It's An Other Thing

Really shifting gears with the theme of the Sunday Weekly Poem this week. Sometimes it is important to name what it is in the ether that is exhausting everyone. Because, have you noticed, that people do comment how exhausting life is these days? It’s just in the ether and on the air waves. So,without further ado, I shall just launch into the weekly poem and then let you go about your business and perhaps have a little cogitate.

An Other Thing
 
Your mentioning that
You’re not from around here,
that from the very sound of my tongue
you presume with your follow up,
Are you here on holiday?
Even though the items travelling down
the check-out conveyor belt
are the ordinary stuff you get on a weekly shop.
Your default setting is  narrow assumption.
I am in the line up for the mug shot and charged
She’s not one of us.
 
And othering is so exhausting.
 
Your mentioning about that one:
She’s too pale, too dark, too fat, too thin,
too flat, too curvy, too dumb, too smart.
It’s just about making someone else feel
unworthy.
It’s just a way of saying
You are not me! You are not mine.
And apart from it being boring
 
othering is so damn exhausting.
 
Your mentioning that:
I’m not comfortable
is a micro itch that’s getting
all fired up for a macro scratch
that can wind up into a major maul.
All because what you see
is not a mirror version of Me.
 
Yeah, othering gets so exhausting.
 
Your mentioning this stuff
makes it all about you and your envy.
Put downs don’t raise anyone up.
But I get that you’ve been raised
to think that life’s a big contest and
there’s only one who can Be Best!
Relax now, brother and sister, it’s not a test.
No one wants to rain down shame.
There’s room enough in this parade
for varieties of every shade.
 
But just saying:
Your insecurity is slipping.
And, by the way,
you’ve made it into
an othering thing
because someone else is
too much of the very thing
you’d like to be
 
and this othering is so very, very exhausting.
 
Copyright © 2020 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Featured image by Darius Bashar on Unsplash.

After the Poetry Marathon, the Work

…really begins. What I found out by writing a poem a day for 365 consecutive days was that I had stamina and focus. I could sit down and write longhand and then transcribe and refine on a keyboard and post it out in the world to prove to myself that the day’s job was done.

By the very nature of the process some of the work was lame. But not all of it. Some of it just needed tweaking, punctuation, better spell-checking, chopping, and rearranging. Editting, in other words.

I have been really fortunate to have been given a grant from the Cavan Arts Office to work with a mentor/editor since October. The process of finding the mentor was more difficult than anticipated, but I ultimately found the right poetry midwife for me. Maggie Hannan has the knack of when to guide me to puff and when to push and then squeeze out the revised draft.

It’s made me a better crafter of poems, the new ones written in the aftermath of the marathon. Poems generally do improve, like a stew or soup, left alone for a day or two for the flavours to macerate. When you stir the pot you know what to add or how to improve on the recipe. (I like food. With the holidays and house guests I have been cooking a lot. Please forgive the food metaphors.) The Weekly poems I publish each Sunday have sometimes had up to seven days of sitting and getting seasoned.

But make no mistake. Editting is hard. It’s not so much about killing your babies as, to paraphrase Maggie, as when and where to separate the conjoined twins so they can go to live and breathe in separate cots.

By nature I am a fast writer. I get lots of ideas and learned long ago the trick of slipping under the internal censor’s radar to get that first draft down. (Don’t ask me how. It’s maybe a superpower.) Editting is slow work and one that can try the less patient. This process that began by myself last August has taught me that craft is not slipshod. It is slow, painstaking, sometimes boring. It also brings out the inner insecurities that can snare you and make you give up. Unless you have that mentor/editor to companion you in the process. Who is patiently keeping you at it and quietly encouraging you.

The solo collection work is ongoing with revised poems piling up. I can see the end in sight. Almost. I had a certain idea about it in the beginning, but that went out with the tide many moons ago. Now I am swept up in the process and letting the poems lead me a comma and cut at a time. But soon it will be time to take the next scary step and approach publishers.

While I have an enormous sense of gratitude to Maggie, I also want to say thanks to you readers, those who faithfully keep in regular touch, as well as those who just pop by now and then. I have had three special reader/friends who trawled through the old posts at the beginning of this editting process to suggest ones they felt were the strongest or really resonated.

But I am also often surprised and touched to find from my stats that there is someone in Liberia or Finland who cares enough to read what I have written. I wonder that my descriptions of this misty Celtic isle are of interest to so many who live on the Indian subcontinent.

When you are writer, some days it really does feel like the world is the size of a pea.

Praying in Random Places

I have written elsewhere in this blog that writing poetry, especially when I was writing a poem a day for 365 consecutive days from September 2018 until September 2019, is a spiritual practice. So it seems appropriate to write about prayer in the Sunday Weekly poem. As Samuel Becket said:

Samuel Beckett meme
Sam Beckett looking all prayerful

Samuel Beckett spent a portion of his youth at the Royal Portora School in Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh, which is not a million miles away from where we live. We live in this edgy part of Ireland where Cavan meets Fermanagh meets Leitrim. Last Sunday found us doing some life laundry (and literal laundry, too) in the nearby town of Manorhamilton, about sixteen miles from us. (NB: we live an average of twenty miles from anywhere in three directions that is a recognisable centre of population, with a number of commercial outlets and services.)

