It is very hot for Ireland this week. Which accounts for my later posting of the weekly poem . While our temperatures are in the 25-27C range, (which sounds laughably cool to many people) with the humidity in the 80 percentile it is not comfortable for folks used to summers where a few days at 21C is a cause for rejoicing and the populus turning lobster pink as we boil in the unusually relentless sunshine.
Consequently, I am rising early and doing activities that are…well, active before noontime. Air conditioning is unheard of in Ireland except in public buildings. The supermarket was cool, but my ice cream cone (that I ate outside where I could take off my mask) was a bit melty by the time I finished it. The lane’s tarmac weeps once we go over 25C. So I am walking our little dog between 7am and 8am each morning to preserve his wee paw pads. Even by 8am the exertion makes me sweat. There is a race to water, weed and harvest in the garden before I swoon from the sun. Also, to do any cooking since putting on the oven or using the gas stove only adds to the heat. So, I only settled down (wearing my bou-bou from Mogodishu, a gift from a South African friend) to write the weekly poem well after lunchtime. It is, in part, inspired by a stray fact gleaned from the Long Read in today’s Guardian by Zarlasht Halaimzai. I commend it to you.
While there was a little lull in the Geopark Poetry Map proceedings I have been catching up with some house and garden tasks put on the (very) long finger. But now I am again reading submissions, this time from the school children of Curravagh National School and Florencecourt Primary School. With both groups I had introduced the haiku on previous visits pre-Covid 19 and as a preparation lesson before my school visit. In the session I also introduced the poetry form of the cinquain. It is a five liner, but unlike a five line form like the tanka you do have license to rhyme if that is how the muse leads you. In addition, we had to talk about the geoheritage and Geopark site element that was an important component to the poems, too.
While only two children had never visited a Geopark site before, many had visited a wide range of sites across the Geopark – Castle Archdale, Ely Park Lodge, Devenish Island, White Father’s Cave, Pollnagollam Waterfall, as well as sites closer to home like Marble Arch Caves, Claddagh Glen, Shannon Pot and Cavan Burren Park.
However, I was really struck by a poem written by a child who is considered educationally ‘challenged.’ While he did not write a poem about a Geopark site, his poem about the den in his garden was a standout. It had vivid images. His simple language conveyed a contentment and feeling of security and serenity that is marked in these uncertain times. I wish I could include it, but sadly it does not fulfill the geoheritage criteria. But I made sure to write his principal to ensure that he gets some praise heaped upon his head for his very well conceived and executed poem.
It really is both a pleasure and a privilege to be reading all these submissions.
For the weekly poem this week I decided to write a cinquain, too. The five liner runs 2-4-6-8-2 syllables per line. The subject has been haunting me these past few weeks, sometimes, rather unnervingly, peering straight at me through my bedroom window in the morning. Yesterday on my dog walk up to the holy well I happened upon a found object.
edge cobalt blue bleeds
to coal black, finally
transitioning to bottle green:
Meanwhile, it is back to the house and garden tasks. I have a half-finished bedroom that needs the final wall painted. The (fully vaccinated) niece is calling next week and wants to have a peek at all the do it yourself rehab going on. There is also a lot of bindweek and cleavers that needs to be weeded out and burned at the stake!
I hope that you are finding some summertime joy safely, in uncrowded places.
We have passed the longest day in the Northern Hemisphere. We have had not just long days and short nights. Even the nearly full moon was blasting away at 2am when the cat that was the muse of last Tuesday’s weekly poem scratched at the window to be let indoors. I only opened one eye, but I did sense a very pink moon. I know that last full moon was technically the Blood Moon, but this upcoming Strawberry Moon was just as pink!
We are having cool temperatures and not a great deal of rain. Mercifully, as I type this we are having a good shower. Everyday brings gardening tasks of one sort or another. Always some weeding. We do not use artifical weed killer, so it is done by hand, with burning or drowning the most pernicious ones. Some are just wild plants and if they are not interfering with the vegetables then they are left in peace. Unless they are bind weed or cleavers, locally known as ‘Sticky Willy.’ weeding them is the Sisyphus task of my life, plucking and burning almost daily this month.
After a very, very cold spring and late frosts, things are beginning to green and grow. While I understand that the USA is having a plague year of cicadas, this year the midges are having a rave up in my part of West Cavan. They love me too much. When there is no breeze I am essentially under house arrest. Which brings me to the Summer Solstice on Sunday when I was forced to stay indoors to avoid being midge meal on a banquet scale. I stayed insided composing the Weekly Poem.
