Breaking the Lammas Loaf

It’s been a tumultuous week! And I am not just talking about the news cycle. On a personal level, I began to promote my Zoom creative writing seminars that will start with an introductory month in September. Each week you get to try out a new genre – it’s a taster to see which one may be you particular favoured form of creative expression. But as with all new ventures there are hiccups. In my case it is the registration form on the blog post https://sojourningsmith.blog/2020/07/31/zoom-into-creative-writing-this-september/. Needless to say, my first few punters alerted me to the issues and I have referred them to WordPress. I hope to have that unsnarled within the next couple days. Do keep trying and add comments about your experience.

Also, the Celtic Wheel of the Year has cranked into the season of Lammas, or Lúnasa as we call it Ireland. That is also the Irish for the month of August. The season’s theme is the gathering in of the first harvest, as well as releasing. I spent the past few days in activities very much in keeping with the holiday. I sorted out seeds for saving. I made like the squirrel and added more items to the emergency winter provision cupboard. And, quite unconsciously, I found myself baking a loaf of spelt bread on Lammas Eve. (For that, many thanks to my English friend who sent me dried yeast in the post. All through Lockdown there was none to be found in any local shops. Maybe they figured the nation would only bake soda bread at home?) We took the first cut on August 1st. And very tasty it is, too! I am getting more proficient at this bread baking lark.

As for my releasing, that was the announcement of the Zoom courses I am devising for anyone’s delectation this autumn and, with any luck, into the winter. I sense we will need some diversion at home for the restof this year. Flexing one’s creativity muscle is the best kind of exercise, especially in the months at the dark end of year.

In the meantime, it is Sunday. And yes! I have a seasonally appropriate poem!

Lúnasa First Light
 
Dawns can be sketchy –
a tease of cobalt cloud shot through
with gilded light, threading Midas like.
 
The lupins, aquilegia and foxgloves
have dropped their heads.
I empty seeds out
 
into paper envelopes.
Not tumbrels. No fanfare. No drumroll.
Just the cutting
 
into the spelt bread I baked
on Lúnasa Eve. The ancient grain
ground down. The pips dibbed in
 
sweet sour raspberry jam.
Seeds saved for sowing in another season.
Not all is lost, even at our most careless.
 
The light takes a downward slant,
Like a sharp blade angling to cut –
the whoosh and whir of the scythe’s brush.
 
Copyright © Bee Smith 2020. All rights reserved.
 

Sorry there is no pretty picture today. For some reason – either our internet is running like treacle or WordPress is having issues, I have failed to load the featured image after attempts over the past thirty minutes. So…until something smooths the path of pretty pictures…

Zoom into Creative Writing this September

Zoom creative writing workshops

Regular readers of this blog will know that in late June and early July I asked for volunteers to help me learn how to run a creative writing workshop on Zoom. With Covid19, we are having to reinvent our world. Writing is a solitary pursuit, but it does not have to be done in isolation. Writers need feedback. Writers need encouragement. Writers need to find new approaches to help us construct our poems or paragraphs. Mostly, we need to communicate and express ourselves through the glory of the written word.

I loved teaching creative writing – even to reluctant writers. Under the trading name of Word Alchemy, over the past seven years I have worked with kids from ages 9 to 14. I have worked with adults in all women and all men groups and mixed gender groups. I have worked in schools, community halls, arts centres, outdoors and in prisons. It’s a bit of a vocation for me. I have conducted workshops outdoors at sites in Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark, usually ones that combine haiku writing with walking in all of nature’s splendour.

Cavan Youth Arts Lab
After a walk on the Cavan Burren, teens create a renga poem
haiku poetree walkers
Ready to ginko down Claddagh Glen at Marble Arch Caves Visitor Centre

Covid19 made me sit down and have a really hard re-think about how or if I could continue. My husband is 70 and I will soon be 64. We have cocooned quite contentedly, but I am aware that others found it hard. We have to keep our social distance and I will shield for as long as necessary because I really want to keep both of us fit and in good fettle for another couple decades. In winter it can be hard to get out on icy roads in our rural area anyway. I generally worked in person in spring and autumn time. But neither am I in denial and think that Covid19 will be magically disappear anytime soon.

