The Whooper Swans Arrived this Week

The Sunday Weekly Poem turns out to be a series of poems in this edition. While I may not write a poem a day these days, I find that I feel better if I do write something fairly often. I have drafts of three poems and a haiku from this week, which also included leading an outdoor walk and writing workshop with some Reluctant Writers from Loughan House Open Prison. It involved walking around a blustery Cavan Burren from just before 10AM until nearly 3PM, a picnic lunch, and then some writing. The outing began with a brief shower. The heavy shower mercifully held off until 2pm (thank you, weather gods!) by which time we were hunkered down in the Visitor Centre with notebooks out and writing exercises underway. We wrote to the patter of rainfall on the shelter of the plastic roof, on picnic tables on the side of the centre avoiding the prevailing wind. We were out in open air, but writing in a building with only gable ends for walls. That in itself must have been a bit of a culture shock for some guys who until recently will have spent time in cells for twenty-three hours of every twenty-four.

Nature can be a great inspiration, even a healer. Those half dozen workshop participants can wander an open prison’s campus, itself a bit of an adjustment initially I am told. Some find it difficult to walk outside their rooms when they first arrive. One past resident confided in my husband that the sight of a full moon after five years made him weep. To then look down upon that very campus from a height, surrounded by mountains and loughs on all sides, has to shift perspective on some level. To walk in the woods and smell spruce, lichen and moss is to breathe a new kind of clean air. To walk among dolmens and wonder at how on earth they shifted those rocks to build them sparks questions, as well as the imagination. A walk in the woods among megaliths really can take you out of yourself. The ancestors are very palpable on the Cavan Burren and that did not go unnoticed by some. One participant said he had not realised how close to wilderness they were here in West Cavan and you could see the awe.

One thing these guys teach us is never to take this glorious landscape for granted. It’s a privelege to see it with fresh eyes again and again.

Cavan Burren
Cuilcagh Mountain viewed from Cavan Burren Park

It’s autumn for sure now. Our Virginia Creeper has gone crimson. On Monday there was some sunshine between showers and it was warm enough to sit outside. At least for a bit.

And Just Like That

As if
in response
to my own despondency

the clouds rolled in
blotting out
the sun
breezing in a spit spot
of rain
on my writing thumb

driving me
and semi-dry laundry
indoors again.

That may have been
the last blink of sun
for sitting out
now autumn
has truly begun.

I chide myself
not to take nature
so personally

but somedays I feel
we are one
body.

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Then on Tuesday, as if to underline the official arrival of the season, I heard the whooper swans return to Lough Moneen where they overwinter from Iceland. The Whoopers have yellow bills instead of the orange ones. They also have a honk that some mistake for geese. Their winter sojourn in Ireland lasts between October to March. They are earlier than usual this year, with some friends reckoning they don’t usually turn up locally until near Halloween. On Wednesday, I saw a formation flypast. They often return to the same loughs each winter. One New Year’s Day I opened our front door and the first sight of the New Year was a flight of swans. Which certainly counts as a very special omen. But that was before I knew about the Omen Day tradition. (https://sojourningsmith.blog/2018/12/26/the-omen-days/)

whooper swan
Whooper swan in Kileforna from Wikipedia
Yesterday
I heard the whooper swans
trumpet song

Arriving
in an elegant slide
on water

Neighbour's lough
their winter home,
they honk 'Halló'

A long trip,
eight hundred miles or more
for six months

That's their flight
back and forth from Iceland.
'Bless, bless' Bye!

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

The days shortening light is inexorable and noticable now. Dawn is nearly 8AM. Darkness descends before 7pm.

Then the Half-Light

Then the half-light
either morning, at first
or early evening's
gloaming

Before dazzle
of full light
or confusion
of deepest darkness

We either
flinch or squint
shielding our sight
blink, blink

the shading hand
turns grasping
in our night
blindness

Then the half-light
delicate shadows
some light
some dark

We never fully see
We hark what we want to hark.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

I spotted pumpkins on sale in the supermarket this week. Halloween will be here soon. The clock’s will go back and we will be plunged into the darkest part of the year.

