Writing Workshop Spin Offs

We are back home, tired and happy, sleeping late after the creative writing workshops at Willowbrook Glamping over the weekend. Our workshop was called “Companioning Your Greatness”, cribbed from W. B. Yeats’ poem These Are The Clouds.  Tony began by looking  at that word ‘companion’ etymologically. It means “together or with bread”. I played a supportive role in that workshop, acting as sounding board for Tony’s devisings, and a reader and timekeeper. 

I was playing catch up earlier this morning, reading emails that had piled up the Inbox  over the weekend. There was one from astrologer Chani Noble announcing  the July eclipse season. So, too, the harvest season will get into full swing this month. Early July is about the sign of Cancer, which rules nourishment. Which took me back to bread.


What Bread

What bread nourished you?

What do you need to fill

that yearning in you?

It’s not just the craving

for sweet over sourdough,

or even preferring 

to dip your bread in oil

instead of slathering it in butter.

What bread will fill

the hole in your soul?

That pit in your stomach

that belly aches so

and cries More! More!

What bread do you feed the wolf?

What bread do you feed the lion?

What crumbs are left for the eagle?

What carrion?

What bread do you bake

and break?

What bread to you give to yourself?

What do you give unto others?

Copyright 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

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Free World

The Poetry Daily is going to go on the road again this weekend. At some point I will post the daily poem over the weekend, but it will be between workshops when I can hop onto Wes’ and Tuesday’s wifi in their kitchen. My husband, Tony Cuckson, and I are doing a two-hander creative writing workshop over the weekend. It’s part of a weekend of creative writing workshops at a Willowbrook Glamping site in Roscommon. So, close to the earth, as well as writing. The sun is blistering bright this morning. Temperatures are going over 25C. Which may not sound hot. But it is for Ireland! Which will probably mean we will be writing outdoors. I shall be the one swathed in shawls, floppy brimmed hat worthy of Scarlet O’Hara, the one who has sun screen and insect repellent in her workshop bag (along with the talking stick, pens, notebooks, etc.) Being a congenitally pale person I prefer shade and cooler temperatures. Living in Ireland, where I can go whole years without fishing out my sunglasses, I generally am only uncomfortable for a week or so, rather than months on end.

Poetry practice comes before packing up the car.

Free World

Wouldn't that be a free world?
If we did not get whiplashed
by others' assumptions
about who you are and
what you are?
That you wouldn't get defined by
the kinds of things you eat
for breakfast, for instance,
or the flat pack that lies
ready to assemble
beside your kitchen table,
what it says about you
(your budget, skill level, taste, or lack thereof )
the narrowness of your choices.
But if others' assumptions
could be the devils freefalling
off your back
that would, indeed, become one
way of being free.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Featured image Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

Solstice Sun Up Meditation

Shortly after the moon entered the sign of Aquarius at 3am this morning I found myself awake. Then wakeful. As much as I would have loved to get back to sleep I have experienced the amrit vela hours of summer solstice. It’s not exactly dark then. But you do need a little extra illumination to do any writing. But mostly I was thinking. Yesterday was the penultimate event in what has been a hectic workshop season for me starting on St. Brigit’s Day, 1st February. I have worked intensively with children. Yesterday the Arts Officer from County Cavan asked my creative colleague and sometime workshop collaborator, Morag Donald, and I what we had learned from the workshops we delivered. 

What I have learned is that we are rearing a generation of children who are not passionately engaged with words. With each group of kids I work with I begin by asking them to describe themselves as being a ‘words’ person or a ‘picture’ person. Overwhelmingly, they identify as pictures people. Of the thirty-five in the audience at Trivia House yesterday , about five put hands up as Words people, with about two describing themselves as both verbal and visual. 

A good deal of my work with school age children touches on ‘The Lost Words’ – those words naming the natural world that were expunged from the Oxford Junior Dictionary in the 2015 edition. Words like birch, wren, nectar, acorn and dandelion. Words that with climate change may become extinct in an actual sense. It is as if we are extinguishing not just the natural world, but our language to describe our experience of it.  As someone living in a country where the indigenous language was erased as policy for generations, I am sensitive to the fact that when you lose language – the words to express your reality- then you also erode and destroy a culture. We may want to be environmentally aware and climate change smart, but you need the language to connect with the natural world that is at stake.