We need to keep ourselves occupied and motivated. We need each other, but we also need to keep our distance. These seminars are my response to the challenges of our current circumstances.

Besides, this is what creatives do…we create.

To be clear, I plan to kick off from September when the schools, at least in Ireland, will go back in session. So far, I have three courses planned. In September I will welcome beginners and improvers, those you may not have had a go at writing for some time. While I have a number of faithful students who are used to my methods, I felt that it was important to start with a taster course. Then I will offer month long courses that will focus on short fiction in October and poetry in November.

Because so many of us are working in unfamiliar patterns – working at home, working new and varying shift patterns, on different days alternate weeks, etc.– I have decided to offer two Zoom slots a week to adapt  and include as many who want to nurture themselves  with some creative expression. So long as no session has more than eight participants we can cope! One will be on a Thursday evening and the second will be Saturday at noon.  The time slots can even concievably include people who do not live in my own time zone! (Some have already asked!) If you cannot make your preferred regular slot on any particular week, then you can join the other meeting and not miss out on any unit.

These online weekly workshops include some in-session writing exercises, as well as group sharing of homework and ongoing work.  We will explore these forms over the course of September, a different form each week. You will receive emailed course reading material, inspirational video resources at the beginning of each unit, some weekly homework, and a weekend motivator email to help you keep on track with your writing practice.

Word Alchemy creative writing workshops are held spaces where we can inspire, encourage, and share ideas with one another.  We collaborate in the process of beginning with raw ideas and support the magic as they are transformed into something meaningful for both writer and reader.

I am calling the initial course “Pick n Mix’ because you get to try out a number of kinds of writing and get a feel for what may be your metier. Or, you might even surprise yourself and find out that even though you thought you were a memoirist that actually you have a wicked sense of humour that romps in short story or creative non-fiction forms.

So here is the plan for openers:

Week 1 – September 1st -8th – Short fiction

Week 2 – September 9th -15th – Poetry

Week 3 – September 16th -22nd – Creative Nonfiction

Week 4 – – September 23rd – 30th – Memoir

The course format includes:

  • One weekly emailed assignment
  • 2hr  weekly Zoom seminar from 8pm-10pm  Dublin time on Thursdays, September 3rd, 10th, 17th, and 24th And/or 2 hr Zoom seminar from 12noon – 2pm Dublin time on Saturdays, 5th, 12th,19th and 26th September
  • One weekly writing motivational email

Block book the four weekly sessions for a cost of €45/£41 payable by Paypal. Alternatively, Residents of Republic of Ireland and UK may pay by cheque if they prefer.

I hope to meet new students,even as I welcome past participants who live in Cavan, Fermanagh, Tyrone and Leitrim here in Northwest Ireland. It would be great to have some international students in the mix! The Irish are always hospitable. Even if we won’t be able to lay on the tea and barm brack, we will always have plenty good craíc!

Class begins with the first email to you on 1st September! Want to Join?

Send in this Registration Form!

Bee Smith
Bee Smith invites you to join with other creative colleagues in her Word Alchemy workshops on Zoom

Featured image is Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

Finding One’s New Normal

Are you feeling tired, too? It is taxing to figure out all the new details of our new normal. I feel like a tortoise just beginning to stick its head out from its shell after a long spell of hibernation. I am also locomoting at tortoise pace. Like me, other friends have noticed feeling tired. Though it might just be that the whole world is feeling tired. It’s been a pretty stressy few months.

It takes energy and imagination to re-vision how you are going to work while taking into consideration that your very breath – an explosive laugh, a sneeze, a cough, a sung note – could fell a healthy person into a clearcut forest. A lot of folk still not cannot get their heads around that they could wreck that kind of devastation when they don’t feel sick at all. But they can. And they still do.

I realise that it is easier for introverts to stay away and stay in, especially when they have beautiful scenery to look out onto and a garden to sit in for carefully placed socially distanced tea parties. But it also takes energy and imagination for introverts who earned most of their income from freelance teaching to figure out if they have any career mileage left. Because I love my 70 year old husband and am taking no chances with exposing myself, and therefore, himself, to havocking pathogens. This week, I have had many light bulb moments, some really inspiring zoom meetings and telephone conversations, and some typing time working on proposals, chiselling out what might just be my new normal working life.

