Back in the (Writing Practice) Saddle Again

The new fountain pen arrived on Saturday. A pristine notebook was beckoning. There was no excuse but for a daily writing practice to resume. On 15th September 2018 I began to post a poem each day. After three months I wondered if I could keep it up for a whole 365 days. I did it! Which is to say that the month of July was actually brutal and at times felt like forty days in a desert. So close to the end, but that last lap was really tough. I signed onto Angela T. Carr’s 30 Days of Summer poetry prompt e-course which got me through the writing dog days of August. (She is doing a similar course for Samhain this year. Check it out here: https://www.adreamingskin.com/spellbound-30-days-samhain-writing-challenge if your writing practice needs a nudge.)

I actually have been toiling for the past couple of weeks on a piece of creative non-fiction to submit for competition. Inthe early Noughties I wrote a regular column and contributed features fairly frequently to Sagewoman magazine. So I was used to churning out 2,500 words of prose on at least a quarterly basis and could knock things off in a pretty business-like manner. But I shifted more towards poetry in the past ten years and I have to say, composing what turns out to be something like 2,200 words has felt like a bloodletting.

They do say writers open a vein and bleed ink. Rather melodramatic and also a bit like P T Barnum doing your promotion. But still…writing is not easy. Trying my hand at a formal piece of creative non-fiction after such a long interval has been a real challenge. Writing can be hard work.

What writers don’t often mention is the amount of time you are thinking about the piece when you are not actually sitting in front of your laptop or doodling in your notebook. You read things…you see things… you stare out the window at the bird feeder and think idly of something, nothing, then another thing and then THE thing. And you walk the dog and think some more about THE thing and wonder to the aloud to the deaf dog if it fits into the heart of the piece. And then determine, as Maggie Hannon said to me during the poetry mentoring of 2019, if it a Siammese twin that needs surgical separation and to be put into its own cot!

I can offer some first drafts of poems from this morning’s writing practice this week.

We are the Mycelium Field

An underground life 
can be just as -
or more -
widereaching than
the width and breadth
of forest floor.

Airborne
fungi send their spores
below goes
above
and over
and down
and round again

Just watch a puff ball go
POOF!

An underground life
dreams
what we will see
not just the trees
not just the forest

Underground breeds
whole federations of trees and
above ground their leaves
rustle in the late summer afternoon breeze.

They do their alchemy
so we all can breathe

Some fungi I photographed on our Sunday walk in the woods. The air was heavily scented with ‘shroom!

The Townhall Cavan had a exhibition last month created by artist Jane McCormick divertingly called The Museum of Broken Things. Read more about it here: https://www.anglocelt.ie/2021/07/09/the-museum-of-broken-things/. I was so beguiled by the title I wrote a little fragment of a poem on objets cassé.

A Bunch of  Broken Things

The bust watch face
for which time never stopped

The chipped mug
that cuts your lip with every sip

The ragged wedding veil
that moths made into a sieve for your vows

The tarnished cigarette lighter
its flint rusted stuck

You
Me
the severed limb of a tree

Have a good week. I hope you have a creative practice each day. The world needs us to be creative. Find a sliver of each day to dedicate to your creativity. Even if it is during your lunch hour. I wrote a lot of haiku and micropoems over the years during lunch hours.

When the Ancestors Whisper…

Sometimes you can’t make this stuff up! I was at my first (outdoor) gathering with more than five people last night. Droímín Creatives Cavan has been having a literature and arts celebratory weekend. My creative colleague and I were invited to the Saturday evening event. It was outdoors; tables and seats were socially distanced, dotted around the grounds of Cavan County Museum in Ballyjamesduff. Droímín Creatives is an intiative to create literature and arts experiences inspired by the Cavan landscape. You can find out more and see my profile on https://droimincreative.ie/

It was a bit freaky to be in a large group of unmasked people for the first time in seventeen months. I have been bubbled with my creative colleague, being one of the handful of folks that we have seen at various socially distanced meet ups in between lockdowns. There was live music, albeit in a slimmed down group – a trio that included The Cavan Man Martin Donohoe himself, Philip Clarke and Hannah O’Reilly, an All Ireland Fleadh Singer Winner. It was The Cavan Man’ssecond gig in sixteen months. We sat at picnic tables with cloths made of a collage of artwork and quotes from Cavan writers.

I sat down at the picnic table to eat the delicious light supper provided ; Cavan County events have the best hospitality on principle. I moved my paper plate aside to see a quote of one of my poems published on this website. You can see the quote here

An Accidental Place Card at the Picnic Table

Over supper I struck up a conversation with a woman who was puzzling over my accent. The answer to the question, “Where do you come from? ” and my answer “Dowra, in the far west of Cavan” didn’t entirely satisfy. We unwound my complicated accent history – an Northern Irish husband, time in London and Leeds, all the way back to my birthplace in New York City. It turned out that she had spent twenty-four years in Queens. “Where?” I queried. “Elmhurst,” she answered. I replied that many of my father’s family lived around 82nd Street in St. Adalbert’s parish. It turns out that that was HER neighbourhood for many years. She even used the term “going up the hill”, which is what my father’s mother said when she set out to visit her parents and sisters who lived near St. Adalbert’s Church. I mentally dropped my jaw. In Ireland there never seems to be even three degrees of separation between us.