When you live in the country and have such an abundance of nature, it often leads to wild crafting remedies. My friend Morag plucked some bog myrtle from a nearby bog for me. Half of it is mascerating in a jar of almond oil to make midge repellant. So far, it has been the most effective prophylactic from the bites that I react to so badly. The other half is still in its bunch for me to keep beside me. I do actually see midges flying indoors – impossible to keep them out in a land that does not believe in screen windows – do a ninety degree turn around when they come close to me and I have it on me!
Of, course, now that we have had a good rain shower, the slugs will be patrolling. The vegetables most tasty them them (and us) are in raised beds with copper tape stuck on the perimeter.
There is a great satisfaction in growing some of your own food. It also cuts down on food miles and is better for the climate. It’s an activity I can see myself dedicating a great deal of energy to in the years to come. It is also an exercise in learning how to cut your losses. It humbles any notions of being in control right out of you.
Also there is still poetry… here is this week’s offering
Belated Happy Juneteenth! And Happy Solstice -either Summer or Winter depending upon your hemisphere. My mother would have been 104 years old yesterday. A high school friendship with an African American girl, Nellie Gator, was strongly influential in her support of civil rights for black American citizens during the dark Jim Crow years. She never forgave the DAR for refusing one of her operatic sheroes, Marian Anderson, Constitution Hall as a concert venue. While she never scurried down the genological rabbit hole to prove her ancestors fought in the American Revolution (unlikely, as we now know many were Quaker), but she said very firmly, with tightened lips that “even if she could, she would never join them.” I think Mom would be proud to share her birthday with this newly proclaimed US national holiday.
I did not post yesterday because of my monthly Zoom poetry group. We explored free verse, or open form, poetry. While North Americans have a strong tradition in this form, my Irish students are less familiar with it. While rhyme has not been something that has come naturally to me, I often find that Irish people can spontaneously rhyme from their very first effort at a poem! So this was a bit of a challenge for the Irish born members of my Zoom group.
But I warmed them up with a syllabic form first, the cinquain. I used this in my Geopark Poetry Map schools workshops as an alternative to haiku. Most primary age children will have had a bash at haiku by the time they are ten years old. The cinquain is a five liner, easy for a 45 minute workshop; it’s lines run, 2,4,6,8,2 syllables.
We addressed the theme of freedom in our poems yesterday. In keeping with both the day’s theme and the free verse task, I read aloud poems by African American poets, Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes and Gwendoline Brooks. All these poets were new to my Irish colleagues.
Here is my cinquain for Juneteenth.
Able to breathe
Not always watching your back
Knowing your someone's prey
Happy Freedom Day! Happy Juneteenth, Mom! Meanwhile, it must be summer on schedule now. The wild orchids of West Cavan are out for Midsummer’s Eve. May this liminal day bring you gentle revelations.
The closing date for submissions to the MACGeopark digital Poetry Map is fast approaching. The closing date is 15th June 2021 and I am still getting enquiries for submission guidelines. While I am feeling the countdown of days – 5, 4,3,2,1…it’s not all about the countdown. There are a lot of moveable parts to this project and even after the closing date there is much more that will happen before it is unveiled in October 2021.
Last month’s blast of poetry prompts and memes on Twitter and even Instagram seems to have caught some traction. We have had an open call out since Poetry Day Ireland since 29th April for poem on specific sites within Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark that highlights some aspect its geoheritage. Martina O’Neill, Development Officer for Partnership & Engagement created a wonderful document siting the geoheritage points of dozens of sites around the Geopark. (I quoted copiously during the 14 days of Geoheritage Poetry Prompts for the Poetry Map.) The earth has been reflected in ancient monuments like the wedge tombs and dolmens, and more recently, in industries like Belleek Pottery and family run lime kilns. The Geopark has glacial erratics, but also has the built heritage that the smaller rocks were used to make sweathouses, dry stone walls, castles and abbeys. We also have many sites of special scientific interest for plants and the blanket bog on Cuilcagh and other upland areas. Because of the limestone we have orchids, too.
