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.
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.
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.
Yesterday, despite gloomy weather forecasts, I led the final Creative Ireland Haiku Mindfulness workshop. Rain held off and we even saw a splash of sun and fluffy cloud. This workshop included the entire student body of Curravagh National School, Glangevlin, Co. Cavan. So, with two teachers, my beloved husband bringing up the rear herding stragglers, the seventeen pupils took a nature walk up Claddagh Glen in Florencecourt, Fermanagh.
Yes, that’s right! Seventeen bright sparks make up a school in the upland reaches of Co. Cavan. It is a two room, two teacher school and just pure pleasure to visit and work in. While the youngest pupils were not haiku writers, they were taking pleasure in the nature walk, learning names of tree species, and ferns, mosses and lichen. As I have heard others say, “Nature teaches stillness.” And stillness is key to mindfulness. We paused for some moments to listen to the river flow over its rocky bed and enjoyed that quality of silence when twenty pairs of ears listen to it. Or the roar of the Cascade Waterfall.
Haiku is often one of the first poetry forms introduced to school children, along with acrostics and list poems. Yet, it is a real challenge for children who are just learning to form sentences to start chucking out the definate and indefinate articles. However, what they have no problem with is letting their ‘imagination eye’ rove and see wonders. One lad regaled me with how a bush could be a castle and a palisade of straight young ash trees became sentries. No goats or herons appeared but they were mesmerised by a spider’s web on a tree.
Back in the classroom, with a cup of hot chocolate in hand they told everyone what images had really impressed them – the hollowed holes at the base of a tree trunk, that spider’s web, tree rings on felled trunks, the big waterfall, and the much smaller one running down the rock face with the many kinds of fern.
I now have a wealth of haiku written from four differant groups – the general public, some residents of Loughan House, and the children of St. Hugh’s National School, Dowra and Curravagh, National School in Glangevlin. Now I will sit down with artist Tamaris Taylor and we will select some for illustration that can be on permanent display in Dowra Courthouse Creative Space.
Not to forget my own poetry practice for today. Or my ‘poetry daily’ as one friend has styled it. (I like it. It’ll stick!) Two haiku, one inspired by yesterday’s outing. And one about this morning. I really am getting up early. I replied to a friend’s message who found it patently weird to hear from me at dawn’s break. This morning lark turnabout is freaking my friend’s out!
Small cascade flowing over rock face baby's tears Water's power
The year winds down Wind me up clockwork style To power through December
Have a great weekend as we begin the final month of 2018.
An early start for the second of my Creative Ireland mindfulness haiku walks on the Cavan Burren. This particular group came from the Education Centre at the local low security prison. I love working with these guys and it is always a privilege. The Cavan Burren offers megaliths, upland landscape and woodland where rock art and remains of neolithic living can be seen. It has a very special presence. And while it is a specially earned opportunity, it also challenges guys who are used to a foreshortened viewpoint. Up by the Tullygubban Wedge Tomb they could look out and count six counties. They could look down on their own residence over looking Lough MacNean where ancient people left remains of shellfish feasts. Some city dwellers have only ever experienced concrete. This was wilderness to some Dubs amongst us.
And then how do you handle presence and silence when you have been living in a perpetually noisy environment? That, too, is a challenge. For then the chatter in the mind gets louder sometimes. Which is where mindfulness meditation can come in handy.
Haiku can help focus on a moment – a pause, a revelation – and then share that connection. So many offenders in prison have some element of addiction that contributed to their landing there. Studies in Portugal have posited that the opposite of addiction is connection. Connection is the business of poetry. Which is why I am in there pitching poetry writing for the past four years. I hope the lads have got as much out of it as I have received.
A busy couple of days without the leisure to polish a lengthy poem for poetry practice. Tonight is Ireland’s Culture Night and up and down the country there will be events celebrating every kind of art form. Tonight I will perform some poems at Dowra Courthouse Creative Space, a repurposed redundant rural courthouse that is now an exhibition, performance and meeting space. It kicks off at 4:30pm with a pottery class by local ceramics teacher Jim Fee. (The courthouse even has a kiln to finish off the production!). From 7:30pm there will be a procession of performers starting with estimable Mike Absolem and his harp. My husband, Tony Cuckson and I share a storytelling and poetry slot at 8pm. Musicians and singer/songwriters will entertain until 10:30pm.
From poetry to PoeTree on Saturday with another of my outdoor writing workshops. This one is free courtesy of funding from Create Ireland and Cavan County Council. The walk and workshop will concentrate on haiku as both poetry form and a mindfulness practice. Cavan Burren Park, Blacklion is my favourite venue and never fails to offer fresh inspiration on every visit. Meet me at the Visitor Centre at 2pm for a stroll with a pen and notebook. Be prepared for some stop and stare time. If you want more information ring me on ++353-71-964-3936.