Later on I was chatting with poet Rita Kelly and the Cavan Arts Officer, Catriona O’Reilly. We paused our conversation politely while Hannah O’Reilly gave us a song that had the rather jocular refrain that went something like…”sure we’re all related by marriage or birth…” I broke into a grin. I was suddenly reminded that both my sister’s Ancestry DNA reports and my own My Heritage DNA reports had noted that we share DNA with people who emigrated from Cavan and North Leitrim. Indeed, according to Ancestry we had a couple fourth or fifth cousins knocking around North Leitrim now.

We do not know my paternal grandfather’s paternity. My surname Smith is a bit of a fiction, which many other unrelated Smiths share across the world where registrars note that ‘John Smith’ was the father in cases where the mother was unmarried to the biological father.

As of Autumn Equinox this year I will have lived in County Cavan for twenty years. That is the longest consecutive residence I have any anywhere in my nearly 65 years. If you had suggested this to me as a teen that this would be the place I felt most as home I probably would not have known where to place it on the map of Ireland. When we decided to come to Ireland in 2000 I dowsed the map of Ireland and the pendulum swung over Cavan and North Leitrim. As far as I was concerned we were heading to Clare. Yet, by another series of synchronicities here we are and here we stayed. Even when you do not trust them, sometimes they have a way of over-riding the best laid plans and scripts.

You really can’t make this stuff up. The synchronities that cropped up – first mention of my father, then the locality where the family lived for decades and the song lyrics – all seemed to point to a nod from the ancestors. We may never know Joe Smith’s dad’s name, but the ancestors seem to have pulled at some of the threads of his back story and may have brought me back to the landscape that spawned his own paternal lineage.

Joseph Smith with his fiancée Barbara Muller in 1910

For Those Who Won’t Get A Valentine Today

For those who may not be getting a Valentine this year…

Sojourning Smith

Once upon a time I was the young woman who did not get a Valentine on That Day. And I might have told myself I didn’t care. But I lied. Because there are some people who genuinely prefer being single and/or celibate. But, dear Reader, I was not one of those. I was born with Venus in Libra and we have a strong urge to merge. Those arid Valentine’s Days were purgatorial.

So if you are happy to have dodged the Valentine bullet or Cupid’s arrow, today’s Poetry Daily may not speak to your condition. Today I am writing a Valentine to that twenty-something me who wanted to meet, and mate with, The One. And if any of you are living my past persona’s condition, this is for you, too.

When there is no Valentine


For those of you who do not expect to get
a Valentine's Day card today…

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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

The Land of Before

There is no freshly pressed Sunday Weekly poem this week. I did write, but I am not feeling the strong pull to post just at the minute. This Sunday weekly poem from the beginning of March is weirdly prescient in that our world will be a Before and an After Covid-19. Also, we had a bit of a kitchen sink drama in the past 48 hours that has eaten up a lot of time and energy. Despite a good ten hour sleep last night I feel weary. I need to cut myself some slack from routine. Routine is good for structuring one’s day and week, whether you live in lockdown or the times past. We have two more weeks before Ireland will gradually loosen lockdown. It will begin a three month process of gradually re-opening the country, measuring the curve and keeping it flat along the way.

In the meantime, I need some writing cocooning time. I need to re-think this blog. I have re-writes and a complete re-visioning of the manuscript I have been working on for the past nine months. Some things are eternal, but do they reflect the impermanance that is our current condition?

One thing this lockdown has done is ask us to address what is essential to our lives. Also, how to negotiate the non-essentials that really feel quintessential for a life well lived. Poetry is not essential work in this pandemic. Yet, poetry writing may just be essential for mental health under lockdown. Along with santizer, hearty hand cream and disposable gloves.

Sojourning Smith

Yesterday the wind blew and rain poured down. It looked like it was going to be yet another weekend of stormy weather. But lo! There is some sunshine and the clouds there are not too fearsome. So I am going to keep the Sunday Weekly poem post short. Maybe a bit bittersweet. Because it is Potato Day at the Organic Centre and we need to get there early to have the most choice from the many seed varieties that will be on sale. Along with garlic. Which has great medicinal value for those of you in a panic over the Covid-19 virus. Grow your own. Get fresh air. Wash your hands. And be well!

The Sunday poem this week was prompted by a quotation in a Guardian Review article last week. I often don’t get to the Review section until well after Saturday. I am particularly fond of the image…

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Divination

I am going to be taking a midweek dip into the archive to review some of the oldies from the year of consecutive 365 poems a day. This one still appeals to me.

