Sometimes Only a Poem Will Do

When a photo cannot do justice only a poem will do

You may not see these midsummer nights

the long twilight stretching pink fingers

out from the palm of midnight

across the western horizon.

But I can.

Furthermore,

a plumping moon eight months gone

glows

Her soft satisfied light bluing the night,

the trees, their leaves.

Venus sparkles stage right.

The Fat Lady and her twinkling diminutive friend

pierce the gathering dark

with their different brightness.

Elated, I run down the lane in my pyjamas,

greeting both like long lost women friends

ones unmet since we shared our youth,

our brightness lighting up the dark.

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Revisions

Shannon Pot GloPoWriMo

While April, as NaPoWriMo or GloPoWriMo, is the poetry writing month, May is often called the poetry revision month. All those drafts in the drawer need more work! But the prompt for today looks at revision slant.  I shall quote the prompt from Day 18 of NaPoWriMo as it best explains.

Our prompt for the day (optional as always) isn’t exactly based in revision, but it’s not exactly not based in revision, either. It also sounds a bit more complicated than it is, so bear with me! First, find a poem in a book or magazine (ideally one you are not familiar with). Use a piece of paper to cover over everything but the last line. Now write a line of your own that completes the thought of that single line you can see, or otherwise responds to it. Now move your piece of paper up to uncover the second-to-last line of your source poem, and write the second line of your new poem to complete/respond to this second-to-last line. Keep going, uncovering and writing, until you get to the first line of your source poem, which you will complete/respond to as the last line of your new poem. It might not be a finished draft, but hopefully it at least contains the seeds of one.

My own critieria for today was that the poem be short as I am a bit time famished. I grabbed Bloodaxe’s anthology Staying Alive and kept flipping until a really short poem appeared.  A micro-poem was really what my schedule wanted. And then I lit on a Michael Longley.

My version:

At Legnashinna

Easter 1998 2018

 

Aconite putting on a brave face

Bright in the uncertain climate

Show me that crop of primrose in moss

To forget the threat of upland snow

 

Copyright © 2018 Bee Smith

 

I would not normally comment on process but this small poem could do with a bit of context that makes the micro more macro.  If you are not familiar with more recent Irish history the Easter 1998  might seem unimportant. But Irish poems that have dates often point to political landmarks. Easter 1998 will forever mean the Good Friday Agreement. This is Longley’s Good Friday Agreement poem, which I later found had been published the following day in The Irish Times.

The recent 20th anniversary  of the Good Friday Agreement has been overshadowed by the uncertainty of what havoc Brexit may wreck on the lives on those of us who live in the porous border counties with Northern Ireland. There is no international border frontier since the Good Friday Agreement, no check points or Customs Posts.

Longley titles his poem At Poll Salach. I am not an Irish scholar, but Google informs me that a poll translates as a pool, hole or tidal stream. Given my own border location this suggested to me Shannon Pot. My title uses the Irish townland name for Shannon Pot, albeit in its more Hiberno-English rendering rather than as Gaelige.

On Being a Bad Woman

Shame is a feminist issue. Brené Brown, the social worker academic who researches shame, has said in various written and video sources, that shame does seem to narrow down to certain gender categories. With men it seems to centre around being seen to be not in control. With women, the shame is about imperfections. And let’s face it, the multitude of mixed messages about womanhood and femininity are land mines we step on daily. It is exhausting trying to uphold perfection when the goal posts are constantly moving and competing on both sides at times!

As I prepare for guests to arrive I am walking the Slut Walk of House Beautiful & Hygiene Shame. Most of my friends accept that country living, two dogs, three cats and a husband whose mother preferred to read than clean house (bless her!) and therefore is blind to dustbunnies, is just how it is in our home. There are many more exciting, life enhancing things to do than wash the cobwebs from the kitchen cupboards.

But let the prospect of ‘company’ be on the horizon and I am crippled with shame over my the general level of slovenlyness. We are not rich enough to outsource cleaning. Also, some vestigial German hausfrau DNA is horrified at that prospect. I tell myself I should do better. The feminist in me tells myself not to care. Then I feel guilty for caring. Or ashamed, if I allow my mind to make it toxic, for both caring and being a House Slut.

Fortunately, these attacks pass and I just nibble away at the tasks, often a shelf and drawer at a time. And, let’s face it, if I am going to obey some rubric of femininity I will obviously opt to bake a cake, rather than sweep the floor daily.  Because, you know, the byproduct is CAKE! I can enjoy it and also watch others enjoy eating it. There is a higher ratio of satisfaction even when you have a day of bad cake karma.

Women are hard on themselves. And, as Elena Ferrante pointed out in last Saturday’s Guardian, women can be hard on each other. “Not only is female power suffocated, but also, for the sake of peace and quiet, we suffocate ourselves.” Which may have been at the root of my wanting to photograph the interior of my newly resplendent, sparkling and hygienic fridge to have my friend Jo show her 91 year old mother.  I quelled that impulse. But just note that I am still preening myself publicly.

So, after throwing in a load of laundry, I penned this as my weekly poem exercise.