So writing practice for today demands exercising the haiku muscle. Also, it is brief. So it. An ideal form for the time famished writer. Okay, breathe in. Breathe out…and
It can be done in seventeen syllables. Or less. It can be less.
My creative colleague, Morag Donald, and I have been leading art and creative writing workshops with a Foróige youth group in Templeport, Co. Cavan since January. This was just one group taking part in the Cavan Youth Arts Lab, of which there are ten across County Cavan with approximately 150 youth getting a chance to try out and play in various artistic disciplines. The Cavan Arts Office initiative received EU funding through Peace IV, part of the ongoing funding in cross-border communities that has oiled the mechanics of peace and reconciliation after the Thirty Years conflict ended with the Belfast Agreement on Good Friday, 10th April, 1998. Rural border towns were especially impacted by that conflict in many ways too lengthy to enumerate in this blog post. Here we are twenty years on, approaching Good Friday, still doing the healing work.
Templeport, Bawnboy is also a Geopark Community, with sites of importance for Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark (another monument to cross-border cooperation, founded in the wake of the Belfast Agreement.) Morag and I proposed a project allowing the group to try out a range of arts and crafts, story and poetry that they would be unlikely to encounter in school. We took as our thematic touchstone ‘Landscape and Heritage.’ PEACE Cavan Youth Arts Project Facilitator Kim Doherty matched us with a Foróige group of 12-14 year old girls. We met them in evening sessions and one daytime in Templeport Community Centre and had a day long outing in Cavan Burren Park, Shannon Pot and a workshop in Dowra Courthouse Creative Space. Because as far as I am concerned you cannot have a project on land without getting outdoors.
Over the course of the first quarter of 2018, ten young women gamely tried out lots of new stuff. In the first session I asked them if they related more to words or pictures. Most felt more comfortable with visual media, but they also courageously tried out words. And I do mean courageous. One young woman when asked how she felt about writing a poem said, “Terrified!” And she was being dead honest. But, to her credit, she felt the fear and did it anyway! And it didn’t really hurt at all in the process – a bit to her surprise.
We started with giving them journals to collage and keep a record of their own work and thoughts.
Morag Donald, a certified tutor in Touch Drawing, gave them a taste of this way to express themselves using this unique technique.
Morag also taught skills in felt making, needle felt pictures and weaving.
Morag holding up some finished product
Wash, roll, pat – like Washing Days in Olden Times
First, call your friend who has some alpaca wool going spare. Then, encourage girls to get over the animal aroma pre-washing. Next, wash it, roll it, pass it around! Felt making is a truly communal and co-operative operation.
But weaving offered each individual the opportunity to weave in her own contribution as part of a greater whole.
For the words part of the project I chose ‘The Lost Words’ as a theme. This harks back to a poem of my own (Lost Worlds) inspired when I read that many words describing natural phenomena were being dropped from the Junior Oxford English Dictionary. Now, for these young women living in a rural setting, conker and bluebell are still very real and known. But for urban children those words deemed ‘irrelevant to modern childhood’ won’t have either a memory or a reference. So it seemed important to impress that these girls had a unique place in being the storykeepers of some of the lost words. In our final session they each chose a word as theirs to keep. For Emma, who dipped into the tin and picked kingfisher, it seemed absolute kismet since they have some kingfishers close to her home place.
Story is a way of communicating our heritage. On our day out on the Cavan Burren and Shannon Pot, in my Geopark Local Guide guise, I shared the folklore of the turlough and rocks, the swallow holes and megalithic tombs with them. Then, at Shannon Pot Tony Cuckson, my husband, shared with them the story of how the Shannon Got Its Name From a Girl.
In the workshop after lunch in Dowra Courthouse Creative Space I encouraged the girls to write short haiku to accompany some of the photos taken on their phones.
Haiku by Ornagh Cox
Haiku by Clódagh Geoghegan
The Japanese poetry form also lends itself to collaboration when you create a renga. A haiku is made up of three lines of seventeen syllables. A tanka is a haiku with two more lines of seven syllables each. A renga is a series of linked tanka. Mind mapping is a real help when you are working on these.
Part of collaboration is about listening to others. From the very beginning we borrowed the Native American tradition of using a talking stick. This teaches each person to respect the person talking who holds the stick. By holding the stick you actively draw attention and people really listen to your words. You learn not to interrupt and to show respect for what everyone has to say. We made a talking stick for the girls to take back to the larger Foróige group in Templeport. After discussion, Rachel was elected as Talking Stick Keeper for the one they made during the project.
In our final session we wove our lost words into the collective weaving. Then, using two of the lost words, ash and wilow, the girls made a frame for the weaving and mounted their needle felt pictures. The bottom right needlefelt piece is a collaboration three girls initiated to create a single piece.