Sojourning Smith

Still recuperating and finding mornings are on go slow. I am cutting myself some slack. Sometimes I don’t want to do this poetry practice. Or feel that it is impossible. There cannot possibly be anything more to say. I am out of words. But then there is some thought that I think I might be able to something with…but I beg indulgence.And will spare you the ruminations I started with this morning…”what is poetry actually for?!” under the headline…Squeezing the Pips…of Poetry.

Instead, this came out of the real poetry practice.

Divination

Diving deep into the deck
let me just ask some questions
of You, God.
Ones somewhere between
bone to pick
and petition.
There's the two big ones.
And what do You know
about money?
I mean, really...
How much change jangles
in God's pockets?
That's like asking
what is the sound
of a single clapping hand...

Which…

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When the Well Runs Dry

It’s useful to look back to what I was writing about this day in another year. This post is particularly pertinent as I completed my brídeog, or Biddy doll, this day last year. On St. Brigid’s Day 2020 I will be leading a day retreat that will include creative writing, art AND we will craft a biddy doll, too. We are fast approaching not just the Chinese New Year, but the old Irish season of Imbolc, the time of earth’s renewal. It is time to wake up and grow things! What will you be growing over the next few months?

If you are in Ireland and want a day retreat to celebrate the multiplicity of St. Brigid’s wonderfulness, full details are here:   http://bit.ly/2NHkOMy

Sojourning Smith

I finished making my brídeog (Biddy Doll or St. Brigid’s doll) yesterday. The festival of Brigid (or Brigit or Brighid or Bride) runs from 31st January to 2nd February and coincides with Imbolc, the ancient Celtic festival that heralds spring time. And the return of the goddess Brigid in her maiden form. And the Feast Day of St. Brigit, Abbess of Kildare, one of Ireland’s three national saints. What you need to know about me is that I celebrate the coming a springtime (even though the upcoming Wolf Moon is also known as the Snow or Ice Moon) with as much fervour as most people reserve for Christmas, Thanksgiving or Halloween. I prepare, decorate and bake. And if there is snow that is no bother. The point is that the days are getting much lighter. When you live in Ireland that is is something to celebrate. Winter is on the…

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Joy

Happy Halloween. A lucky dip into the archive re-visits a Halloween Party given at the local open prison for a group of mentally handicapped young adults. It was a stunningly joyful event, staged in the coffee shop that is open to the public, but also open to inmates. Joy can be found in the saddest places sometimes.

Sojourning Smith

I am minded today of the Arundrati Roy quote to seek joy in the saddestplaces. We need to be reminded of joy and a prison qualifies as a sad place, but my husband and I and about fifty souls witnessed it yesterday in our local low security prison. I feel it warrants memorialising in my poetry journal. As backstory for you to understand the context of how it came about, I need to explain that they run a coffee shop that is open to the public, as well as having a car wash and polytunnels where you can buy plants. This is a bank holiday weekend in Ireland so there were a lot of visitors about the campus on a Sunday. The barristas in the coffee shop had been chatting to some of the regulars who work with a group of disabled young adults locally.  They cooked up the…

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Ghosting

This seems an appropriate themed poem pulled from the archive to Halloween

Sojourning Smith

For reasons I cannot quite fathom I have been feeling really tired this past week. Maybe the juggling of three and more projects is catching up with me. I have a list of things I need to attend to today, but I kept slapping the ‘Snooze’ on the alarm. I felt completely flat and out of inspiration for poetry practice. So I was lazily looking at my email, Facebook and finally Twitter. I generally just check in once daily there, but as soon as I opened it there was a post in the feed with a poetry prompt from @UrbanWordNYC…”write a poem addressing how death is the original form of ghosting.” So okay. I have my assignment for the Poetry Daily! Serendipity saves the day! I may have more personal experience of ghosts than social media ghosting, but I can work the metaphor…

Ghosting

Everyone leaves.
At some point I…

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Borders

While the deadline approaches at Halloween, we still don’t know exactly what the daily reality of what Brexit will be for those of us living on the EU frontier with Northern Ireland. This was written nearly a year ago. And still…we don’t exactly know…

Sojourning Smith

I am sometimes asked where all the ideas come from that inspire a new poem. Well, I range around. Today’s poem’s train of thought was provoked by a tweet. I am not a frequenter tweeter, but I do follow a few who are only on Twitter. And my current favourite is The Irish Border (@BorderIrish) who is wittily discoursing on the Brexit crisis about what to do with the problem of it. A lot hangs upon the Good Friday Treaty (aka the Belfast Treaty of 1998), which spelled out the end of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. We live in border country. For instance, today we went to the launderette in Fermanagh, which is eight miles away. If we opted for ones in Leitrim, we would have had to travel around sixteen miles to do the dirty washing. We fill our prescriptions in Fermanagh…

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