Advertisements

Sunday Poem and Pondering

It’s been a noisy week. Hasn’t everyone experienced some kind of sound and fury? It’s been inescapable one way or the other. I had a poem written and ready to go last evening, but I decided to honour the original rhythm of writing the poem a day over 365 consecutive days. I set the alarm to make sure I would rise early. I didn’t need its pinging in the end, for my sleep cycle this week has been as erratic as those geological glacial remains that rocked and rolled over the landscape that I call home. I was up early and saw the dawn.

So, in the spirit of Samuel Becket’s saying that poems are prayers, I offer this little poem from my journal penned on rising today. It was how I declared the day ‘sabbath’, a day of rest.

Morning Prayer

Let there be one morning
without rush,
that the dawn is bejewelled
in its hush.
Let the sun rise golden
and bleeding
on Playbank's horizon,
day seeding
as rain drips from the eaves
land all lush.

Let there be one morning
without rush.
Let there be one morning
celebrating this hush.

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

The Playbank
The Playbank

Then…some pondering from a news story that actually appeared last March, but only just captured my imagination. A 40,000 year old log was unearthed in New Zealand, the relict of an ancient kauri tree hauled from a swamp. Itself, part of the fossil record, it is thought to have lived for nearly two millenia, and charts the geological period when the earth’s magnetic field shifted. For fuller details check out https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6836883/40-000-year-old-log-underneath-New-Zealand-swamp-explain-Earths-climate-mystery.html.

But…the poem from the pondering.

Homeostasis

The kauri tree
it saw it all
left the tale
in arborial braille.

Will the meek ever
inherit the earth?
Just once.
Who speaks for those species?

Those not quite
fittest
being extinguished
each year...

The bonobo,
the Bengal tiger,
even
the nerdy caterpillar.

Two hundred
creatures
great and small
are gone

every day
times 365
with an extra
on leap year.

Who gets saved?
Recycled? Culled?
The kauri tree
saw it all.

It wrote that epic shift
on its body
the needle shifting
round the dial.

What is unequal
balances.
Some will be saved,
some culled.

For the rest,
they go back to the earth
for what will be
their next cycle.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

What will this week bring? What will be culled?

A Clearing

Some people do Spring cleaning. But the autumn equinox is a similar good time to clean up and clear out. In our household we have been in a process of turning out cupboards, emptying boxes, donating to textile banks and charity shops, and generally reorganising everything. And soon enough we will be attending to the outdoors, clearing the gutters and putting the garden to bed for the winter. We have a lot of green tomatoes and these will have to be turned into pie and chutney.

All this clearing is really about trying to achieve some symmetry, a pleasing harmony out of what is often unruly and messy. Therefore, human. We strive for balance. But will settle, quite happily, for tidier.

Others refer to this week of equal day and equal night as one of the two hinges of the year. Some years you barely hear a creak. But this year it must have been rusty for all the groaning. I am writing this in the evening of the new moon in Libra, that sign of harmony and balance. This is what we all say we want, but gosh the world is awfully addicted to drama! Nor am I immune, given that I was having vulnerability melt downs over the writing on and off all week.

The Sunday Weekly Poem considers this time of year, the clearing, the exertion for balance.

How was your Equinox week?

A Clearing

She died Monday
just after the sidereal clock
said equinox.
Equal light.
Equal night.

Though this year
there were a few more days
before it was truly
equal light and night

and they laid her down
with her final rites
on that day that was
equally day and night

This is balance.

A beloved, ancient lady
surrounded by
five generations
descending

as she was put into
the ground
that day when hours
were equal day and night.

This is balance.

This is balance.

Though
difficult to negotiate
those clefts
in the heart

where the love's let in
and the artery
flushes
sorrow out.

Like the eye
in the sharp needle
where the angels dance
en pointe.

Or the loom's shuttle,
the warp and weft
its in and out
back and forth

the thread,
the sharpened scissors cutting off
and the darning back in
of that loose tail end.