It is exciting, but also very, very tiring. I needed a Sunday lie in.

It can be really tiring creating a New Normal. How is your’s looking? Feeling edgy? A bit like a cliff hanger in a serial?

Precipice

Worlds are always vanishing.
They become collectables plundered in corners
of junk shops, or thrifted, or dusted off
found things in granny's attic after she has died.

Some worlds come out for a day
to be celebrated or elevated to heritage
status. But this is just some other version
we tell ourselves at bedtime to send us to sleep.

Worlds are always in the making,
brick by brick, then the mortaring in.
Some fear, some love, some hope converges,
the sum of your faith filling in what is a life.

How a cliff edge and the cleft in your chin
are fear and love and hope
that it all will not cave in, stay -
edgy, sharp, beyond the vanishing point.


Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

Featured image is a Photo by Pagie Page on Unsplash

Who Was That Masked Man?

Another week and this Sunday’s post marks the end of the deepest cocooning of Ireland. From tomorrow we can travel whereever we wish in the Republic and we can get a haircut! We are going to have to wear masks on public transport and are being strongly encouraged to do so in supermarkets. As an enthusiastic masker from the beginning, and usually the only one in my village doing so, I really hope it is embraced. But I am aware that people balk at it on a really visceral level. And in Ireland there is none of that politicisation nonsense happening. So why do some people have such a problem with masks?

These past couple of weeks I have been pilotting a small creative writing class on Zoom with past students with the patience to hold my hand as I fumble through the new technology. While many are plotting their way back outside again, I am plotting a way to get some income through the winter months when weather can cancel classes. Also, I am creating a safe burrow because I do not think Covid19 will magically disappear in winter when Irish hospitals routinely deal with the winter vomitting bug and various strains of flu. I love people, but my more introverted nature is hard-wired for happiness holed up in winter. Fortunately, my husband is similarly hard-wired and we are content with each other’s company though we pretty much tinker away at our own projects all day. We like the quiet life.

So keep tabs on this space when I announce 30 day modules of creative writing Zoom classes this autumn and winter. The dark months in the Northern Hemisphere are perfect for incubating lots of creative projects.

I asked my class to mind map around the subject of masks and then to write a short piece, either flash fiction or a poem. I also sent them a video of Maya Angelou reciting her poem “We Who Wear Masks” before the session as an inspiration. You can view it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_HLol9InMlc

You might want to try that exercise to find all the various associations you have with masks. See where your wild mind will take you.

My own mind map was all over the place with lots of arrows and squiggly lines that sort of connected disparate elements. For instance, if you excavate the genesis of Halloween costumes and masking children you go back to the folk belief that the veil between our world and the ‘the other world’ or parallel universe was tissue thin. They wanted to fool whatever malignant spirits might want to whisk away their beautiful child to the other realm. So they dressed up children in ghoulish garb to make them unappealing to travelling spirits. Halloween dress up was all about protection.

While protection and survival was one strand on my map, there was the trickier element of the Lord of Misrule, those Masked Balls so beloved by licentious Regency aristocrats and lusty carnival goers in Venice. There was the secret self that is given license to throw off inhibitions or social conventions for a spell. Then there were the superheros and justice warriors like Batman. Many of those Marvel characters mask the upper face rather than the lower part of the face.

Immigrant Muslim women who choose to veil the lower part of their face have received wide disapprobation in the West. Is there something in our Western culture’s collective psyche that is freaked out by not seeing a person’s mouth? We don’t all have to lip read after all! If we consider eyes as the mirror of the soul and you can see a person’s eyes with an upper mask, what social cues are we missing when a person masks the lower face?

Some human beings are gifted at dissembling, for projecting a ‘false face’ even when not wearing a physical mask. So why so much resistance, when wearing a mask can be a matter of life or death for some individuals?

I will let you walk around your own mental labyrinth on the subject. My students came up with very individual ways of entering into that maze. See where it takes you and what revelations await you.

In the meantime, the weekly poem…

 
“Who Was That Masked Man?”
 