But that is only one moveable part of the project. First we commissioned five established writers to create new work. Dara McAnulty, author of the award-winning Diary of a Young Naturalist, will write on Big Dog Mountain. (The North American edition has just been published by Milkweed.) Noel Monaghan has many poetry collections published by Salmon Poetry; Loughoughter is his chosen site. Maria McManus grew up in Belcoo with the Marble Arch Caves just down the road from her homeplace. Seamus Mac Annaidh has published in many genres – novels, poetry and history – in the Irish language and is known by English readers mostly for books centring on Fermanagh history. A J Quinn is best known for his crime novel series set in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
We were able to announce all the commissions for Poetry Day Ireland on 29th April 2021. Then began the push and open call to new and emerging poets for their poems which will conclude this Tuesday, 15th June.
The other part of the project has been really challenging. How to involve school age children? I have facilitated poetry workshops in primary schools before. So that held no terror. But there was a long wait for getting vaccinated as I felt it only prudent, given my age and health, to have that done before venturing out. Immunity Day came on 24th May for me.
But even venturing out still means not going into schools. And therein we have another challenge – the Irish weather! The school year for primary pupils ends in the last week of June. This has been an extraordinarily challenging year for teachers and having someone come into the school with an additional project which may, or may not, compliment the curriculum was just one factor to consider. The other is that they are playing catch up from winter when they have only had home schooling. In rural areas remote learning was sometimes just impossible. As far as I am concerned teachers are the unsung front liners of this pandemic.
Yet despite all these challenges one school in Cavan and Fermanagh agreed to have me come in for a 45 minute session on the project. Fortunately, the Geopark has a lot of good material that is aimed at schools that were stockpiled from when they could engage with them pre-pandemic.
Given Covid regulations the workshops are outdoors. Fortunately, the rain and the midges were busy elsewhere when I worked with the older students at Curravagh National School in Glangevlin, Co. Cavan. What better way to teach geoheritage than to point to the rocky outcrop behind the school and name it – karst, weathered limestone. And then swing my arm the other direction and talk about drumlins and how drumlins even gave their name to a Cavan abbey. Outdoor classrooms have more than just one advantage.
I have worked with these kids before and it felt joyful to see how much they have grown and matured over the two years since I last worked with them in June 2019. Even though we were outdoors, I masked so that I could look at their work and help them when they asked questions. But what really impressed me was that all but the very youngest pupil opted to wear a mask, too. As did their teacher.
But who they really wanted to see was my husband, who they know for his guitar and singing and sometimes even a story. He sang into his plastic face shield from a safe social distance. And somehow, it felt a bit like the old normal for us and for the kids. As their principal told me. They need to see new faces and hear new slants on things. It was a memory of how things were when we last met two years ago and how things are now, but still there could be some silly singalongs and laughter.
On the 15th Tony and I will be in Fermanagh, but there the primary school has a big bell tent that we can shelter in at a safe social distance with a large group. The tent has been acquired because of the interest in Forest Schools post-pandemic. And they are fortunate enough to have the space for it. There, too, the head teacher was keen when he learned that my driver can come along with his guitar. We dropped off the Geopark material and my lesson plan in advance to prep the class teacher on what we aim to accomplish – a poem. I have two short forms to offer that can rhyme or not, but what I really am eager is to hear where they have been in the Geopark and how they feel about those places. Getting some aspect of the arts into schools during the pandemic is considered a huge boost to the kids by teachers who know the added value they bring.
In the Cavan school I learned that one pupil has a lime kiln on their land. (Oh, for a lime kiln or sweathouse to feature in a poem; wish list!) Another lad climbed Cuilcagh with his family as a memorial walk on the anniversary of his father’s death. Geoheritage is not something museum-like to these kids who live in Geopark communities. It is all around them and inside them.
You can email queries or submissions to GeoparkPoetryMap@gmail.com by 15th June 2021.
The bank holiday yesterday brought me up short when I suddenly realised that yes, today is Tuesday! Time to post the Weekly Poem. There has been little poetry writing time in recent months, given the attention that the Geopark Poetry Map has needed. Also, the garden suddenly needs an extra pair of hands. I am better at the destruction aspects – weeding, burning my mortal enemies ‘Sticky Willy’ (cleavers) and Bindweed. We don’t use chemical fertilizer or pest pest control. Our garden may not have official certification, but we use organic principles on our acre. So it wildish and has a carpet of buttercups where the daffodils were in March.
With the Summer solstice and the longest day in the Northern Hemisphere rapidly approaching, we are seeing the last of Spring…and also some signs which would normally have appeared over a month ago.