Ben Okri has noted in his book of essays A Way of Being Free that toxic stories make toxic societies. Many of the stories we offer our children are of war, crime and consumerism. Plot needs conflict, of course, but how do we resolve it? Most often with violence, force, sex or shopping. How can we change this narrative? Fairy stories were dark tales, too. In those medieval folk tales it may have felt like the world was ending; this generation actually faces the prospect of the decimation of home planet earth. We need to create garden arks for the planet. But we also need to create language arks to be able to adequately express out feelings of connection to others and the wider world. For if we cannot name our feelings, describe our inner reality, how can we hope to form a bridge and comprehend those who are not exactly like ourselves? With the language to express that reality we might  have less bullying, less reason to punch and physically harm others, and more peaceful resolutions of conflict. We need to be able to express the shades and degrees of our feelings with a wider range than an emoticon. That is shorthand. What we are losing is the longhand skill metaphorically speaking. (As well as the actual skill of cursive handwriting which is no longer on the curriculum in many places.)

How can we build a vocabulary of resilience in our children? Because it feels to me this morning that we are losing our mother tongue as much as a connection with text.  I was reared by a mother who read aloud for 365 days a year for fourteen consecutive years. Being read to teaches listening skills, not just vocabulary with visual aids of picture books. It is a sensual experience – the snuggling in, the rise and fall of the reader’s voice, the taste or smell of the drink or snack you might be having as you listen. For me, words are the ultimate comfort, books my suckie blanket.

Ironically, to incite people to read the words in this blog I am tapping out on my iPad, I will need to add a visual teaser.  I am not anti-technology. I yipped with glee over word processing and spell checker. I am delighted to capture the birdsong and ghostly moon at 5am for your delectation. But what legacy is there without the language to give context?

The daily poem…eventually.

My Mother’s Jewellery Box 

It’s mine now, but

it used to belong to my mother.

She had few gems or other

priceless items made of gold –

some clip-on earrings, folded

news clippings, old prayer cards –

a display of her regard,

the printed word beside a broach,

a badge of honour, a vote

for what has equal value.

Copyright 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

World Poetry Day

March 21st is UNESCO World Poetry Day. Unsually, I try and guide a walk in the weekend closest to this day at one of the Marble Arch Geopark sites, since geoparks are also a UNESCO designation. This year is beginning to have lots of projects crammed into a finite diary. The closest I wll get to this is leading a workshop on poetry at the Dowra Courthouse Creative space this Sunday. We will meet from 11am to 2p, 24th March, in the restored courthouse that has become a creative space with workshops that includes a pottery kiln and jewelery making workshop. Dowra is a Geopark Community that straddles the Cavan and Leitrim county boundaries.

There are still a couple spaces available. All you need do is bring a lunchtime snack, a comfortable pen, and a notebook. Be open to experimentation, to writing truly appalling first drafts, and moving on to feeling the joy of the creative sap rising with springtime.

Meanwhile, here is a World Poetry Day bonus poem…on the state of poetry.

Poetry

It sits like the elephant
in the corner of the living room,
treated as irrelevant,
a difficult to quantify
its quantity or quality
as economic unit.

Tell me the weight and rate
of soul? If you feel that one exists
inside darkest nights, within great joy?
Then everyone wants to reach
for a poem.Or to grasp a pen
to pioneer that frontier
of their understanding
of what costs nothing
and contains a world.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Featured image
Photo by Trust "Tru" Katsande on Unsplash



The Blank Page

I am back to my waking in the dark poetry practice, which has that Goldilocks ‘just right’ feeling about it. Actually, I woke out of a dream where I was giving a Toastmasters style speech to an very (un-Toastmastersish) rowdy crowd. I knew I had five minutes. I was unprepared, but one thing I knew quite authoritatively was the blank page and how to tackle it. Even when I was interrupted I wove that interjection right back into the speech. When I woke up I had that feeling of…’ooh, I think I pulled that off!’

I know what was racketing around my night dream life was a meme I created yesterday evening for my creative writing workshops. I have not been able to schedule regular weelend sessions locally in 2018 for various reasons. It feels like it’s time to have a short run of classes in later in the springtime.

Word Alchemy Creative Writing Workshops
Feel the fear

and write anyway.

If you hear sneers and jeers

internally

call in Word Alchemy.

Apologies to Miss Emily Dickinson

But now to get down to this day’s poetry practice.

The Blank Page

The pen caresses it
Pricks its virgin membrane
Spills its ink
on, over, into it.

See what they make -

round, fat-kneed,
crawling, over balanced,
wailing, weepy,
chuckling, chortly
chubby cheeks,
massive headed
(how did it fit
through the nib's slit?!)
Sumo wrestler
babies
in full nappies

pen, ink
paper,
the hand moving
create.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

So…go face that blank page! And if you live in Cavan, Leitrim or Fermanagh get in touch with me by email for an introduction to the blank page and creative writing.