Halloween tricksters about!
Hide your beautiful children!
Let them remain unseen
in costumes of Skeletor or Spiderman.
 
Here promenades the Plague Doctor
in our own version of divine commedia dell’arte,
nose full of bitter herbs
masking the stench of destruction.
 
We laugh. We drink.
We dance at the Masked Ball.
At midnight, we unmask our fear of desolation,
left standing, holding our secret selves.
 
We wait for the Lone Ranger and Tonto
to Heighho, Silver! Away!
They ride off to happy end another week’s
episode of injustice.
 
Take up your facial shield and buckler.
If you can see the smile
in the whites of their eyes,
you are standing too close.
 
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.
Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels as the Lone Ranger and Tonto in the TV series that ran from 1949-1957 on US television

I will leave you with my own pandemic face mask anecdote. We needed to get some items from the town 20km over. As we were there already, we picked up some items from the supermarket and used the post office that shares houseroom with the market. I know the postmaster by name and greeted him. When he saw me wearing the mask he queried, “Customer of Bandit?”

We had a companiable laugh.

What Everyone Knows Matters

I was scratching around for a jump start for the Sunday Weekly poem this morning. Having had a good week of manuscript re-writes it just felt like the gears were grinding to get back to writing the first drafts that get published here. It has been an unsettling week out in the world beyond my townland. Bucolic does not mean completely disconnected or uncaring. In the end, I pulled the poetry anthology Tell Me the Truth About Life off the bookshelf. The page fell open to W. B. Yeat’s poem The Second Coming, very apt since yesterday was auld Will’s birthday. It is also a poem that speaks to the condition of our times. “The centre cannot hold…” What is truer of our polarised world?

Then I read the lyrics from Leonard Cohen’s poem “Everybody Knows”. Here are some lines from the first verse.

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded

Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed

…..

Everybody knows the fight was fixed

The poor stay poor, the rich get rich

June 19th will mark the 103rd birthday of my mother. June 19th is also known as Juneteenth, the celebration by many African Americans of the emancipation from slavery. The tradition began in Texas where, on June 19th 1865, a Union officer read the declaration to Texans that slaves were freed. The Confederacy had lost the civil war, but the struggle for full civil rights had only just begun. We know that the granting of full civil rights to African Americans has been an uphill struggle ever since then. I grew up as bit by bit schools were desegregated. When I arrived in Washington, DC in 1974 you could still see block upon devastated block of ‘riot corridor’ in the aftermath of so many civil rights set backs and Dr. Martin Luther King’s assasination. Equality for all has been a very long work in progress.

My mother taught me that discrimination matters, that it is unfair and it was wrong to harm in word or deed anyone who was not the same religion, social class, or race as us. She was particularly clear that racism is wrong. Now this might seem a bit unlikely for a woman who spent her childhood years in Jim Crow North Carolina. (Jim Crow was the codified segregation and oppression of African Americans post- Emancipation Proclamation.) In part, an unlikely alliance and friendship that bloomed in a school library between 1929 and 1932 may have been responsible for her stance.

My mother was a shy woman. In 1929 she and her sisters were living in New Jersey. Their parents had separated. Academically gifted, my mother had skipped two grades and was was placed in high school along with both her elder sisters where she graduated aged 15. Sparing the full details, let us just say that, for my mother, the years between 1929 and 1932 were fit for a novel by Charles Dickens without any silver linings. In her High School Yearbook the year she graduated the song assigned to her was “I Ain’t Got Nobody.” It was a mean spirited, but probably fair, assessment. For barring her sisters, it probably felt that way to my mother.

My mother only ever spoke of one friend from her high school years – Nellie Gator. Nellie was the sole African American in her high school class. At a time when her world was chaotic, frightening, and insecure, that connection was important to her. Nellie must have been very kind to Mom because she seemed to have been paying it forward from that day on.

This Juneteenth my birthday present to my mother is a donation to Black Lives Matter. Because they do. Nellie Gator mattered a great deal to my mother.

What our mothers teach us matters. We need to be more like Nellie and Elma.

What Everyone Knows

We like to say to ourselves that
all lives matter, but
everyone knows that some 
are worth more than those
who rattle loose change in their pockets
and others who are down to their last dime.
We look down our noses
if you aren't somehow known,
haven't got the bluest eyes
or are someone else's fair-haired fellow.

