine

subscription when she was only just turned sixteen.

 

She went off to a good enough college

that should have kept her on the right moral track.

Despite that fact,she was soon eighteen

wanting to major in aphrodisiac.

 

Liberation was the cry, and it wasn’t from Hitler.

In my time that meant celebrating  VJ Day.

Why couldn’t she be Caesar’s wife and marry a banker?

Instead of she’s off inventing some other V-Day.

 

I shudder to think of the mirrors she’s held

as she’s peered up the down below.

I taught her to sit like a lady, knees neatly parallel.

But what is a lady these days I’d like to know?

 

First, she refused to cover her head at Mass,

then acting like church attendance was trespass.

It’s the NOT going to Mass that matters,

not whether you don or doff your chaplet will cause a stir.

 

I’d speak to the priest, but he’s always terribly busy in Lent.

I’d offer it up, if that strategy were not so oblique.

I pray to St. Monica nightly, giving her my personal lament.

I feel too antique to fathom all this modern realpolitik.

Instead of being so obstinately hellbent,

why cannot my daughter manage to be a good Catholic?

 

Copyright © 2018 Bee Smith

 

Teen Bee crop

 

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Weaving Art in the Geopark

My creative colleague, Morag Donald, and I have been leading art and creative writing workshops with a Foróige youth group in Templeport, Co. Cavan since January. This was just one group taking part in the Cavan Youth Arts Lab, of which there are ten across County Cavan with approximately 150 youth getting a chance to try out and play in various artistic disciplines. The Cavan Arts Office initiative received EU funding through Peace IV, part of the ongoing funding in cross-border communities that has oiled the mechanics of peace and reconciliation after the Thirty Years conflict ended with the Belfast Agreement on Good Friday, 10th April, 1998. Rural border towns were especially impacted by that conflict in many ways too lengthy to enumerate in this blog post.  Here we are twenty years on, approaching Good Friday, still doing the healing work.

Templeport, Bawnboy is also a Geopark Community, with sites of importance for Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark (another monument to cross-border cooperation, founded in the wake of the Belfast Agreement.) Morag and I proposed a project allowing the group to try out a range of arts and crafts, story and poetry that they would be unlikely to encounter in school.  We took as our thematic touchstone ‘Landscape and Heritage.’  PEACE Cavan Youth Arts Project Facilitator Kim Doherty matched us with a Foróige group of 12-14 year old girls. We met them in evening sessions and one daytime in Templeport Community Centre and had a day long outing in Cavan Burren Park, Shannon Pot and a workshop in Dowra Courthouse Creative Space. Because as far as I am concerned you cannot have a project on land without getting outdoors.

Over the course of the first quarter of 2018, ten young women gamely tried out lots of new stuff. In the first session I asked them if they related more to words or pictures. Most felt more comfortable with visual media, but they also courageously tried out words. And I do mean courageous. One young woman when asked how she felt about writing a poem said, “Terrified!” And she was being dead honest. But, to her credit, she felt the fear and did it anyway!  And it didn’t really hurt at all in the process – a bit to her surprise.

We started with giving them journals to collage and keep a record of their own work and thoughts.

Cavan Youth Arts Lab Journals
Collaged journals, Cavan Youth Arts Lab at Templeport

Morag Donald, a certified tutor in Touch Drawing, gave them a taste of this way to express themselves using this unique technique.

Cavan Youth Arts Lab Touch Drawing
Cavan Youth Arts Lab Touch Drawing

Morag also taught skills in felt making, needle felt pictures and weaving.

 

 

First, call your friend who has some alpaca wool going spare. Then, encourage girls to get over the animal aroma pre-washing.  Next, wash it, roll it, pass it around! Felt making is a truly communal and co-operative operation.

But weaving offered each individual the opportunity to weave in her own contribution as part of a greater whole.

Cavan Youth Arts Lab Weaving
Weaving one’s own contribution to the bigger picture

For the words part of the project I chose ‘The Lost Words’ as a theme. This harks back to a poem of my own (Lost Worlds) inspired when I read that many words describing natural phenomena were being dropped from the Junior Oxford English Dictionary. Now, for these young women living in a rural setting, conker and bluebell are still very real and known. But for urban children those words deemed ‘irrelevant to modern childhood’ won’t have either a memory or a reference. So it seemed important to impress that these girls had a unique place in being the storykeepers of some of the lost words. In our final session they each chose a word as theirs to keep. For Emma, who dipped into the tin and picked kingfisher, it seemed absolute kismet since they have some kingfishers close to her home place.