Being a Bad Woman

Undoubtably, she will come to a bad end

Desperado housewife, bandit, the less loved

Desperation being the operative word

For the one with nerve

For the one who got her maths wrong

In so many ways over so many months and days

 

She is the one with the gimlet eye

Peering over her vodka stinger

Stink eye glare, the shoulder shrug devil may care

The one with the iron jaw

Who won’t take it on the chin

The one who relaxes the rictus grin

 

She is the one

Who can’t do the dance on stilts

She is the one

Who can’t paint on a face anymore

She is the one

Who is all  “too much”

 

Once, she was the leggy little girl

Who saw nudity

And has since dispensed

With clothing

And power dressing

Entirely

 

She is hairy and fanged

The bitch on heat and permanent virgin

The handmaid, the house angel

She is Mary

She is Lilith

She is mitochondrial Eve

 

She is this everything and all

Or nothing. But now

She is done with being

Woman – Professional Version point

An infinity of naughts since

In this world, goodness has no just desserts

 

Copyright 2018 Bee Smith

Image by ArtsyBee found on Pixabay

 

 

 

 

The Blessing of Boredom

In a recent email from my brother, he pointed out that in a survey by Business Insider magazine, the town I was raised in Pennsylvania was rated ‘most boring’ in the state. Which started a train of reflection how my own youth in the most boring city in Pennsylvania may well have been the making of me.  Also, that boredom is probably an unheard of luxury for most kids today who have a highly structured schedule and lots of electronic devices for instant distraction. But perhaps boredom is the cradle of creativity.

Meanwhile, as a pre-schooler I can remember lying  face down on the patio watching an ant build its hill. No fan of heat or brilliant sunshine, I spent hours of summer holidays in the air-conditioned public library, just moseying around the stacks. I could walk there and back, having a very vivid fantasy life going on in my head. It was in Berwick that I perfected the art of doing nothing much.  This also taught me how to become still so that something could be created. Boredom bred in me a self-sufficiency. It also bred in me an interior life that was full of curiosity and observation.

In retrospect, living in the most boring town in Pennsylvania also provided a buffer from the very real, chaotic world of 1960s USA. By the time I was eleven,  my father had died, his contemporary President John F. Kennedy had been assasinated, as well as Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy. There were riots and a jungle war on television after supper every night. People just kept disappearing or being disappeared. The maelstrom went on (mostly) outside. Meanwhile, the hum-drum routine went on.

Not unlike some protagonists in the Thornton Wilder play ‘Our Town’, I wanted out of my boring town. I dreamt of foreign parts – not Paris, but England, and then Ireland issued a siren call. But now, living once again in a place where not a lot happens, I can see how boredom played its part as both stabilizer and instigator.

I was with a group of friends today and we were posed with the question of how we accessed our inner wizard. Where does that magic come from? And instantly, I knew that for me it comes from doing a lot of ‘nothing’. I sited staring out of windows. I referenced Michael Hardings’ memoir ‘Staring at Lakes.’ Poet Billy Collins is alleged to have said that writing poetry takes all day just looking out from your desk into space. Or maybe at the tree outside the office.  I mentioned the deep peace of meditative plain knitting. It is not so much emptying the mind as stilling it. And then you enter that zone where you are not the doing, the doing is using you. In that moment there can be creation. But you are certainly not ‘doing’ the creating.

In which case, then perhaps if we want more workers to ‘think outside of the box’ then we should foster a healthy level of boredom? Mooching. Maundering. Noodling over an idea without really thinking about it. Then something comes through you. It is not about you. You just become the instrument for creation.

And that is the real blessing of boredom.

Lost Worlds

Fellow blogger, Traci York of  www.traciyork.com, spotted the anniversary even before WordPress sent me a notification. Four years ago, I started this WordPress blog on the back of an amazing opportunity to travel and learn and write at Lumb Bank, Yorkshire and in Manchester. I was travelling with a company of strangers cum creative colleagues and tutors; the whole travel package was courtesy of Cavan Arts Office and the Cavan Office for Social Inclusion through EU funding programmes. (If anyone bad mouths EU funding projects, I passionately defend them because this one certainly renewed the lease on my creative life and mental health. ) Living in a remote rural area I had had a few of my own creative wilderness years. That trip and blog changed everything. So was born Sojourning Smith, sometime tour guide, writer and creative writing tutor. Exploring the world one word at a time. For within a word, there is a whole world. And some are being lost.  You might think it odd then that the title for this anniversary issue is Lost Worlds, when what happened  for me personally was a world regained.

Continue reading “Lost Worlds”

Poetry as Sacrament

There is a point to having one day being the Sabbath, a day of rest and contemplation. There is a point to taking a tip from Orthodox Jewish women who cook in advance and leave the dishes and clearing up for twenty-four hours once a week. Leave the quotidian grind behind and contemplate the larger reality in a pause. For some, worship fulfills that pause, but organised religion and ritual left me cold years ago. Secular concerns rarely nourish the soul; at least, that is my experience, but I was brought up in a religiously observant environment. I am not alone in having a hunger for the numimous. In the absence of collective ritual, poetry offers itself as a sacrament. Even the ritual “Take this and eat in memory of me” resonates not only the nourishment offered in the sacrament of Communion, but the mentioning of memory.  In the genealogy of St. Brigid, memory is the ultimate source of poetry.