What everyone knows is plain to see.
It's in our turns of speech, but mostly
we are too yellow to face up to facts
(the kind that must have plagued old Job)
that most everyone knows
we don't treat equally our kind,
that everything has fallen apart,
we've lost our minds, mislaid our hearts.

What everyone knows when lying awake
in the dark at 4am, is that it is time
to matter, one by one by one.
The alarm has rung. Ask anyone
what everyone knows. 

Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

Elma Russell Smith 1917-2011

Plant a Tree and Reforest the Earth

We are living in a season of grief. We are living in a season of mass bereavements – from Covid19 or other causes – where we are limited in our expressions of mourning. We are also facing grief for injustices done. Sadness is an appropriate response. Anger is an understandable response. In my own sorrow I turned to poetry. This is the book I plucked from the shelf.

Alice Walker brought out this complete collection by The Women’s Press in 1991.

Before I tell you about the poem that I turned to, I want to speak as some one who grew up as a white person in a small town that had one black family and two mixed race families. In 1968 I was eleven and the land of my birth was being shriven with unrest caused by civil rights withheld and a foreign conflict that many did not sanction. Protests that turned ugly were on the 6:30 news most summer evenings. (We religiously watched NBC’s The Huntley Brinkley Report in our household.) That raised my consciousness, as well as the assasinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy. What I had to help educate myself and build empathy was good reading matter.

My elementary school publicised a subscription book club where you could buy cheap paperbacks every month. I spent a lot of my weekly allowance with that Book Club. As a book worm tween I was able to buy and read books like Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery and a biography of Mary MacLeod Bethune. Because I was also hungry for biographies of women (which were thin on the ground in the 1960s), I understood on some unconscious level the desire of having someone who looks like you reflected in the world. In those days we had a new phrase “role models.” I might not have had the same skin colour as Bethune, but golly she was a Mighty Woman! What reading did for me was educate me about lives that were different from mine, but were interesting and powerfully inspiring. It also gave me context for what was happening contemporaneously. Reading forged a connection that transcended social, racial, religious, and gender differences. It also exercised my empathy muscle and prepared me for reading The Diary of Anne Frank. By puberty I was well informed at just how low humans could go in terms of harming fellow human beings.

So, readers, please give your children books that will give them context to help them understand the why of what it happening at this moment. It will help them in so many ways.

Now, to the poem that helped me write the Sunday Weekly poem and also to navigate my sadness with this moment in our history. The poem is Alice Walker’s “Torture” that runs through a litany of “when they torture your…” loved ones with the response “Plant a Tree.” The final verse runs thus:

When they begin to torture

the trees

and cut down the forest

they have made

start another.

Alice Walker “Torture” from Horses Make a Landscape More Beautiful
Let Us Breathe

All the millions cut down
robbing the biozone of CO2...
All the millions burned
in a Holocaust where we learned
nothing.
                  Enough is enough.

Plant a tree for George Floyd.
Then plant another and another.
Plant a tree for the strange fruit
hanging for 400 years
from innocent trees. 
Plant a tree in memory. We too soon 
forget.
                  But, enough is enough.

Plant a tree for the named and the nameless.
Plant a tree for all those who could not breathe.
Plant a tree of all of us who still cannot breathe.
Plant a green lung to ventilate the planet.
Let us breathe.
Let us breathe. 
Plant a tree.


Copyright © Bee Smith 2020. All rights reserved.
Tree on Yeats Lake Isle of Innisfree
Tree on Yeats’ Lake Isle of Innisfree in Lough Gill, Co. Sligo, Ireland

Featured image is a Photo by Pedro Kümmel on Unsplash

The New Weekend Normal

How do you keep track of which day of the week it is if you are not working a regular job, at home or otherwise? What routine is part of your Covid 19 New Weekend Normal? One friend confessed that she ordered out for takeaway food each Saturday. Partly it was to take a break from cooking. Mostly, to have some kind of marker in the week that was regular. Although getting a takeaway these days means collection is by appointment and a masked and gloved person slides your order to you on a tray. It feels faintly illicit. For me, now that NaPoWriMo is done, it is getting back to my Sunday Weekly post. That is my New Weekend Normal.