 

 

Story is a way of communicating our heritage. On our day out on the Cavan Burren and Shannon Pot, in my Geopark Local Guide guise, I shared the folklore of the turlough and rocks, the swallow holes and megalithic tombs with them. Then, at Shannon Pot Tony Cuckson, my husband, shared with them the story of how the Shannon Got Its Name From a Girl.

Cavan Youth Arts Lab Shannon Pot
Tony Cuckson Tells the Story of how the Shannon Got Its Name from a Girl

In the workshop after lunch in Dowra Courthouse Creative Space I encouraged the girls to write short haiku to accompany some of the photos taken on their phones.

 

 

The Japanese poetry form also lends itself to collaboration when you create a renga. A haiku is made up of three lines of seventeen syllables. A tanka is a haiku with two more lines of seven syllables each. A renga is a series of linked tanka. Mind mapping is a real help when you are working on these.

Cavan Youth Arts Lab
Creating a renga with a group of four. Cooperation and collaboration skill building

Part of collaboration is about listening to others. From the very beginning we borrowed the Native American tradition of using a talking stick. This teaches each person to respect the person talking who holds the stick. By holding the stick you actively draw attention and people really listen to your words. You learn not to interrupt and to show respect for what everyone has to say. We made a talking stick for the girls to take back to the larger Foróige group in Templeport. After discussion, Rachel was elected as Talking Stick Keeper for the one they  made during the project.

Cavan Youth Arts Lab
Rachel is the Templeport Foróige Talking Stick Keeper

In our final session we wove our lost words into the collective weaving. Then, using two of the lost words, ash and wilow, the girls made a frame for the weaving and mounted their needle felt pictures.  The bottom right needlefelt piece is a collaboration three girls initiated to create a single piece.

 

 

 

We also created a traditional wishing tree using felled branches. The group was asked to write out a wish or blessing – three lines beginning as follows:

May you…

May I…

May we…

The cloutie tree, or wishing tree, derives from the Gaelic for the word cloth. Since cloth and textile had played such a large part of the project it seemed fitting to end it with the group adding ribbons and lace along with their wishes, which we had printed on to cloth so they could tie it on. There was great sweetness and heart in their blessing wishes.

And this was my own wish.

May you always see the beautiful light inside you

May I always honour the beautiful light in everyone

May we always live with courage and act from a loving heart

Cavan Youth Arts Lab
Some of the Templeport Foróige group that participated in Cavan Youth Arts Lab with Bee Smith and Morag Donald

And what did the girls learn? Well, some of the comments on the feedback sheets made these statements.  “I learned that I was unique.” “I learned that I have some imagination.” I learned about communication skills and listening.”  “I learned I could be creative.” And any of those are all really helpful skills for peace-building in the future.

Haiku Poetree Walk

My blog schedule is a bit disrupted. But you try leading four workshops within seven days and nursing sciatica on the ‘off ‘ days! I did actually draft this blog twice, but each time the iPad crashed and I lost the draft.  But maybe the universe was telling me I needed some crash time of my own! Third time lucky on the trusty steam laptop. And besides, in the interim one of the haiku walk workshop participants sent me some lovely images and haiku she wrote on the day. Morag Donald has kindly given me permission to share them with you here. (But you might also want to visit her WordPress blog over at Morag Donald Reiki Master & Teacher).

It was Irish Tree week last week and the snow and sleet earlier on had yielded to mist and soft rain and a practically balmy 6C! Those of us living in Fermanagh and Cavan, the lakeland counties in Ireland, are well equipped to deal with most weather eventualities. So my band of hardy haiku poetree walkers arrived well dressed for the occasion.

haiku poetree walkers
Ready to ginko down Claddagh Glen at Marble Arch Caves Visitor Centre

 

We met at Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark Visitor Centre. Many of you know I am also a local Geopark Guide. And in March 2018, that has roared in like a lion, I am being intrepid enough to host two outdoor poetry events in Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. This first, with a haiku walk down lush Claddagh Glen, was an appropriate venue for celebrating all things arborial in Irish Tree Week.

Irish Tree Week
Lush moss, lichen and fern make Claddagh Glen an evergreen year round walk

And here is the haiku that Morag wrote, inspired during the walk.

haiku Claddagh Glen
Wood elf Copyright 2018 Morag Donald

Along with a tiny notebook, a camera of some sort is often a boon for a haiku walk anywhere.

haiku walk notebook
A tiny notebook like this A7 one with a waterproof cover can be useful on haiku walks. Fits in a pocket. I also recommend fingerless glove!

Haiku celebrates our natural heritage, as well as our relationship with nature. No more than seventeen syllables, the traditional  Japanese poetry form is often seen in three lines of 5-7-5 syllables. But in English that can sometimes feel a bit stilted, so the format has altered somewhat. A seasonal word to anchor the reader in the wheel of the year is also traditional.

As we drove up over Marlbank to Marble Arch Caves Centre, I composed a haiku of my own

Gorse flowers blaze bright

Through the mist and the mizzle

Spring creeps on soft feet

 

haiku poetree walk
Mist over Marlbank, Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark

Although on our haiku walk down the glen it wasn’t sheep we spotted, but some rather splendid antlers on feral goats. They were both too shy and too quick to take a reasonable photo, but here is a haiku snapshot.

haiku by Morag Donald
Copyright 2018 Morag Donald Haiku inspired by wild goats on our haiku walk in Claddagh Glen, Marble Arch Caves

 

It is true that aroma of goat announced their presence on the opposite bank of the Claddagh River.  My own jotting at the time:

River’s negative ions

Feral goat sweat wafts across

Go wild!

And my! The way they were scrambling along a thirty-five degree angle was an impressive sight. Sure-footed is no exageration. They were practically balletic!

 

 

This is their habitat – rock, river, trees. Claddagh Glen is one of my favourite walks. They have an expression ‘to shower my head.’ Which actually sounds more like ‘shar my hay-ed.’  Which translates as getting your mind clear. Whenever I see the  Cascade along the path I feel like I am showering my soul.

haiku poetree walk claddagh Glen
The Cascade waterfall in Claddagh Glen on our Haiku Poetree Walk during Irish Tree Week

 

Haiku walks – or ginko – are ideal opportunities to ‘shower your soul’.  The Japanese practice something that translates as ‘forest bathing’. A haiku walk in scenic splendour has a similar replenishing effect.  I will be planning more in 2018 in and around Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. If you would like to take part in one, please fill in the contact form below, letting me know when you will be in our part of Ireland.

 

Poetry Events in the Geopark

It is rare to mix poetry events with the great outdoors. Much less in March! Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark sites- the splendour of Claddagh Glen, Florencecourt, Co. Fermanagh, and Cavan Burren Park, Blacklion, County Cavan – offers two such unique outdoor poetry events. Irish Tree Week and World Poetry Day are the reasons we just have to go forth and create poetry.

But allow me to give you a personal preview on both events in this video.

haiku, MarbleArchCavesGlobalGeopark

Haiku and More, March in the Geopark

Despite the wind and snow, this weekend marked the beginning of Irish National Tree Week, which is actually ten days celebration of the great oxygenators of our biosphere. To do my bit, I am leading a unique Haiku Poetree Walk at a Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark site. So next Saturday, please join me and get hooked on the haiku habit at Claddagh Glen. We will meet at 11am, Saturday, March 10th for a two hour walking in the spirit of a traditional ginko. For full details and updates, click on the Facebook event link below:

Geopark Haiku PoeTree Walk

Haiku is an ancient Japanese poetry form – seventeen syllables, three lines, no rhyme. It takes nature as it’s great theme. In a Geopark, we have nature is a huge presence.

Haiku  Geopark

Just one word of caution. Haiku can become habit forming!

But in a good – even healthful – way.

The second event marks UNESCO World Poetry Day, which comes around every year on March 21st.  Geoparks are a UNESCO designation, so it seemed an ideal opporunity to marry two of my passions – Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark and poetry. On the St. Patrick’s Bank Holiday Monday, March 19th, I will be reading poems that take direct inspiration from Geopark sites at Cavan Burren Park.

“Earth Writing” is a compilation of poems inspired by the landscape of Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. Last summer I wrote here about the Cavan Arts/Creative Ireland project “Ancient and Wild”, which brought together artists from all kinds of disciplines to create work inspired by the Geopark’s distinctive landscape and heritage. If you look at other blogs listed under the ‘Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark’ category from last summer and autumn, you will see some of the sites we visited as a group. A day out included a visit to Cavan Burren Park and Claddagh Glen, two of my very favourite soul-stirring sites of the many magnificent ones dotted along the Fermanagh and Cavan boundary. For more information, click on the Facebook event link below:

World Poetry Day Cavan Burren Walk

Wrap up well! Fingerless gloves might be useful on the haiku writing walk. Homemade cake will be provided.

 

Land of My Heart

I live in an area of outstanding natural beauty and geological significance. Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark was a region stripped of much of its population through the vagaries of a century and more of famine, civil unrest and general economic penury. The Irish language clung on in the uplands, but eventually it, too, was virtually extinguished. But upland country breeds resilience. Those who stayed held firm. They were the keepers in more ways than one.

The Back Road

Each day they rise, living they may think

        small, isolated lives, dwarfed by this horizon.

        Each day they rise before this wide sky,

         watching the light rearrange the picture ,

         mountain recedes and lough is obscured.

         Each day they rise to read the sky, every shadow,

  each cloud a new line in a saga.

        

         You see it reflected in guileless eyes,

         in women who have ancient faces,

         features utterly unmodern, undisguised.

         Fingers, flesh, cheek bones hewn by

         thousands of years of family tracing their living

         in relentless, miraculous weather.

         The memory is in the peat they walk and burn,

         in the hedgerows, rowan trees, heather and fern.

 

         Each day they rise, living they may think

         small, isolated lives, dwarfed by this

         huge picture drawn across a canvas sky.

         They can read it still, alive to the shifting signs.

         The Burren stone is bred in their own bones.

         When they pass into the mist we will be left

         with wind, weather, a different cast of light.

         The skyline will be read in a language foundering

  in clefts of limestone, silent as the  fog bound bog.

© Bee Smith 2016

The Celtic Tiger attracted new people like us – ‘blow-ins’. Not indigenous to the land. Some might be the children or grandchildren returning to a homeplace from years of emigration in Britain, Canada or the USA. But Germans and Dutch fell in love with the pristine environment, the lakes that promised limitless fishing. Eastern Europeans arrived to build the houses the rode the Tiger’s back. This border country offered cheap land and rents, so artists from every kind of discipline found their way here.

Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark straddles Fermanagh, in Northern Ireland, and Cavan in the Republic. In the ancient kingdom of Ireland system, both counties were part of Ulster.  And it was from somewhere in Ulster that the paternal Smiths are alleged to have travelled to a new life in New York City sometime in the 19th century.

What my current dwelling place has in common with my migrant ancestors is that it has always hosted incomers. This place has always been a draw for those with itchy feet. In Irish myth from the Leitrim side of my village you can see Slieve Anieran (Iron Mountain) rise. It was here that the mythical race, the Tuatha dé Danaan, first landed in Erin.  After their defeat by the new incomers, the Milesians, they retreated to this homeplace before they went into the sídh, that placeless space beyond our finite three-dimensional world.

I am descended from migrants, just like the Tuatha dé Danaan and the Milesians were migrants to Ireland. The 17th century colonial Quakers and Dutch sailed in leaky wooden ships instead of boats the Tuatha burnt when they found themselves in Erin. My German ancestors sailed into Ellis Island from Franconia to set up a shoe shop in Queens. My Irish ancestors watched skyscrapers rise above the dusty grid of city streets and the Statue of Liberty would welcome Joe Smith’s future bride as she arrived as a little girl in the New World.

In a reverse journey, two centuries on, their descendent would find a sense of home in the land where the River Shannon finds its source. I live in the first village on the River Shannon. As you drive towards the village the promontory of Slievenakilla, known as The Playbank, hulks on the horizon. It is very like the sphinx and indeed, I do sometimes feel as if I live in nature’s own version of the Valley of the Kings.

Playbank poem

I feel full of gratitude that through a combination of serendipity, synchronicity, the poems of W.B. Yeats and Brighid of Ireland we were led to this place. It wasn’t our plan. But sometimes Spirit, and possibly, too, the Ancestors and the Land itself have other plans for us.

All of us who have ‘itchy feet’ – we migrants who get up and go, those walking the world from way back,  even to the eon-aged mists cloaking the ships of the Tuatha dé Danaan – the Land teaches us the same lesson. One day it will take our ashes or bones and then the Land will allow us to enter its narrative and we will become one body.

© Bee Smith 2017

Weaving

Writers and others in ‘creative’ careers are probably the original people with ‘portfolio careers.’ Which does not necessarily mean they have a career in the traditional sense of the word. To me that implies things such as benefits- like pension pots. While we do enjoy many benefits from pursuing our creative career path, material return is a bit like chasing the proverbial pot of gold at times.  Material gain can be both a duck shoot and an exercise in weaving known as ‘duck and dive.’ When things are proceeding smoothly, I prefer to think of this writing life as weaving a tapestry, with differant strands of colour representing those other paths that intersect and make up the life of a creative.

Continue reading “Weaving”

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.