During a pandemic is is nice to have a routine engagement in the diary. If it is Tuesday, then it is time to write and post the weekly poem, even though it be a first draft. I have been working hard on the MACGeopark Poetry Map project, so it was like rediscovering play this morning when I realised I could write anything at all that I wanted. The sheet was blank. So was my mind, too!
But I took up my Personal Universal Deck, a little activity set during NaPoWriMo2021 last month, and pulled some cards to see what sparked. If you want to create your own set of poetry prompt cards I refer you to that original NaPoWriMo post on Day 3. They post a link that tells you how to make your own. ttps://paulenelson.com/workshops/personal-universe-deck/. It’s quite a long process as my students and I found out. This was the first time I actually put them through their paces.
The benefits of word play…and I stress the play element, is not to be underestimated. It has been a cold, rainy Spring here in Ireland and some outdoor projects have been put on the long finger. Temperatures have been so low at night time we have delayed planting. So play has to devolve to indoor activities a good deal of time this past month. Anyway, a bit of whimsy and word play is a bit of fun on a damp Tuesday.
If it is a dull day and you fancy trying your hand at writing a poem, you could do worse than peruse the poetry prompts I have been posting to inspire geoheritage poems to be submitted to our digital Geopark Poetry Map. I have been making daily posts the past ten days and will do a fortnight’s worth in all. Hope you can have some fun word play today, too. And if it is rainy this weekend you have some inspiration at hand.
Hello Earth lovers and Poetry Lovers! For the fifth day of highlighting sites which your poem could potentially put on our digital #MACGeopark #PoetryMap, I thought we would look at how the land relates to the region’s ecclesiastical heritage. With the coming of Christianity many monastic sites were founded on islands in the loughs and rivers in the Geopark region. Lough Erne and the Shannon River and its tributaries acted as a medieval motorway. There was a chain of monastic communities up and down Lough Erne.
In County Fermanagh, two of these former monastic communities are now Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark sites. Cavan’s St. Mogue’s Island in Templeport Lough is also a Geopark site.
Here is what Martina O’Neill, the Geopark’s Development Officer for Partnership and Engagement writes about Inishmacsaint , Devenish and St. Mogue’s Island.
The small island of Inishmacsaint can be reached via a small pontoon accessed after a short walk from the car park. Inishmacsaint is one of several important ecclesiastical sites located along the natural waterways of the Geopark. The founding saint, St Ninnid, lived in the 6th century, and was a contemporary of St Molaise of Devenish and St Mogue of Drumlane.This early monastic site contains a comprehensive record of different church styles is also home to a High Cross, thought to date from the 10th or 12th centuries.
Martina O’Neill, MACGeopark Development Officer, Partnership and Engagement
St. Ninnid’s name is immortalised in the hill overlooking Upper Lough Erne, Knockninny. as well. St. Molaise’s name crops up in parishes across the region, not just on Devenish Island. Back in the 1930s, Duchas, Ireland’s Heritage Council, collected folklore from school children. One of the stories that is in the online archive can be found here: https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4602719/4598212/4630220.
Devenish Island can be visited by boat. Here are some images from a visit I made back in 2015. The roundtower, built during the Viking invasions as a defense, is as fine an example as the one that can be found in Glendalough.
St. Mogue’s Island in Templeport has a reputed ‘cure’ from the clay on the island. Miraculous and protective qualities are part of the folklore of many sites with a spiritual history. One of the stories involves the flouting stone that St. Mogue was sent off the island as a newborn to be baptised post haste. The floating rock was pumice, which is found locally. St. Mogue is also associated with Drumlane Abbey, which is a Geopark site.
I hope you find some inspiration from these visuals and research pointers will help you create and submit your geoheritage themed poem. We want to put less well-known Geopark sites ‘on the map’ in the public’s consciousness. If you would like to get submission guidelines email GeoparkPoetryMap@gmail.com. Closing date for submissions is 15th June 2021.
The poems for the Geopark Poetry Map are beginning to drop into the GeoparkPoetryMap@gmail.com inbox. We have twenty more days for poem submissions and I thought a timely reminder on the theme of geoheritage might be in order. Now this is how scientists view the matter. Geoheritage is defined by Geological Survey Ireland as:
‘encompassing features of geology that are intrinsically important sites or culturally important sites offering information or insights into the evolution of the Earth; or into the history of science, or that can be used for research, teaching, or reference.’