Ireland began Phase 1 of its Roadmap to Reopening last Monday. Although there was an initial rash of more people stopping and having a shouted chat from the lane to us in the garden, things have slumped back to the quieter rhythm. It is as if now that we have had a little ration of other faces different from the ones we have been looking at for the last two months and more, that we have crept back to our old cocooning ways. That Ireland’s two month drought, which coincided with the Call to Cocoon, broke this week, does not mean there is a rush for tiny outdoor tea parties. At writing, there is a storm, heavy rain for sure, but also really blustery wind over 40 km an hour. So this weekend the weather has us indoors.

The New Normal also means that every diary date that has been noted in January is cancelled. This Saturday I was scheduled to give a Mindfulness Walk in the Cavan Burren. On Sunday we should have been fine dining at the MacNean Restaurant, celebrating our niece’s 28th birthday. At this point, I am looking forward to FaceTiming with her and thinking that, all being well, we might get to see her August 11th! As for the Sunday lunch, I shall have to hope we can get a 2021 slot.

Though I have to say that the Phase 1 of reopening seemed to unlock my ability to tackle re-writes, to edit individual poems for the manuscript that has languished between adjusting to our Covid19 New Normal and the diversion of daily poem writing for NaPoWriMo/GloPoWriMo. Anecdotally, I learned that many people had difficulty concentrating in the early days of Stay in Place. Although in many respects our lives did not change radically, it is often the subtle readjustments that throw us. Like when your cooker goes kaput and you are cocooning. For the first time ever I have invested in White Goods by looking at a photo of shopfloor model and paid by credit card over the phone. The delivery on Monday should be interesting. Nonetheless, things are shifting. The energy is subtly different.

Here in Ireland
 
This week, we opened the windows a crack.
So suddenly things felt a whole lot more people-y.  
Though news travels tractor pace
up and down our lane, more cars passed
Monday, May 18th, and people didn’t just wave,
but pulled up, hand braked, to shout out catch ups.
 
Surprise that our neighbour next door went back to hospital
was it two weeks ago now. Shock that the cocoon funeral
actually had shoulder-to-shoulder pall bearers!
But the craic is the director has six family members on call.
There were pickups of garden cuttings set out on our wall
with shouted debates on how to avoid cultivation errors.
 
Just when we could have invited a friend round
for an outdoor cup of tea sitting two metres away,
the two month drought broke.  The great wind
that might wind up being called Ellen blusters.
The willows are bending over at their waists
performing hourly ritual prostrations.
 
We remain in.

Cocooning prior to Covid-19 meant a time to go within, to regroup and recharge. It is especially sacred time for introverts to take time out when things just get too people-y. Here’s a poem I wrote before our current context. https://sojourningsmith.blog/2018/10/24/cocoon/.

Given the re-writes, the jigs and reels of submission guidelines, the brief fever of flash fiction writing this week, I am going to offer a tanka as the Sunday Weekly poem today. In terms of reopening from cocooning, I feel as if we may have cracked the pupa, but I feel like a very dozy caterpillar. The weather turned heavy this week as the low pressure system approached and a number of us (myself included) have felt zonked some days.

A tanka is a haiku followed by two seven syllable lines portraying a complete picture or mood




Poetry in Pandemics

Some people count the weeks that they have been cocooned, quarantined or locked down. Until this morning I had not. I knew the date that was the last time we had driven outside of our village. We went to the nearest town twelve miles away to carry our some essential life laundry tasks and skittered back home fast. I was gloved up for that outing and have masked and gloved up since, even though Leitrim has the lowest infection rate in the Republic of Ireland. That was 52 days ago. Since then we have stayed within 2 kilometres of our home. Tony, celebrated his 70th birthday in March as cocooning was announced; he has been happily cocooned and busy in the garden. We realise how blessed we are to have it and our rural setting during this pandemic Chastening Time. I shop in the local grocery and post office/hardware for essentials. Anything we cannot get locally we buy online or is shopped for by a young neighbour, who also gloves up and masks, when he goes to the county seat each week. I sanitise like OCD is a fashion and not a mental disorder.

