Nature Poem

Having a meme for 30 Days of Gratitude is a helpful prompt for poetry practice. Because somedays it can feel a bit blank. I need something more than caffeine for a kickstart. And so I consulted the meme my niece posted on Instagram. And if it is 8th November, then Nature is the theme. Which I can relish. Not everyone may realise that I live in Paradise. It’s part of a wider region known as the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. And a geopark, for those who are scratching their heads, is a UNESCO designation for regions of outstanding international significance for both natural and built heritage. I sometimes am incredulous that we actually stumbled on this area when we moved from Yorkshire.

So before I post the poem, let me give you a wee slide show of my corner of the universe.

nature

Bee Smith River Shannon nature

nature

I mustn’t neglect to include a cow picture. This is cattle country after all.

nature

And some cow parsley that festoons our lane every May.

nature on our lane

I suppose I could have gone for a lyrical pastoral poem. But we live close to upland country. It is much more wildish in West Cavan.

Nature

 

green

bronze  gold

moss

lichen

 

sky

canvas

cloud

drop cloth

 

lake

water

still

presence

 

tree

rooted

bare

sleeping

 

stream

flowing

down

river

 

sea

roaring

tide

turning

 

bird

feeding

wings

flutter

 

sun

rising

day

starting

 

moon

waxing

month

cycling

 

night

skywatch

owl

hooting

 

all

nature

is

changing

 

like

Luna

we

return

 

like

daylight

too

returns

 

 

Copyright © Bee Smith 2018

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Haiku Walking

An early start for the second of my Creative Ireland mindfulness haiku walks on the Cavan Burren. This particular group came from the Education Centre at the local low security prison.  I love working with these guys and it is always a privilege. The Cavan Burren offers megaliths, upland landscape and woodland where rock art and remains of neolithic living can be seen. It has a very special presence. And while it is a specially earned opportunity, it also challenges guys who are used to a foreshortened viewpoint. Up by the Tullygubban Wedge Tomb they could look out and count six counties. They could look down on their own residence over looking Lough MacNean where ancient people left remains of shellfish feasts. Some city dwellers have only ever experienced concrete. This was wilderness to some Dubs amongst us.

And then how do you handle presence and silence when you have been living in a perpetually noisy environment? That, too, is a challenge. For then the chatter in the mind gets louder sometimes. Which is where mindfulness meditation can come in handy.

Haiku can help focus on a moment – a pause, a revelation – and then share that connection. So many offenders in prison have some element of addiction that contributed to their landing there. Studies in Portugal have posited that the opposite of addiction is connection. Connection is the business of poetry. Which is why I am in there pitching poetry writing  for the past four years. I hope the lads have got as much out of it as I have received.

Two haiku from today’s foray:

In the woods – the wind

Ruffling spruce needles whoosh.

And. What’s that? Silence

Coming down Mollie’s Brae

A rainbow: my wish

A way to be free

Poetry, PoeTree & Culture Night

A busy couple of days without the leisure to polish a lengthy poem for poetry practice. Tonight is Ireland’s Culture Night and up and down the country there will be events celebrating every kind of art form. Tonight I will perform some poems at Dowra Courthouse Creative Space, a repurposed redundant rural courthouse that is now an exhibition, performance and meeting space. It kicks off at 4:30pm with a pottery class by local ceramics teacher Jim Fee. (The courthouse even has a kiln to finish off the production!). From 7:30pm there will be a procession of performers starting with estimable Mike Absolem and his harp. My husband, Tony Cuckson and I share a storytelling and poetry slot at 8pm. Musicians and singer/songwriters will entertain until 10:30pm.

From poetry to PoeTree on Saturday with another of my outdoor writing workshops. This one is free courtesy of funding from Create Ireland and Cavan County Council. The walk and workshop will concentrate on haiku as both poetry form and a mindfulness practice. Cavan Burren Park, Blacklion is my favourite venue and never fails to offer fresh inspiration on every visit. Meet me at the Visitor Centre at 2pm for a stroll with a pen and notebook. Be prepared for some stop and stare time. If you want more information ring me on ++353-71-964-3936.

So writing practice for today demands exercising the haiku muscle. Also, it is brief. So it. An ideal form for the time famished writer. Okay, breathe in. Breathe out…and

It can be done in seventeen syllables. Or less. It can be less.

The storm stripped the willows

The gaps between trees

Lets new light in

Turtle Tours on Turtle Island

In my tour guide role, I had the privelege to share some of my very favourite special places with a Canadian client this weekend. Suzy says she is doing a ‘Turtle Tour’. She saved for ten years to make her epic odyssey to Ireland. We have been corresponding and Facebooking for at least the last two years. And now we meet as friends and what a joy to meet a fellow sojourner who savours their trek and pauses to take the pulse of presence in a place.

IMG_0721

At St. Hugh’s Well, Ballinagleragh, Leitrim

Suzy says she is a on a ‘Turtle Tour’ because she is not a hareing around kind of person. She takes it slow and steady, taking time to process the sights, smells, sounds, and taste of place.

Hand holding rock

Hands On the Boulder Tomb, Cavan Burren

And I have her to thank for clarifying my own work. I really am a Turtle Tour Guide. I stroll. I stop and stare. I like to take the time to mindfully be in the moment in a place. I might even stop to jot a haiku if that is gifted in the moment. And planet earth is sometimes called Turtle Island. Slow Travel – or Turtle Tours – are what I feel exemplifies sustainable, environmentally friendly travel for our precious planet.

You can keep up with all ten weeks of Suzy’s sojourn on her blog Suzy’s Epic Irish Odyssey. We bonded over our love of rock. Her excuse is that she comes from a lineage full of stone masons. I am still not sure what it is with me about rocks. (Incidentally, she got to share the same bus with the friend who was quoted in a previous blog. Such is the minimal degree of separation in Ireland. He made us our coffee today!)