So this is what I do when I have a spare hour and a half when I can multi-task with a domestic task.

In the Mace in Manorhamilton I Sit Down And
 
It strikes me that, sitting
at a laminate table, on a banquette,
drinking my coffee, and imitation
pain au chocolat, that
 
this is a good place to pray
while my laundry cycles,
getting all sweet-smelling and
washed. It’s all auto here,
 
not just the petrol pumps, but
what dispenses coffee,
the washing machines, the drier,
the factory’s template exact
 
cut of tabletop after tabletop,
like an assembly line cookie cutter
(they sell good cookies here, too)
where I sit eating my machined pastry.
 
This is a good place to pray.
Where everyone is just doing their best,
Bless them!
Wiping tables, swabbing the deli counter,
 
totting at the till, making change,
nodding, and being pleasant.
But then, this is Leitrim after all,
and people tend to be.
 
So this is a good place to pray,
because praying is not automatic,
with the distant hum of the radio chat
behind the rumble of the chill cabinet.
 
Copyright © 2020 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Noodling

It’s been quite the week. And I might have taken the Wolf Moon eclipse as my Sunday Weekly poem’s subject matter. But then we had an eclipse at Wolf Moon 2019 and I wrote one then. And I did write a draft of 2020 version, but I figured we might need to mix things up a bit this week.

Or nature might have been my muse. We have had some spectacular skies here this week as a parenthesis to the full moon’s eclipse.

sunrise
sunset

But nah! When you have houseguests you tend to think a lot about menus. So food has been my muse. Also, there is a lot of music being played in the house.

 Noodle
  
 I want to stretch that infinite string
 of dried dough that has become 
 an elastic grace note pulled
  
 from the magic pot of water 
 at a rolling boil that’s be-bop
 and it soars round in its steam
  
 and you can keep it plain or do it
 fried, or meaty, or saucy or so
 spicy it feels kind of naughty,
  
 its cayenne kick that turns 
 to a croon till that bit of old dough
 is swooning onto your plate and it all
  
 started with a migrate out of the east
 on a camel’s back west, travelling
 the old Silk Road route and all along
  
 the people named it their way –
 gnudel or nouille or the even faster
 pasta.  Noodles are the original jazz.
  
 Each place would sing its song
 on a plate no matter what its name,
 served up the sauce wherever it came.
  
 We kind of like this noodling
 with flour, water and the odd spare egg.
 It’s poor people’s princely fare
  
 that can sing a mean hymn of praise
 and swoop into some melancholy longing
 for your baby who just stayed
  
 and never followed your string, 
 just sucked it all up with your silky voice.
 It’s all jazz and the world is just
  
 a pea served with your noodles.
 And all of us are just following
 that elastic note on its last string.
  
 Copyright © Bee Smith 2020. All rights reserved. 

Featured image Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash

Last Sunday Poem of a Decade

It is the final Sunday of 2019, not just the final Sunday weekly poem of the year, but also the final poem of a decade that marked my most solid commitment to improving the art and craft of poetry writing. I woke up early because I am especially excited to be going to see the new cinematic version of Little Women today, with some of my favourite women friends. And also, it feels appropriate to close off the year with a homage to two of the most formative women writers. Because I encountered them in childhood, I learned that writing was a fit occupation for women. I also grew up in a household with an elder sister who was a writer, so even though there was a dearth of women poets in anthologies or studied at school, I had these 19th century role models.

I first read Little Women in an abridged form when I was around eight or nine as I recovered from one of those childhood illnesses that kept you in quarantine for a fortnight. I became a rabid Alcott fan and over the years acquired Little Men, Jo’s Boys, Eight Cousins, Rose in Bloom. I found An Old Fashioned Girl at a library book sale. A Garland for Girls and Cornelia Meig’s Alcott biography, Invincible Louisa appeared under the Christmas tree. By the time I was twelve I could have had an MA in Alcott. I had all but her Gothic early fiction, which was still out of print in the 1970s. In my early teens I was a devout transcendentalist and had moved on to Thoreau and Hawthorn’s Blithedale Romance. One summer vacation my brother, mother and I had a little pilgrimage to Orchard House where I bought the pamphlet Transcendental Wild Oats. I drew a little water from Walden Pond as I would from a holy well. Alcott made me.

Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
Louisa May Alcott, literary shero

Emily Dickinson was my literary sister from another mother. I discovered a biography of her in the public library when I was about eleven years old and began to read her poetry and write cryptic ones in her style as a tween. Very fitting that my brother in Brooklyn should include some Emily Dickinson Divination cards in my Christmas box this year (many thanks, Steve!) . I have been drawing one daily, along with a Susan Seddon-Boulet Animal Spirit card for clarification.