This week the realisation sank in that even as other parts of the world are loosening quarantine, this is now our new normal and will be for a long time to come. Technically, we could invite two non-related friends round for tea outdoors with our chairs spaced six feet from each other. In practice, I don’t think many of us are quite ready for that just yet. A kind of pandemic agoraphobia has set in. So while others may be planning a trip to the garden centre tomorrow, I have been contemplating the logistics of winter in the Chastening Time, which is now my name for this collective pandemic experience. Generally speaking, I am an optimist. But I respect science and historical experience.

I did some Googling around what people were reading during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919. According to a YouTube documentary I watched this week it was misnamed. The origins of that virus was in the American rural heartland when it jumped from pigs to humans. Spain got the name because it announced to the world that this killer virus was sweeping the nation. Elsewhere there had been cases but due to media censorship during World War I, the infection was more rumour than public health bulletin. The troop movements exacerbated the virus finding more and more human hosts globally. The last landfall of that particular virus was Australia in 1919.

Of course, the horror of mechanised war was what dominated the poetry publisher lists. Siegfried Sassoon and Rudyard Kipling must have been an interesting juxtopositioning on the Publishers Weekly lists. W. B. Yeats published his Wild Swans at Coole that included his poem “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death.” Sara Teasdale’s Love Songs was awarded a Pulitzer in 1918. In 1919 Margaret Widdemer’s The Old Road to Paradise shared the poetry Pulitzer with Carl Sandburg’s The Cornhuskers. Ezra Pound and T.S. Elliot were just beginning their poetry careers in the UK. They were also mourning poets killed by the war like Wilfred Owen and Edward Thomas, who was a close friend of Robert Frost.

Even though the Spanish Flu could strike you stone dead within twelve hours there is not a great deal to hint that this pandemic was killing more than the considerable casualties of the Great War. But, as a friend who studied Public Health Administration told me in a phone conversation, that generation was used to people falling ill and dying. They did it all the time. They did not have antibiotics. Recovery was a miracle; invalid relatives appear in novel’s marginalia all the time in the 19th century. Beth March is probably the most famous example. They all visit the seaside, but linger as shadows and then die. Yellow Fever and cholera epidemics were within living memory. Tuberculosis was rife. So numbed by the sheer scale of military casualties, the Spanish flu barely ripples across the pages of poetry. That people should fall ill and die was in the normal purview of the Grim Reaper. That a generation of men should be gassed, maimed and suffocated in muddy trenches was something new and horrifying.

But here we are a century on, innured to the medical magic bullets of antibiotics and vaccines. Except this particular virus has all the wiliness of a fox and the whole pack of hounds on its heels can simply not run it to earth. Or, at least, in no time in the near future. And for those who object to blood sports, I apologise to the fox in the metaphor above.

All this rumination comes from contemplating how you can be preparing a manuscript to send off to publishers (many of whom may go to the wall in the economic crash) without somehow referencing this collective experience. Or, as same friend in a phone call relates, the only thing that remains the same in one’s life are the seasons.

So for this Sunday’s Weekly poem I concentrated on one of the eternals in life.

Annunciation
 
In the shade of drystone wall
                                                among weeds.
Beside celandine and sedge
                                                two purple
flowering heads announcing that
                                                it’s coming.
All the times I have paced passed
                                                I missed them.
Such is the surprise of joy
                                                in small things –
the cuckoo’s call, smell of earth
                                                after rain,
the hawthorn blossom's sweet scent
                                                of new life
and its promise of decay.
 
 
                                                Do not pick
purple orchid or hawthorn in flower.
                                                Let them be.
Allow them to be released
                                                to surprise
summer after summer, again
                                                and again,
a small ration of joy found.
                                                Not foraged.
 
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

By the by, the two of best selling authors whose names still had some recognition a century later were Zane Grey and Mary Roberts Rinehart. Agatha Christie broke out in Publishers Weekly in 1920. So if you can only read light fiction at the moment, you may have something in common with our ancestor’s pandemic reading tastes.