This is balance.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Featured image Photo by Bekir Dönmez on Unsplash

Life after 365 Poems a Day

…is strange. I had never imagined the wrench of a change in routine after completing the full cycle of writing 365 Poems a Day.. On Monday, the 16th, I did wake up out of a dream full of terrorist menace. I wrote two poems, but didn’t post. On the 17th I woke up and wrote. But then, the demands of life changed the morning routine and I went for two days not writing in the morning. what I found was that I was a bit cranky. Things felt off. We were busy and productive in this house, but still…I got back in the writing saddle on the 20th and did a free write, trying to get my world from feeling askew. During that session my fountain pen began to kibbitz and the ink fade out. Even my usual tools were feeling off. Or I was projecting it on to them, blaming the ink for being blue black instead of jet. Inspecting the nib for blockages, I changed out the cartridge. It felt a bit better, but…I am considering that there was more being in my humanity last week…

Then I had to deal with the terror, the nameless one in the dream and the named ones that stalked my waking hours. While I had had a few editting and reading sessions during this past busy week, by yesterday I realised that the process of selecting poems and shaping a collection was daunting. If I weren’t already the colour of milk, I would say that the propect made me blanch. I thought I had a plan mapped out and had made a longlist. After researching potential publishers and realising that the pickings are slim and the odds enormously not on my side, I was dissolving into sweats..

Which were partly accounted for by the the Irish version of Indian Summer, foolish a name for a European heatwave in September that it is. But the relentless sunshine broke yesterday around 3pm with some rain. It’s still not as cold as it would normally be, but the rain has been caused by a shift around of the weather vane. Maybe I will settle more this week into defining life after writing a poem a day for a full year.

We are a day away from the autumn equinox, just about my favourite time of year in Ireland. Today is the eighteenth anniversary of my arrival and taking up residence in Ireland. Having been a rolling stone for a good deal of my life(first move aged three months), I have lived in our home here out the bog road for as long as I lived in the family home before I left for university. Slightly longer actually. Never in a million years could I have forecast that this would be the place that would become what feels most like home. I seemed destined for all things glitzy and urban. But it is this rural corner where Cavan and Leitrim and Fermanagh touch borders, and where the River Shannon rises and runs through the village that now feels most like home on our dear, beleaguered planet.

It’s been a busy week between the strike for Climate Change and Ireland’s Culture Night on Friday, where my husband and I ran a Kid’s Cabaret in the village. But here I am on the soulful Sabbath offering a weekly poem…or two actually.

Overnight

russet and gold
licked the creeper

the rowan is a naked lady
wearing only her rubies

caught starkers in the warm daylight
standing on her tip toes

she's leaving the building
without her clothing.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

The Last of Summer

Dew slightly frosty
a chill an hour past
the later dawn

ground mist
like a turlough hovering
underneath the mountain's ridge

disappearing with
hot sunshine searing
the sky

cloudless
a silken
azure blue

hedges plump and laden
blackberries, rowans, haws
a wild harvest


The postman announces
that a front from the Atlantic
is coming

tomorrow
that is never
good news to deliver

The heat will go until May
after the equal night and equal day.
And that will be that
for summer.

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Perhaps the earth’s poise will recalibrate me internally, too. Perhaps the terror of editting and shaping a poetry collection will begin to subside. Right now I am cogitating a twist on the cliché ‘right as rain’…maybe more ‘write as rain…’ Rain feels more the natural climate for re-writes and edits.

In the meantime, I offer a gallery of garden snaps taken during this extraordinary extra bit of summer we have had this week in my corner of Ireland where Cavan meets Leitrim and Fermanagh, and a river runs through the village.

What I Learned Writing A Poem A Day for a Year

Before I kick off the Sunday Weekly Poem, I felt it behooves me (such a lovely word behoove, and one rarely gets an opportunity to use it!) to have a bit of reflection and de-briefing on the experience of writing and posting a poem a day everyday for a year.

It began on 15th September 2018, with https://sojourningsmith.blog/2018/09/15/some-poetry-making-etudes/. My childhood piano teacher, Miss Mildred Herring, gave me a book of five finger exercises to build my piano playing muscles. I was an indifferent piano scholar, but the idea of regular poetry practice appealed. I wanted to write better poems. I knew I could write a poem a day for a month, since I had been able for two NaPoWriMo’s.

I never set out with the intention of writing a poem a day for a full year. But around Month 3 it began to occur to me that I might be able to do it. I loved the regular poetry practice. If I was late writing in the day, my day just did not have the same quality.

So this is what I gleaned from my experience of writing and posting a poem a day for a year.