Omen Days
The Omen Days – Day 4 draw

I will be doing this daily during this Christmas season that is ‘time out of time.’ From St. Stephen’s Day (or Boxing Day) on 26th until Women’s Little Christmas (or Epiphany) on 6th January, it was custom to scan nature for omens of the year to come. But these literary divination cards were just begging to be used for the Omen Days. There are twelve months in the calendar year and twelve days of Christmas. Hence, looking for signs and portents of the year to come during these days that were considered, and still are, a gateway time of endings and beginnings. There is more about them in this post from last year. https://sojourningsmith.blog/2018/12/26/the-omen-days/

But now to the final Sunday Weekly poem of 2019. I played around with a five line format a lot in July this year that takes a quotation as its first line. To find out more about the form, check out this post https://sojourningsmith.blog/2019/07/06/all-poets-can-do/.

In this case I have used Dickinson’s own words for the first and final lines.

This Being Mortal

Mortality is fatal.

Grief becomes our work in progress,

constantly hunting for what’s been lost –

The love that so eludes us,

The Soul there – all the time.

Top and tail lines by Emily Dickinson

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

I will do a quick New Year post mid-week. Then it will be back to the Sunday Weekly poem schedule.

Christmas Morning

Over much of the 365 consecutive days of writing a poem a day writing I did between September 2018 and 2019, I was awake during the early hours of darkness, alert before dawn. While I have happily back slided into more slothful habits since then, this week in the run up to Christmas has seen me waking in the dark again. This morning I had to itch to write a poem , which I have been rationing to once a week while I have tended to other projects. But this morning, with the cat who three years ago was an uncivilised feral purring at my side, I reverted to how I welcomed Christmas this time last year. Little did we know then that he was destined to become my muse. He was then an outcast, who has now come in from the cold.A little poem is my Christmas present to my readers. I am grateful to all who have faithfully commented, liked on Facebook, and kept me on task.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 Christmas Morning 
  
 The sky is a greyish white as the first of day's feeble light 
 illuminates the charcoal outline of bare limbs 
 on winter's trees. Today, we sing out hymns 
 to the evergreen, and of a star bright enough 
 to pierce a world whose soul is toughened up
 and feels plunged into deep, darkest night, 
  
 that cries out to be rescued and saved from ourselves 
 who for centuries have long so misbehaved 
 to our discredit. We have pained one another, 
 lost the thread of our kind and our love. In vain
 we refrain All is well! All will be well! 
 There speaks faith and hope. That's what we tell
 ourselves is the gospel of love. We wave away 
  
 for just this one day the state of our dismay 
 with gods and worldly fates. And with our hate. 
 Let there be love in hearts and hands. 
 Let the outcast come in and the stooped stand. 
 The crooked is straightened like that angel 
 perched up over the nativity's manger. 
 For one day let us all know this pause and poise.
 Let there be peace on earth and in every voice. 
  
 We dream of this miracle but once a year
  in the darkest nights, so hope may give us cheer. 
  
 Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved 
   

Featured image Photo by Imran Ali on Unsplash

The Shortest Day

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere the shortest day, winter solstice, will arrive around 2am this Sunday, the final Sunday of Advent. Moreover, the moon is in its balsamic, or darkest phase. On Christmas Day (or the early hours of the 26th where I live that we call Stephen’s Day) the moon will be reborn. In fact, there will be a lunar eclipse. So we arrive this midwinter with a dark night sky and a daytime light that is scanty, especially if there is any cloud. The Sunday Weekly poem takes some of its tune from our natural world this winter solstice.

While there is lots of merriment abounding at this time of year, there is also a sense of melancholy. I think of holiday films like The Holly and the Ivy or,one of my all-time favourites, It’s a Wonderful Life. (It wasn’t an immediate box office hit. Hollywood thought it was a bit of a bummer for a holiday film. But it’s tale of suicide prevented turned out to be a slow-burn classic. ) Families come together and it can be stressful as unhealed issues resurface. The dark days of this season can trigger depression in some people. So some of the seasonal cheerfulness can feel both a bit forced and enforced as well. For those who have loved ones who have passed away at this time of year, that anniversary cannot but help colour the collective festivities. I had a college friend whose father had fought in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II, which was marked by an especially bloody Christmas Day; he could never be cheery on that anniversary.

 

The Shortest Day

There are absences. There are the closed doors

that make surreal all this talk of salvation lore.

But, resolute, we face the openings in store,

even if we cannot quite be merry or

sing a halleluiah chorale. Our more frivolous

wishes might have resurrected that once

 

innocent wonder in lights and sparkling colour,

the delights in delicious smells – eggnog’s liqueur,

the shiver of nutmeg on the lip of its stirrup cup,

evergreen’s resin, ginger, cinnamon. Sip its over-sweet up

as the electric fairy light strandis slipped over

and wound around the live tree’s indoor bower.

 

It’s a day dawning late after a no moon night.

It’s a day that rapidly resigns its pale light.

May it be a portal to our safer future, bright

and warm as the Yule log’s blaze. We dig down deep

into the Santa stocking’s far toe, the gift it keeps –

chocolate as dark as midwinter’s day and just as semi-sweet.

 

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights

Featured image Photo by Simon Matzinger on Unsplash