This Sunday snow falls in a desultory dance  outside my window. I went to the poetry bookcase and pulled out an anthology at random. What does Spirit want to speak to me today?  Even though I have left the spiritual traditions of the Peoples of the Book, the Judeo-Christian attachment to books remains. I pulled Risking Everything: 110 Poems love and Revelation from the shelf. Then I opened it and what a pleasure to have a David Whyte poem before me.  

Moses appears on the first line of “Fire in the Earth.” I had to smile. So appropriate for a Sunday morning reading. Secondly, the title synchronously echoes some exercises in writing spiritual autobiography I have undertaken.

Like many writers, most of my income is earned from teaching. This is no hardship and I discovered that I had a vocation for encouraging people to use words to express themselves and find greater confidence in their inherant worth. It has been my privilege to work in prison and share in profound moments of communion and revelation .  I have witnessed  the exhileration  of  those with literacy challenges seeing the words from their lips crafted into a poem. Currently, I am a co-pilot on a Cavan Youth Arts Lab project with a dozen 12-14 year old girls; already I can sense we are moving into that communion space of affirmation.

On the last Saturday of this month 24th February, I will lead a half-day workshop Soul Journeys: Writing You Spiritual Autobiography. The workshop will take place in a appropriately liminal space. The Markethouse in Blacklion lies metres from the border with Northern Ireland where Cavan meets Fermanagh.  The workshop will run from 11am-3pm. Bring a notebook and a comfortable pen with a good ink flow. Bring some food tomshare at lunchtime.  Also, prepare to enter into the sacrament that is your own life.

To book a place or get more information leave a comment. There is a Facebook event page with full details Word Alchemy Event Writing Your Spiritual autobiography

I highly recmmend a listen to this podcast of David Whyte. He has some powerful words to say about the nature of poetry, the poet’s purpose, and how e can re-frame our life story and make meaning from our lif’s experience and soul’s destiny. David Whyte RTE 1 Podcast

As you journey through next week bear in mind my friend Pen’s words to me this past week 

In theory,  every encounter – even with the postman – is sacramental. 

It’s a Mystery!

Some people might call it inspiration. The actual process of writing can be a bit of a mystery.  Personally, I think writers are magpies. We collect shiny things – like ideas- and take them back to our lair and then we rearrange all the shiny found objects and re-purpose them. So the poem I wrote this week has been constructed out of just such found objects: a question someone posed on Facebook, a memory from grade school, a deep conversation with a good friend, a personal musing on the nature of trauma and survival.

Inspiration for writing can be that random. But also, perhaps, it is best to just give the brain a rest. And I ‘parked my head’ yesterday and tried some art in a workshop led by a friend, Morag Donald, of Crafting Your Soul.

I cannot draw. But I love visual art. I love colour. In my next lifetime, if I can actually put in a bid, I would like to be a visual artist. But we did this thing called Touch Drawing, which is really just letting your hand play with shape and space. I have not felt so relaxed in months! And the flu last month felt a bit like a brain fever, with my mental concentration gone walkabout.

 

Touch Trio

 

And this week’s poem.

The Unsolved Mysteries of the Multiverse

 

Escapee socks, uncoupled

Like train wagons

Those orphans in lonely sidings

 

One is a found object

Location known

Yet aimless and unpurposed

 

Its other is off

In some alternate space

Living an alternative story

 

Squirreled down a plughole

Or a portal, off to elsewhere

Steaming down the narrow gauge

 

But what of the remaining single sock

Discovered in the tumble drier?

Limp and lifeless

 

Who now populates the crowded compartments

Of the train

Still clattering down the line?

 

The unfound

The man that got away

The woman someone gave away

 

Somehow

The story has been interrupted

By a very important announcement…

 

Those left behind the line stories

Assemble like dusty manuscripts

Cliff hanging off the top shelf of a closet

 

The door is shut

It’s dark

But nothing is quite closed

 

The gnawing unknowing

Somewhere someone elsewhere is living

At this moment your story’s dénouement

 

Stung by the rude interruption, denied

Wondering if there will come a day

For having the courage

 

Or foolishness

Or intellectual curiosity

To do the necessary

 

Reach up, lift down

Sneeze at the dust,

Turn the pages, revisiting

 

Your story

The one that got away

Reappraise the theme

 

Snip the loose ends off the plot

Wrestle the angels of resolution to the floor

With, or without, a plan

 

Take it all back

The characters, places, problems

That disappeared like Houdini

 

Into some crack in the multiverse

But, unlike Harry, had not the trick

To come back from the fathomless

 

Having probed this mystery

Which turns out to be

Much like God

 

As the nuns once said

When evading explanation

It’s a mystery!

 

Call it your personal myth

Make us cry. Make us laugh. Make us clap.

You are the wonder of this tale

 

©Bee Smith 2018