Poetry Writing is Grounding and Centring

Let’s face it, no matter where you live on the planet, we live in uncertain times. I began the project and found that the daily writing practice helped me channel my anger and anxiety. It became a place for my mellower musings, too. I got it out and put it ‘there’ on the blank page. And there it remained, transformed and tamed. Poetry writing was the ballast that kept my internal boat from capsizing. Over time, poetry and the boat all became one thing.

Vulnerability Has Transformative Power

I love my fellow poets and writers, but to be brutally honest, as a genus we can be a bit precious over our product. We are sensitive plants and probably need to be to do the work. But if one is ever going to share the work you need to grow a thicker skin. By posting daily I did not have the luxury of a lot of time to edit and refine. So some of the poems are raw and others just plain lame. I had to get past my inner critic’s perfectionism, which can sometimes be the great destroyer of creativity and its creations. (Remember Kali, the mother destroyer goddess. We all have our inner Kali. But we don’t need to kill all our babies in the re-write and editting phase.) By working fast I had no time to be precious. I woke. I wrote. I posted. I got on with the rest of my life’s day. In that very vulnerability of putting it out there I found creative power. I learned not to be cast up or cast down by blog statistics. I just did the work.

Routines Create Neural Pathways

By writing daily I had the ability to try out new poetry forms. When I started I was technically proficient in assonance, dissonance, syllabics. I was a bit allergic to end rhyme. I had written maybe one sonnet in my life. I was not against formalism in poetry. I have written haiku and know all the variations on that form (NB: https://sojourningsmith.blog/2019/05/22/when-a-haiku-is-not-haiku/). But trying out sestina, pantoum, and sonnet stretched me technically. Admittedly, last autumn I had more time to research and learn. But it was great preparation time spent when things got really hectic come January 2019. The neural pathways had been pioneered. The habit of daily writing was well bedded in by the time my schedule got tighter. The routine was carved into my brain’s neural pathways and things were sparking nicely there. My brain was humming happily.

Nonetheless She Persisted

Yes, there were times when it was very hard to do the practice. But by then I realised the writing was not just a writing practice. It was a form of spiritual discipline. It was my morning meditation practice. Houseguests, who are people who love me, understood that morning was sacrosanct and the hush needed to be maintained. (For this I am profoundly grateful. Most hostesses do not leave their guests to fend for themselves first thing in the morning and demand radio silence upon the house. But they respected the writing practice.) A migraine delayed writing and posting, but did not deter. Nor did deathbed vigils, bereavement and funerals. But by that time, I realised that the writing practice was holding everything together for me.

But I will admit that at Month 10, I really began to flag. I was generally tired from juggling several teaching projects, as well as getting up early to write each morning. I am more pit pony than racehorse and the first six months of the year felt like I was at full gallop. But I kept at it because I was so damn close! ( I have got a competitive streak, which usually only gets outed during Scrabble matches.) I could see the finish line in sight. A 30 day course of daily writing prompts rescued me for four out of the last six weeks before finish line.

What’s On My Mind

Up until this year I would probably have characterised myself as mostly a nature or environmental poet. I knew that there was a storytelling voice in there too, which some critics would cast askance. Writing a poem a day challenged me to explore new subject matter. It loosened me up. But I didn’t have the time to actually look back and see if there was a thematic thread running through the poetry posts. In the past two weeks as I have reviewed the archive I can now discern a few different categories of my pre-occupations. And this will help me go forward to create a manuscript of the best of the 365 Poems A Day.

What’s Next

I do have very kind and faithful readers who have indicated that the Poetry Daily will be missed. But they seem to understand that I need the time for editting and pulling together a manuscript to create my first solo collection. Previously, I have have collaborated with my sister, Pamela A. Smith, on a transatlantic haiku ‘conversation’ and with Helen Shay in our co-collection Binary Star. Helen and I have another co-collection in the works.

But first I need to whip the solo collection into shape. So watch this space.

In the meantime, I will post a Weekly Poem each Sunday. I will point you to some previous ones in the archive at times. And in the first week there are a few scheduled little poems to help wean you from the Poetry Daily.