Sunday Weekly, Poetry Edition

Contemplating the function of poetry in these strange times, it seems to me that the themes of impermanence and small joys speak to our current global condition. Elegies exercise grief over loss. Odes, too, can eulogise. Haiku, senryu, and tanka offer a snapshot image and feeling that is already gone except for the paper it is written on. Perhaps nature and love poems are the compensating joys, even if that, too, proves evanescent. The Celtish culture defined poetry as being ‘all memory.’ Memory can be a tricky thing. Holes can appear; we mend and make do to create meaning in the face of the great imponderables. In the face of our inchoate, post-Covid 19 future, philosophy may help us navigate day to day reality, but poetry may actually be what helps us navigate grief and uncertainty.

I know that some of my readers will be in the belly of a polar vortex this weekend. One Ohio based Facebook friend posted a photo of snowflakes on dandelion clocks. Here in Ireland today is chillier, after several days that were 20C (or 68 Farhrenheit in old money.) The sunshine made it feel warmer and I anointed myself with sunscreen for the first time this year, as one step beyond the floppy hat protection. We had the full Flower Moon, the last supermoon of 2020, this past week and astronomical Bealtaine (or Beltane outside of Ireland). As if waiting for its cue, the hawthorn began to unbutton its tight white buds and began to flower. I wrote a long Beataine poem this week that has been sent to a friend who posted me some life enhancing Lockdown light literature – crime fiction by Antonia Fraser, Raymond Chandler and J. M. Cain. I asked what I could send as a thank you and all she wanted was a Bealtaine poem! Classy lady, as another friend commented.

In the USA it is Mother’s Day. On this side of the pond we celebrate that on a Sunday that is close to the vernal equinox; it also is close to Lady Day, the feast of the Annunciation of Mary. Either date, the celebration of Mother’s Day has strong Marian overtones. Bealtaine, the month of May, is also a great fertility celebration as the growing season gets into full swing.

So for the Sunday Weekly I have written some tanka, although I have played a bit fast and lose with the rules in the latter. One is a salute to American Mother’s Day, which must feel rather odd this year for families that don’t share one roof. Lilacs are strong in my childhood memories of the month of May. Partially because there was a bush by the kitchen side door. Also partially because of hay fever memories from the bouquets brought to school for Marian celebration processions.

And this other tanka-ish poem is a nod to my near neighbours. I shouldn’t really say they are noisy, but… Their nest in the roof’s eaves is just above my writing space. So I cannot help but notice them.

Have a peaceful, restful Sunday with many small joys.

Featured image is a Photo by Nellia Kurme on Unsplash

Handmade Gratitude

Day 20 of NaPoWriMo is all out of order. I slept ten hours and rose late for me. It was sunny. So that dictated doing laundry. Also, I had the lines of a completely other poem going through my head as I was waking, so I jotted that draft down before I would forget, as I drank my first cup of tea. So here I am well past lunchtime getting down to the the daily promp for posting . And although I am sort of writing according to spec, I feel as if I am colouring a bit outside the lines. Rather than concentrate on a single item, I found myself in list poem land. Or maybe it is a litany of (handmade) small and great gratitudes.This was the actual (optional) prompt.

Today, in gratitude for making it to Day 20, our (optional) prompt asks you to write a poem about a handmade or homemade gift that you have received. It could be a friendship bracelet made for you by a grade-school classmate, an itchy sweater from your Aunt Louisa, a plateful of cinnamon toast from your grandmother, a mix-tape from an old girlfriend. And whatever gift you choose, we wish you happy writing!

http://www.napowrimo.net/
Handmade
 
Once, a Celtic knot clock.
 
Several hand painted silk scarves,
and crocheted woolly ones, too.
A Technicolor Joseph’s coat shawl
way back in the early 1970s.
A cover to keep my iPad toasty.
 
Jars of pumpkin chutney.
Blackberry jam and apple jelly.
Chocolate chip cookies.
Knitted coffee mug cosies.
 
The meals my mother made daily
decade after decade,
casseroles from leftover ham at Easter,
and tuna melts on Fridays
when I got off the bus from college.
 
My father’s hand
as he touched my mother’s shoulder.
She turned towards him
and let me in.
 
Copyright© Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.
handmade gratitude
My handmade gratitude journal done in a Crafting Your Soul Workshop back in 2018.

Today’s featured image is a Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash