Awake and wakeful at stupid o’clock there seemed nothing for it but to see if NaPoWriMo had posted the daily prompt. Given that they are based many time zones away from me. They had and today’s prompt borrows from Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology. I have a copy on my poetry shelves so did not need to look online. There is such pleasure in having paper reading matter during this pandemic. Too much screen time. And yet, here I am tapping away while my porridge slow cooks. And not a surprising acquisition for someone who had an academic interest in 19th century American lit and intellectual history.
Today, I’d like to challenge you to read a few of the poems from Spoon River Anthology, and then write your own poem in the form of a monologue delivered by someone who is dead. Not a famous person, necessarily – perhaps a remembered acquaintance from your childhood, like the gentleman who ran the shoeshine stand, or one of your grandmother’s bingo buddies. As with Masters’ poems, the monologue doesn’t have to be a recounting of the person’s whole life, but could be a fictional remembering of some important moment, or statement of purpose or philosophy. Be as dramatic as you like – Masters’ certainly didn’t shy away from high emotion in writing his poems.
napowrimo.net, Day 8, 2021
My poem’s character died in 1972 when I was in high school. We bonded in Drama Club and somehow I feel she would be really pleased to have figured in a poem. Spoon River is a volume of monologues by the dead, which is also a kind of eulogy.
I dotted my 'i's with a heart
when signing off yearbook notes with
'Love, Life and Laughter.'
Though life was not a long gift
I had plenty of love. And the latter.
I was loved most my sixteen years
of small hometown nurture.
I wore my own Cancerian born heart openly,
just like the dot over the 'i 'in Debbie.
Life ended one dark March midnight
when we plowed into a tree.
Yet somehow it felt whole-
my life was complete
with very little sorrow,
a full heart and much laughter
…in which we tackle the short, very tautly structured syllabic forms of either the shadorma or the Fib. We have worked on shadorma in my creative writing Zoom workshops and I cannot say that I am terribly enamoured. The Fib, however, has a basis in natural science, not in alternative facts. Though imagination does enter into it. So I chose the second (optional) prompt for today’s flexing of the poetry writing muscles.
Our second syllabic form is much more forthright about its recent origins. Like the shadorma, the Fib is a six-line form. But now, the syllable count is based off the Fibonacci sequence of 1/1/2/3/5/8. You can link multiple Fibs together into a multi-stanza poem, or even start going backwards after your first six lines, with syllable counts of 8/5/3/2/1/1. Perhaps you remember the Fibonacci sequence from math or science class – or even from nature walks. Lots of things in the natural world hew to the sequence – like pinecones and flower petals. And now your poems can, too.
Napowrimo.net, Day 7, 2021
The Fibonacci (Spring) Sequence in Dowra
that defies hail stone
snow flurry, sleet, overnight frost
Unlike nipped tulips that bend
faces down to the ground
like the sly serpent
out, around, following the sun
Happy poetry writing! Despite a think layer of snow on the ground yesterday at dawn, and hail pellets and sleety rain drops, it all melted away by 10am. But the daffodils and tulips have taken a bit of a battering.
I seem to be waking earlier than usual, which is allowing for poetry writing in the morning. Which has a knock on effect of allowing some posting time in the day. So I decided to do NaPoWriMo Day 6’s prompt while I am awake and rarin’ to go. (Which dear friends will tell you is not really me. I am usually an object of amusement in the morning.) Here is today’s prompt.
Go to a book you love. Find a short line that strikes you. Make that line the title of your poem. Write a poem inspired by the line. Then, after you’ve finished, change the title completely.
Holly Lyn Walrath, NaPoWriMo.net, Day 6, 2021
As it happens I generally grab a poetry anthology first thing. Today it was Clive James’ The Fire of Joy. Since Walrath reckons really good poems need a killer first line I picked this from my random opening of the book.
I know that I shall meet my fate
W. B. Yeats, An Irish Airman Foresees His Death
With each breath that takes me nearer death
curiosity and courage
carry me through climate both clement
and complex. On a chart's vertex
you find your fate is awaiting you.
It crouches like the sleeping cat
alert to its moment with one eye
half-open, half-shut. What stranger
will walk in? What global happening
will call and you can answer, "Yes!"
With that affirmative breath you step
to the edge. Fly? Die? Who knows?
But in that moment's embrace you meet
all three Fates. What we spin and weave
is complete. The thread is cut. Fini!
Yet what could be worse than forever
waiting just for the deciding time.
To never arrive. For each breath
simply to carry you nearer death.
To have failed the moment. Walked passed
the person, the place of destiny.
Know that you shall go and meet fate.
That you and that moment suspended
in time are one, in harmony.
You are history, not just your fate.
I usually publish my weekly poem on a Tuesday these days. Though Sunday may sometimes offer a bonus poem. So this counts as this week’s poem. Though there may be more if I keep waking early.
Just when I said I would not be frequently posting during NaPoWriMo 2021, I contradict myself. Partly because I was awake earlier and felt rarin’ for a poetry prompt. Also, one of the examples for today’s prompt is entitled “Pennsylvania.” Since I was reared in that state I felt that I needed to rise to the occasion. Also, the prompt kind of irritated me. I resisted it. And then I riffed …But you may want to refer to Natalie Shapero’s poem “Pennsylvania” to see what I did with it. The inner light referenced in Shapero’s poem was a phrase popular with Quakers, who founded the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. My reference is less oblique.
This prompt challenges you to find a poem, and then write a new poem that has the shape of the original, and in which every line starts with the first letter of the corresponding line in the original poem. If I used Roethke’s poem as my model, for example, the first line would start with “I,” the second line with “W,” and the third line with “A.” And I would try to make all my lines neither super-short nor overlong, but have about ten syllables. I would also have my poem take the form of four, seven-line stanzas. I have found this prompt particularly inspiring when I use a base poem that mixes long and short lines, or stanzas of different lengths. Any poem will do as a jumping-off point, but if you’re having trouble finding one, perhaps you might consider Mary Szybist’s “We Think We Do Not Have Medieval Eyes” or for something shorter, Natalie Shapero’s “Pennsylvania.”
NaPoWriMo.net, Day 5 2021
The State of Utopia
Other children knew church, factories,
coal mines, farms, strip malls and Dairy Queen.
I knew confusion.
I thought God was transcendent, not
confined within buildings and rites.
In school, it was mentioned our state was
William Penn's "Holy Experiment."
There's such a thing?!
There were reams and screeds written
throughout the 19th century -
obsolete schemes for a better world -
best for love and kindness.
Anywhere a chancel light glows
within dreams green utopia.
One of the reasons for not posting as often is that even re-worked posts are not eligible for submitting to publications or competitions. One NaPoWriMo poet I follow erases part of the work after a few days. This feels like a lot of admin. But some I will hold back for future reference elsewhere. Such is my rationale in 2021. But then again, I may contradict myself!
The featured image of the Susquehanna River is Photo by USGS on Unsplash.
I have been faithfully writing a poem a day this year, even if it is just a haiku or senryu in my bedside journal. For NaPoWriMo 2021 I am not being slavish about posting every single day. For instance, the past three days have been warm and sunny in my part of Ireland. When you live in the country you work with the weather. I despatched nine loads of laundry to line dry, and then launched into some house and garden paint projects to freshen us up. Keeping active and creative is good for our mental health, especially this winter of Lockdown. Changing the hobby creative activity itself can reinvigourate your writing. So that is what I did for the first few days of NaPoWriMo, working away in the sunshine by day and writing last thing at night in my notebook.
I congratulate those poet FBF who have been faithfully posting on their page daily. But this year I have decided to be flexible in terms of daily posts. I have my hands fairly full with managing the Geopark Poetry Map project. Also, I am mindful that I need to pace myself given the toll of Lockdown Fatigue. Last week, I was fortunate to have a Zoom workshop for Cavan Creative types with Miffy Hoad of Mental Health Ireland. I have been working hard on keeping my five pillars of mental health upright this past year: Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning and Give. I need to do some work on Take Notice. Which I am doing. Pace, pace, pace. As Cristina Baldwin writes: “Go at the pace of guidance.”
I loved the NaPoWriMo Day 3activity of creating a personal universal deck as a writing tool. I will get round to it this week, but must check my card stock stash first. It strikes me as a really useful tool for prompts that I will pass on to my students.
But now for the Day 4 2021 NaPoWriMo prompt:
Poetry often takes us to strange places – to feelings and actions that are hard to express except through the medium of a poem. To the “liminal,” in other words – a place or sensation that exists at or on both sides of a boundary or threshold, neither one thing or the other, but something betwixt and between.
In honor of the always-becoming nature of poetry, I challenge you today to select a photograph from the perpetually disconcerting @SpaceLiminalBot, and write a poem inspired by one of these odd, in-transition spaces
NaPoWriMo.net, Day 4, 2021
Closed For Renovations
One is never so derelict as to become
transfigured - no project ever too arduous,
or mountain high to climb. We have plans for glory!
From ruin, the decrepit wreckage that is
hollow shell, many storied splintered timber
becomes the body of a dream. Before what is...What
shall transition from a slippery becoming
into solid being? For time, lubricious
quantity that it is, even tenses overlap.
What is past ruin? Where is current plan? Future
can be both perfect and imperfect, the fairy
that grants wishes and mischief. We are, for now,
closed. In need of refreshment and refurbishment
before we open fully to all the glory.
I think this is my fourth or fifth year of writing a poem a day every day in April, which is both National and Global Poetry Writing Month. It may sound daunting, but there is no better way to up your poetry writing game than by writing regularly. With the daily prompts and supporting material from websites like https://www.napowrimo.net/ you can really exercise your poetry writing muscles. I like to think of it as a kind of poetry jocks’ annual event. Which is sort of cognitively dissonant since most poets are the antithesis of jock. But, hey ho!
You can email GeoparkPoetryMap@gmail.com for submission guidelines and support material on the geoheritage of many of the Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark sites.
But back to NaPoWriMo or GloPoWriMo as those of us living outside the USA may style it…There is an early bird prompt to get us warmed up. I did a little yip of delight (and there have not been many of them here lately) when it was revealed that the prompt is based in one of my happy places on this globe. As a family used to visit it regularly from when I was a tween and most trips back to the States have incorporated a visit to the Met and the Brooklyn Museum of Art to see Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party in the Feminist Art Wing.
Finally, because April 1 arrives a few hours earlier for many of our participants than it does for us at Na/GloPoWriMo headquarters, we’re also featuring an early-bird prompt today. Today, we’d like to challenge you to spend a few minutes looking for a piece of art that interests you in the online galleries of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
I wandered many galleries but always seem to gravitate to the Impressionist to visit Monet’s Bridge over Waterlilies and to say hello to Vincent Van Gogh’s work. The last visit was with my 15 year old niece who went on to study art at college. She was working on a GCSE project at that time and commented that one of her classmates was doing her project on a Roy Lichtenstein and here she was looking at one in person, not in some book or online. Seeing art in-person really is an entirely different experience.
My own first draft was compelled from early memories of ranging round the Met galleries.
The water lily pond could wash you away!
So massive, taking up all a gallery wall,
dwarfing a twelve year old, who in memory
shuddered at the huge canvas' dimensions, all
majesty and "Look At Me!" - how minute
the ambitions of lesser imaginations.
Let the colour and brushwork engulf you -
one artist's grandeur, an act of diminution.
I preferred the paintings more human scale.
Monet did do flowers very well - sunflowers
in a Japanese vase. Gauguin is alleged
to have said Van Gogh's were much better.
I agree. Even sunflower husks dredged
have more heart beating in every strand of his brush.
I bought a print from the museum shop.
Years on, I went to A'dam on the Magic Bus
to have sunflowers and night stars make my heart stop.
It’s a real thing, a recognised phenomenum. We are so over the restrictions of staying in our 5km zone and here in Ireland we are waiting, waiting and waiting for our vaccination notification. But, even those who have been vaccinated have few places to go; only essential travel – work (which has been mostly at home for a year), medical, pharmacy and grocery. That’s it! I live in a very beautiful place and have a garden. I feel a bit ashamed to make this admission given that I am privileged to have pretty fine technology -phone, internet, devices – and natural beauty. But we want to reach out and actually touch the far flung loved ones. We keep hoping to see one another and the dates recede and recede. Maybe summer. Maybe in late summer, outdoors, we will be able to give a masked pandemic hug.
Also, I am fortunate in having Zoom students where we can air our experiences and compare how things are being handled in Canada as opposed to Ireland. It is thanks to one of those students that I have taken up the challenge to build a poem around some quotes from our conversation last Saturday. The second poem also reflects a telephone conversation with another friend. She cares for her 94 year old mother who has pronounced that this pandemic is worse than World War 2. Sure, they faced death. But living didn’t threaten your life. “We could go to dances. If we were down in the dumps we went next door and had a cuppa tea with a neighbour and had a moan.” Peggy fell in love and married 75 years ago at the end of the war. She has a point. The Guardian newspaper writes articles with headlines such as “How the Whole World Lost Its Libido.”
We compare anecdotes from England and the USA , where the vaccine roll out has been gaining traction, and feel like we are living in corsets. They hope to have all the kids back into in-person schooling by 12th April, but…the numbers of infection dictate everything. The week after Mother’s Day weekend and St. Patrick’s Day saw a jump in reported cases. Easter weekend, four days of no where to go, will be the final temptation.
Safe to say that the phrase ‘stir crazy’ has taken on layers and layers of texture. It’s more a cri de cœur.
Thanks to Susan for stating this challenge.
We are so over Covid
"We are so over Covid". "But it's not over us!"
Life is slow as treacle in a January
freeze. Framed in a five kilometre square. It's messed
up. In my head it's a convention of fairies'
wishes washed up ashore after a hurricane.
How is it that days inch by at warp speed? Because
I'm taking my reality cues, hemmed by routine.
But everything is always strange. It's collaged.
We have taken scissors to what used to pass as
society. Some days I feel as if I hold
a beating heart, lifted up, out, by blood soaked hands
during transplant surgery. I want to be told
"It's time. It's done. Close her up. Let her live again."
However we repair, or process, will we transcend
what is lost? We count the cost, regretting offence.
But have we built a world with more walls and fences?
Telephone conversations that crossed oceans, seas or just down the road a piece inspired the next poem.
We have a week left for March to roar out and then it will be April. If it is April, then it is NaPoWriMo – time to write a poem a day for a month. NaPoWriMo is a great poetry apprenticeship. It challenges you to get out of your writing comfort zone by offering you new poetry forms and introducing you to all kinds of poets, both historic and contemporary. It is like getting a poetry gym membership for free for a month.
Given that I will be calling out for contributions to the Geopark Poetry Map (see Sunday’s post here (https://sojourningsmith.blog/2021/03/21/happy-unesco-world-poetry-day/), NaPoWriMo is a good way to get in training to hone that poem on one of Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark’s sites. To get more information about submission guidelines and general Geopark information email GeoparkPoetryMap@gmail.com.
The project is being funded by Geological Survey Ireland’s Geoheritage Fund and we will be looking for poems with a decided geoheritage theme of the particular site.This is how they define geoheritage.
Geoheritage encompasses 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.’