But now…start the Weekly Poem routine! I did not realise that I had written a poem on a similar theme last year. (Poets have their obsessions and recurring themes that are as regular as the full moon. To see what last year’s version looked like see this post. https://sojourningsmith.blog/2018/09/25/harvest-moon/

Harvest Moon (II)

Moon to illuminate
all that's been dreamed
all that's now done

The starry firmament
shines a woman
holding some sheaves

Not a bull or a ram
not a half-horse
that's half a man

Not fish or scorpian,
crab or lion,
not even goat

Not the adrogynous
water bearer
or inert scales

She who bears the seed to
ultimate fruit
holds the harvest

A woman holds the sky
as she always
does on this earth

Everything she dreamed
is now all done
so she can dream

yet another turn round
the sun, the moon,
the seed, its bloom.

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Until next Sunday! Read a poem a day while I am away!

Featured image Photo by Anita Austvika on Unsplash

Learning to Live Without America

What a week! What edge of the seat reality TV! What plot twists! What amazing appearances at elevators, like an inverted stage deus ex machina! It’s great theatre if it didn’t impact so many millions of lives. And while millions still are dazzled by the Emerald City and Oz, the Great Wizard was laughed at by the world. Then, remembering the manners their mothers taught them, mildly, with the Grand Wizard. Sorry! The Great Oz.

But I will say it has been plenty fodder for poetry practice. I am now into week three of posting a poem a day. And it isn’t even April NaPoWriMo.

Learning to Live Without America

Everyone gets to grow up
although it can be hard to adult at times.
To have to learn a whole new language
(I do mean cultural patois here)
in which one is never completely fluent.

Yet, I am here to say it
as a kind of living Exhibit A.
It is possible.
Doable.
Sometimes even preferable.

It was proved oh so succinctly
this week in the Assembly Hall.
Now its okay to laugh at America
because America really doesn’t want to play ball
with the world. Anyway,

America is in love with walls today.
But here is a nugget of fact,
a singular Eurocentric truth,
the pith in the block of concrete
that built the so-called Peace Line.
The plot was lost with the wall. History only paused.
That is all.
When its natural arc is to march
to the tune of the twist in its tale.

But, as I was just saying about walls…

Once you have built a wall
You are on to a loser.
Go look back at the Iron Curtain.
See how that went so well?

Carving up tribal turf,
Installing all those Checkpoint Charlies,
(so kids, go Google it! Start with Berlin,
The Cold War, the creation of Soviet serfdom).

Because once you’ve built a wall
it’s not just about letting people in.
It’s also about allowing things out, which
has a tendency to make people yearn for them to fall.

The Romans tried it with the Picts.
So perhaps the building of walls is all about
holding those empire necklines,
just fashioned out of brick and edict.

It. might be time to have a long new think tank.
Because once you have built a wall
people may not want to be come in.
They may decide to drop you for your
ideological  kink. And then leave you to drown
and go down with the bubbles in your own kitchen sink.

Like the anchorites of the last dark age,
walling themselves in to be closer to God,
you are free to watch from behind your barbed wire even if you do still have nukes.
So it is possible to learn to live without America,
because no one wants to hang out with jerks.

Copyright 2018 Bee Smith

Equinox Eve

Poetry practice was delayed until evening today. But I have kept up with a poem a day now for a week. Wouldn’t Miss Mildred be impressed if I had been as diligent with my piano etudes as I have been with pounding out words.

The sunset last night was inspiration for today’s offering. Yesterday was very rich in countless ways. Wholly, a gift. The Haiku PoeTree Walk on the Cavan Burren had a relaxed group. A frog hopped out at us at the Calf Hut Dolmen, which felt like I little benediction from the haiku master Basho. (Who was a cat man if his haiku on Love and Barley is to be believed. Given that that this week a certain cat has often hovered close by during poetry practice. I suspect he is auditioning for the position as muse.)

But it isn’t haiku, but a kind of elation that came upon me as I walked our little dog Obe back home down our lane.

At 7pm on Equinox Eve

I want to go out like September
in the bonfire blaze before sunset
such that all will remember
its juice and its shine and jewelled light.

I want to go out and bathe in its truly blue sky,
all crisp and cool, with wisps of cottonwool cloud
writing omens that scud by.

I want to go out like this September night
with its equal light and shade
where nothing at all is vague
in its angle of light.

I want to go out like September
that wears it heart on its shirtsleeve
when it comes time to take my leave.

For a life to sink gloriously down
just as this September sun shows me how.
I want go out as elated
as this evening’s last light.

Copyright 2018 Bee Smith