What could this mean as the subject of a poem? Think long time and slow time, what ice ages have written in the land and how that has affected those who have lived on it. In that respect you might want to write a poem about the lime kilns, sweat houses, the dolmens and wedge tombs that were created from the glacial eratics that can be found across the landscape. This is one I see virtually everyday when I walk my dog down our lane, sitting in the middle of a field.
It is also the way water, wind and the earth interact with one another and how they slowly change over time. When I walk around Cavan Burren Park the limestone pavement was once subtropical sea floor.
If you look at our townlands’ names in the Irish you see the literal landscape painted in language. Down the lane from us is a little lough called Corrakeeldrum. In Irish it is Corr an Chaoldroma. This translates as the round hill in the narrow ridge. Those rounded hills are drumlins and drumlins are what is very distinctive about our Geopark landscape. Have a look at this photo and see for yourself.
Whether you choose rock art or fossils wrought in rock we see the long stretch of eons in the making. Poetry is about both connecting and making with language. The glacial eratics on the landscape and the waterways have been immortalised in myth. A rock is Fionn McCool’s fist. A pool springing from underground caves becomes the source of the River Shannon that will run all the way down the length of the land. Two wedgetombs mark the place where two Giants would leap across a dry river valley. Story helps us connect the long time in our own immediate time. The bards, Ireland’s original poets, did just that.
You can play at being an archaelogist with language and imagination instead of a trowel and soft brush when you write poems on the theme of geoheritage. For the weekly poem I have chosen an older poem that has been tinkered with over years. Poems, too, evolve over long time. This one I worked and reworked until I got sick of the sight of it. But today I pulled it out and the tinkering was a pleasure. And it still may not be ‘done!’ done. Sometimes the re-drafting process is a bit like chipping an image into rock like those cup and ring marks of old.
Except in our own age we have deadlines to attend to. The deadline for submitting poems to the Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark Poetry Map is 31st May 2021.
Tentative re-opening here in Ireland. We had a shared outdoor coffee with friends last week and had a laugh. Isn’t it great to hear a company of people laughing at some shared joke? It feels quite intimate. Especially as we have probably just been laughing on our own to episodes of comedies on Netflix for the past fourteen months. I discovered the charming ridiculousness of Brooklyn 99 over the winter and I did do the literal LOL sometimes. But to laugh in company feels liberating after the long winter and the cold spring. I may yet regret sending all those sofa throws to recycling. We may need them for outdoor physically distanced tea on the terrace!
I saw my hairdresser drive down my lane and if there wasn’t a pandemic on (and her vehicle shielding her) I would have hugged her I am so happy to have a hair appointment on May 13th. I last saw her nine months ago. She has a salon in the village so would have seen her frequently in pre-pandemic times. Nuala, I am so happy to have you back! She has been working in care homes during Lockdown so got her vaccination three months ago. Also, she gets Covid tested every Tuesday. How is that for a confidence booster?!
Our own second vaccination is on 14th May. From 24th May, we have 94% immunity. But that doesn’t mean that I am going to madly go out and see lots of people. I have marked it on the calendar though as ‘Immunity Day.’ (Well, 94% Immunity Day anyway!)
I do have to carefully consider going in to schools for sessions though and I am still weighing that up. Where I have been in schools before and they know what I look like without a mask it feels sort of okay. But to go in where my face is unknown feels kind of weird. Also, in conjunction with the Geopark Poetry Map project, it would involve schools cross-border and each jurisdiction will have differing guidance. Meanwhile, thank heavens for Zoom. I have an ergonomic seat cushion now to help with the sciatica from long sessions. Not perfect, but it helps.
The theme of Division has been in mind. One You Tuber I watched this week says that the collective energy at the moment is Division. And surely we have got plenty of anecdotal and empirical evidence to back that claim. Some don’t ‘believe’ in the illness, while others trust the science. Some don’t want to mask while others (like myself) have been double masking since this time last year when I could obtain mask filters on Amazon. Some will vaccinate and others will not. We live in a global society of haves and have-nots. We do live in the most divided of times it would seem.
Hence, the title of this week’s Weekly Poem, which also harkens to my slight discalculia, only discovered once I was an adult.
But before I get to that, just a reminder that I am curating the #MACGeopark #Poetry #Map and we need contributions. The deadline for submissions is 31st May 2021. You don’t have to be local either. I have already had one submission from Michigan, USA and another from Singapore. Research is often a good start for a poem and the Geopark staff have provided a great document to help submitters. Email me at GeoparkPoetryMap@gmail.com for full details.