Left: Sweathouse, Leitrim

Right: Boulder Tomb, Cavan Burren

Suzy spent time today at Cavan Burren Park. Most people automatically think Burren – Clare! Not so, though. There is more than one stoney place in Ireland. I have an artist friend, Amanda Jane Graham, who characterises the Cavan Burren as Ireland’s ‘Fluffy’ Burren because there is so much moss, lichen, leaf and green. So now we are referring to the Clare Burren as the ‘Baldy Burren.’ Ye can’t fault us for being boosterish of our local Burren!

Fluffy Burren

Ireland’s ‘Fluffy’ Burren in Cavan

And you can never really discount the magic – or sheer weird woo-woo stuff – that comes in when you are receptive. I had been hoping that Suzy would get to hear the cuckoo calling. I heard it and then, as we approached what feels like holy ground in the Cavan Burren forest, the cuckoo called – very loudly, very long, a much longer call lasting at least thirty seconds.  At first, I thought it was my husband, teasing us. But that was not the case. But it did happen just after I said, “Maybe the Cuckoo is calling especially for the Cucksons! ” (My husband’s family name is Cuckson.) I was mildly freaked out at the time, it was so up close and so unusual. Maybe it was a fairy teasing me!

It is always an honour to meet someone real world after acquaintance online. It is even more special when they intuitively ‘get you.’ Suzy gifted me items that made me feel very understood.  One was a Vancouver First Nations charm of a frog, which represents connection. And I know Suzy probably had in  mind a poem on this blog that has a refrain ‘Connection is the cure.’

More poignant was a little silver necklace with a pillar inscribed with this quotation, which she felt summed me up. We are mosaics, pieces of light, love, history, stars glued together with magic, music and word.

That really does sum up my life. So, thank you, Suzy for ‘seeing me’. I shall cherish this along with your presence as you graced the day,  your appreciation of the glory that is the corner of my particular part of Turtle Island.

So if you, too, want to make like a tortoise to experience Ireland on a ‘turtle tour’, I am your woman to guide ye!  You can contact me here.

Pigs Can’t Fly?

That is one of the prompts for Day 22 of NaPoWriMo/GloPoWriMo. Yesterday’s balladeering has me careering off to the rhyming dictionary. I think I have swallowed it. But seriously, today’s prompt made me immediately think of the Dowra folklore about the relic of the Black Pig’s Dyke in the village. I even showed the alleged site (yet to be archaelogically sanctified or verified) to travel writer Paul Clements last summer. I was actually having a cuppa with my neighbour Winnie and her son yesterday and we were talking about it. Today’s poem is based on a tale I heard on Richard Morris tell onYou Tube. Pigs can’t fly? But I do promise that Pigs will fly!

The prompt will explain this.

And now for our daily prompt (optional as always). I’ve found this one rather useful in trying to ‘surprise’ myself into writing something I wouldn’t have come up with otherwise. Today, I’d like you to take one of the following statements of something impossible, and then write a poem in which the impossible thing happens:

The sun can’t rise in the west.

A circle can’t have corners.

Pigs can’t fly.

The clock can’t strike thirteen.

The stars cannot rearrange themselves in the sky.

A mouse can’t eat an elephant.

On the Black Pig’s Back

 

I live in a landscape

of willow wand and hazel stick

when men and women could nimbly re-shape

a little girl to minute tick

or little boy into a Barbary Ape.

 

There once was a magician

who ran his own hedge school.

He had his pupils hard driven,

but at recess they could go out and play the fool.

However, this became cause of some local friction.

He changed his pupils into hares and hounds

so they could lose the run of themselves,

racing around the recess playground.

Their parents, those who paused to delve,

took exception, thought it way out of bounds.

Might he take to turning the children over to elves?

It was a wise woman to whom they turned

to figure out what would fix his trick.

So the children told Master that they all yearned

for him to given them some new antic.

Perhaps he could perform his own skinturn?

Well, of course, no magician could manage to resist

any opportunity for this sort of show and tell.

So, he said, mock-modest, If you insist.

What shall it be? What animal spell?

A PIG! they roared. So he made himself all contortionist

and became a great tusked black boar.

Delighted they all were that recess time

as he snuffled for truffles, acting all cocksure.

But he could not lift the bell and make it chime,.

With hooves instead of fingers he snorted and swore.

He could not lift his magic wand. He let out an enormous  roar!

Enraged, he rampaged up and down and all around,

children fleeing in every direction.

He tore up hedges, scarring great ditches into the ground.

Cussing and swearing and promising he’d fix ’em,

he pounded so fast they swear he left the ground.

True! They all will have Given their oath that day

that they’d seen that black pig fly,

so intent was he in hunting down his prey.

So hot was his rage, so impotent his cries

he dug the Black Pig’s Dyke right into folkloric way.

 

Eventually, the dyke was seen to be

useful for warding the cattle

from northern raiders and unscrupulous mart traders  to make free.

The shuck had them stuck for that boar had been artful

to furrow with both tusks in his fierce frenzy.

 

Now, magicians can, you see, skinturn

and be all interspecies.

They can also manage to craftily spurn

the logic of physics. Now this I will guarentee.

That old black boar quickly learned

how to get off the Black Pig’s Dyke.

He didn’t run with the hare or even the hound,

and would absolutely never mess with parents of tykes.

And one fine day he began to rise up off the ground

balloon like, with the wise woman flying him like a kite.

 

Copyright © 2018 Bee Smith

Featured image from en.wickipedia.org

Pirosmani._Boar

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

 

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.