Featured Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

St. Brigid’s Cross

For those who live outside of Ireland, or upland parts of other parts of the British Isles, the rushes used to weave a new St. Brigid’s Cross each year must seem an oddity. They are greening up even in January, in the snow, which is why they are perfectly symbolic for a season heralding renewal of the land, the new growing season. I know some women who are devotees of the saint and the goddess use old corn to weave them. A friend in Canada caught in the polar vortex made hers from pipe cleaners! And somehow I figure that adaptability and evolution would please the saint. After all, She took on the mantle of the goddess of the same name and has survived as a potent feminine symbol of divinity right into the 21st century. Brighid, whether as goddess or saint, is global.

Yesterday, I read poems and wove St. Brigid’s Crosses with my artist/healer friend Morag Donald at the local open prison, Loughan House. (You can learn more on her blog https://moragdonald.wordpress.com/)

St. Brigid's Cross
Making a St. Brigid’s Cross
St. Brigid's Cross
Forground, a complete woven St. Brigid’s Cross

A Crios Bríd in the basket at the background

St. Brigid is patron (matron?) saint of poets, healers, craftspersons and more…prisoners being one group who received her kind attention in the annals that have come down to us. The St. Brigid’s Cross is a symbol that has survived, been adapted and repeatedly adopted. It is made as four, equal-armed cross with fresh, green rushes that flourish in typically ‘bad’ land. (See, even ‘bad’, i.e. less fertile, land comes good with St. Brigid.)

St. Brigid's Cross

For Siobhán

Its God's eye
never blinks
sees from every angle
east, west, north, south

Its God's eye
has wings flying
in every direction
east, west, north, south

Its God's eye
spirals round as it angles
arms all reaching
east, west, north, south

Its God's eye
aerial views land, sea
brushfire and tree
east, west, north, south

Its God's eye
is a woman's vision
is a man's seeing
east, west, north, south

Its God's eye
sees equally
woman, man
air, sea, fire, tree
east, west, north, south.
This is its prophecy.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.


This isn’t a new poem written today, but it takes its starting point from St. Brigid as a matron of justice. Several courts and prisons around the British Isles have been called The Bridewell. This goes straight back to Brigid as justice bringer, emancipator of slaves and prisoners. Brigid is associated with sacred springs and holy wells.

 Bridewell
 
If you cannot forge something new
            from forgiveness
you stand there hovering
            on the rim of
what if and what is and
            what is yet to be.
 
Reconciliation is a sacrament,
a woman talking to Jesus at a well.
 
The wise woman Bride holds court
            at the well
where the deep, dark, down below is
            the source, bubbling up
breaking the surface
            rippling out, catching light and shining.
           
Stare down deep. Drink that holy water.
Be healed, not judged, she says.


Copyright © 2017 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

The Hero’s Journey

Joseph Campbell’s stages of the hero’s journey has been stewing on the back burner of my brain. I have been asked to devise some poetry writing workshops for prisoners on that theme on the foot of the concert my husband devised and delivered just before Winter Solstice at our local open prison. It is, I have to admit, a useful framework to do exploratory writing on one’s autobiography and spiritual journey in life.

When one considers both the Journey and the Call to Adventure the zero tarot card fashioned as The Seeker in Joanna Powell Colbert’s Gaian Tarot deck certainly feels apt. In Ellen Lorenzi- Prince’s Dark Goddess Tarot the zero card is the Sheela-na-Gig, displaying her yoni as the great portal of beginnings and endings.

Seeker, Call to Adventure, shero's journey,
From Wikipedia, the Kilpeck, Hertfordshire Sheela-na-gig that Lorenzi-Prince based her own zero tarot card.

In traditional tarot decks, this is The Fool card or The Jester. The Wild Card.

So I suspect that over the next few days I am going to poke and prod at elements of the Hero’s Journey as I pace out the hows and wherefors of a couple workshops. As always, I explore the etymological roots of key words. The roots for the English word hero are a bit uncertain – demi-god, brave, illustrious. The definition seems to cover it, although it does seem rather phallo-centric. Well, we all know sheroes, those brave, demi-goddess women, too!

Adventure, however, is waiting for the arrival.

A Hero

is not the one
who liked the adreneline rush
at the odds,
who liked the shape of the caper.

No, the hero
sensed it before it happened,
knew the risks
was just waiting for the call.

Picked it up,
listened to the message,
despite all
answered and adventured.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

The image is from the Rider-Waite tarot deck foundon Wikipedia. To check out The Gaian Tarot’s image for the Seeker go to https://www.gaiantarot.com/