Geological Survey of Ireland
If it is Tuesday, it is Weekly Poem Day. This is not a new one, but it is one that was inspired by the Cavan Burren’s Cairn Dolmen. Basically, the earliest tombs were piles of stones – cairns. Ireland has many cairns on mountain or hilltops. Cuilcagh, the mountain that straddles the international border running through Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark, has one. A later era decided to innovate and began building the megaliths, like dolmens, those slabs of rock that were the earliest mauseleums. In Cavan Burren Park, they built a dolmen on an existing cairn. Waste not seems to have been ingrained in the ancestors. Another dolmen became an improvised cow shed in the 19th century; it is now known as the Calf Hut Dolmen.
The Cairn Dolmen in in the forest and is a magical place. I personally call it the Fairy Cairn, which will not impress the scientific minded, but poets must be allowed their fey turn of imagination. The poem was first published in The sHop in 2007.
Each year March 21st rolls around. Some years, like 2021, it is also the spring equinox (or equilux as I like to think of it as we bask in lengthening daylight). But it is always UNESCO World Poetry Day. And, if you are not already familiar with it, UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. After UNICEF, it is probably the most high profile of the United Nation’s work, other than sending in military peace keeping missions in hotspots around the globe. UNESCO World Poetry Day is also a landmark in my own life as I launch an exciting poetry project that I am curating. But first, let’s have a little digression as I unpack the acronym and it’s context.
UNESCO covers, broadly, what is our world heritage. That is why Skellig Michael, Newgrange and the Giant’s Causeway and Coast have earned the UNESCO World Heritage site moniker. The science bit covers the land we live on – the rocks, the waterways, the weather that sculpts the land over time – in an ice age or in a weekend when a fierce storm blows through. The land pretty much dictates our culture as we adapt to our habitat and create art and customs informed by our geographical location. Education is how we transmit both heritage, scientific knowledge and culture.
The United Nations was always in my consciousness from an early age. When we lived in Queens, there was a United Nations Village beside my sister’s and eldest brother’s primary School, St. Nicholas of Tollentine. So they had classmates of children whose parents were working at the UN. The actual building where those parents worked was across the East River and opened in 1952. I went on a tour of the building in 1963 when it still was spanking new and very modern. What lives in my memory is a mural that was very abstract. I asked the tour guide what did it mean. I earned indulgent chuckles from the audience. Little children often ask the questions that the adults think, but also reckon will make them look unsophisticated.
Which brings me to another UNESCO designation that is close to my heart and where I make my home. I live within the demesne of the Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark. It is a global geopark because it straddles an international boundary; Fermanagh is in the UK’s Northern Ireland and Cavan is in the Republic of Ireland. It was the first cross-border global geopark on the planet. That it was created in the wake of the Good Friday Belfast Treaty in 1998 is a cultural monument to co-operation after over thirty years of civil strife. The geology of this area has huge international significance and the artefacts from the previous millenia tell the story of how our human inhabitants developed their culture.
What better way to transmit that heritage then with poetry? The first dwellers probably sang songs of successful hunts, lamented loved ones who passed, celebrated births and the seasons’ passing. Those first stories will have changed over time as each age changed the tune and timing, but the great themes are eternal and connect those of us living today with our mitochondrial mothers. Science helps us excavate new facts and amazing discoveries where we can alter our view about how this living organism -Earth – lives, breaths and shape shifts. Poetry transmits how we interlink with other living organisms. The work of poetry is to make connections.
Which brings me to the perfect marriage of my biophilia and poetry. Today, we launch a digital project with Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark where we will be mapping the geopark poem by poem. Five established poets have been commissioned to create new work on the geoheritage of sites across the geopark. I will be curating the project and reaching out to new and emerging poets asking them for their own contributions. Twelve of those poets will also feature on the Geopark’s digital poetry map. As schools reopen I will be doing outreach with the 9-12 year olds who have visited geopark sites where they live for contributions.
The project has been funded by the Geological Survey of Ireland’s Geoheritage Fund. Cavan Arts Office is funding my work as curator of the project through an Artist Development Award. We are also grateful for Cavan’s Ramor Theatre contributing professional actors to recite the work and to record sound files.
Ultimately, the Geopark Poetry Map will be on the Marble Arch Cave UNESCO Global Geopark website. later in 2021. You will be able to click onto the digital map and read the poem off the screen and click on the sound file and hear it in your ear. Poetry is both a visual and aural experience. The Geopark Poetry Map is a vehicle for doing outreach from a safe distance in these pandemic times.
I live in what feels like a miraculous landscape. My hope is that the poems will educate, entertain and inspire the public to cherish this precious place where I have been graced to live these past twenty years.
If you would like to know more about the Geopark Poetry Map, how to submit a poem for consideration, or to just get more background information about some of the seventy sites around Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark, please email
I look forward to reading the poems that will celebrate the great geoheritage of this landscape.
Since this is a poetry blog I better finish with a poem. The poem is dedicated to Dr. Kirsten Lemon, who was the geologist who taught me and the other Cavan Geopark Ambassadors about the wonders of the earth beneath our feet back in 2011.
Greetings from Ireland where we are still in Level 5 Lockdown. So…not a traditional St. Patrick’s Day of parades, silly lepruchaun hats, or costumes of fake butt cheeks sporting ‘Pogue Mahone’ (that translates as kiss my you know what), or children playing tin whistle and showing off what they have learned in Irish dance classes the past year on a temporary stage in the middle of the town. There are no wailing accordians or jiggy fiddles playing. I didn’t even see shamrocks for sale in my local supermarket this year. The closest I come to any of these in these lockdown days is my cat Felix doing what I call the Pogue Mahone during Zoom sessions. I gather from online posts that some people are celebrating by baking Guinness cake. Which is fitting since baking has practically become a competitive sport online since Lockdown 1. BTW, in Ireland it is not a corned beef and cabbage menu day, because that it Irish American. We tend towards boiled gammon and colcannon traditionally. Also, corned beef is called salt beef here. Besides, we have gone very foodie here this past decade. I add seaweed to my vegetable soup these days and all manner of ‘exotic’ vegetables are available even in my village’s Spar grocery store.
St. Patrick’s Day has always been a bit bittersweet for me. Once we moved to Ireland it had its festive years or was a good day to start planting the spuds since we had the day off work. The first time I encountered a shamrock was in 1962 when Leona Doyle pinned an emerald green pipecleaner shamrock on my dress. She was one of the choir ladies who were busy setting up the lunch for the mourners returning from my father’s funeral.
From the beginning of this month I returned to hosting poetry writing classes on Zoom. We are fiddling about with the sonnet form at the moment. There were two of us in the group who wrote lamens to Lockdown. It has been a long winter and even with the daffodils blooming we still have an indeterminate time in full Lockdown unless you are a primary school child or taking your Leaving Certificate exams this year.
When Will It Be Over?
Annie, I am beginning to feel as if that henna
which you lavished on my locks last January before last
and held fast, fading but still lingering at the ends -
that it's a sign, one that's occurred arbitrarily.
I long for my hairdresser's business to come back
so she can hack off those ends, make it all be over.
My magical thinking releases all of us from this train wreck
year, that the ordeal is shed with my hair on Nuala's floor.
My fevered imagination has me growing out the plague.
I care not one whit for the regrowth that is silver and grey.
In this eternal meanwhile I am growing more awake.
I have grown a new measure for all our long, long days -
on rosary beads, going 'Click, Click, Click,' in collecting groceries,
masking, unmasking, washing, growing, writing poetry.
Copyright 2021, Bee Smith. All rights reserved.
This photo is one of my own of the high cross and round tower on Devenish Island in Lough Erne, Co. Fermanagh. Those medieval strongholds were the legacy of St. Patrick’s mission to Ireland.
The featured photo is of St. Patrick’s Holy Well in Belcoo, Fermanagh.
Both places visited in pre-pandemic times when we were not confined to 5 kms from home except for essential journeys of the medical or grocery kind.