Three of the girls stitched their pieces together into a single piece
Emma and Tasha with the ash frame for the project’s tapestry
We also created a traditional wishing tree using felled branches. The group was asked to write out a wish or blessing – three lines beginning as follows:
The cloutie tree, or wishing tree, derives from the Gaelic for the word cloth. Since cloth and textile had played such a large part of the project it seemed fitting to end it with the group adding ribbons and lace along with their wishes, which we had printed on to cloth so they could tie it on. There was great sweetness and heart in their blessing wishes.
And this was my own wish.
May you always see the beautiful light inside you
May I always honour the beautiful light in everyone
May we always live with courage and act from a loving heart
And what did the girls learn? Well, some of the comments on the feedback sheets made these statements. “I learned that I was unique.” “I learned that I have some imagination.” I learned about communication skills and listening.” “I learned I could be creative.” And any of those are all really helpful skills for peace-building in the future.
My blog schedule is a bit disrupted. But you try leading four workshops within seven days and nursing sciatica on the ‘off ‘ days! I did actually draft this blog twice, but each time the iPad crashed and I lost the draft. But maybe the universe was telling me I needed some crash time of my own! Third time lucky on the trusty steam laptop. And besides, in the interim one of the haiku walk workshop participants sent me some lovely images and haiku she wrote on the day. Morag Donald has kindly given me permission to share them with you here. (But you might also want to visit her WordPress blog over at Morag Donald Reiki Master & Teacher).
It was Irish Tree week last week and the snow and sleet earlier on had yielded to mist and soft rain and a practically balmy 6C! Those of us living in Fermanagh and Cavan, the lakeland counties in Ireland, are well equipped to deal with most weather eventualities. So my band of hardy haiku poetree walkers arrived well dressed for the occasion.
We met at Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark Visitor Centre. Many of you know I am also a local Geopark Guide. And in March 2018, that has roared in like a lion, I am being intrepid enough to host two outdoor poetry events in Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. This first, with a haiku walk down lush Claddagh Glen, was an appropriate venue for celebrating all things arborial in Irish Tree Week.
And here is the haiku that Morag wrote, inspired during the walk.
Along with a tiny notebook, a camera of some sort is often a boon for a haiku walk anywhere.
Haiku celebrates our natural heritage, as well as our relationship with nature. No more than seventeen syllables, the traditional Japanese poetry form is often seen in three lines of 5-7-5 syllables. But in English that can sometimes feel a bit stilted, so the format has altered somewhat. A seasonal word to anchor the reader in the wheel of the year is also traditional.
As we drove up over Marlbank to Marble Arch Caves Centre, I composed a haiku of my own
Gorse flowers blaze bright
Through the mist and the mizzle
Spring creeps on soft feet
Although on our haiku walk down the glen it wasn’t sheep we spotted, but some rather splendid antlers on feral goats. They were both too shy and too quick to take a reasonable photo, but here is a haiku snapshot.
It is true that aroma of goat announced their presence on the opposite bank of the Claddagh River. My own jotting at the time:
River’s negative ions
Feral goat sweat wafts across
And my! The way they were scrambling along a thirty-five degree angle was an impressive sight. Sure-footed is no exageration. They were practically balletic!
The Marble Arch
This is their habitat – rock, river, trees. Claddagh Glen is one of my favourite walks. They have an expression ‘to shower my head.’ Which actually sounds more like ‘shar my hay-ed.’ Which translates as getting your mind clear. Whenever I see the Cascade along the path I feel like I am showering my soul.
Haiku walks – or ginko – are ideal opportunities to ‘shower your soul’. The Japanese practice something that translates as ‘forest bathing’. A haiku walk in scenic splendour has a similar replenishing effect. I will be planning more in 2018 in and around Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. If you would like to take part in one, please fill in the contact form below, letting me know when you will be in our part of Ireland.
Spiritual autobiography can take many forms. It does not always choose prose, or even a linear narrative. It can be about as slippery as that piece of tofu that is dodging around your plate. You can get the sauce into a spoon, or lick a chopstick, but that chunk of tofu can disintegrate right back onto your plate if you are not dexterous and quick. And then you go chasing it all over again. Such it is when it comes to writing about, not so much spiritual matters, but Spirit.
Put another way, spirit is Spirit, one of those words regarding divinity that is likely to offend the least. Or it could refer to the fifth element in the medieval alchemists, who also called it quintessence (LOVELY word!). In the Chinese world view they thought of metal being the fifth essential element after fire, water, air and earth. So take your pick!
Quietly, in a closed group of trusted friends, we have been writing our way through the elements with respect to our spiritual autobiographies. This week the vote went to add the fifth element – ether (not in either the anaesthetic or alcoholic sense of the word). Or spirit. Or Spirit. Or metal.
Given that I have three workshops to run this week and a Risk Assessment walk to vet a walking route for Cavan Youth Arts Lab, I am a bit time famished. But I am also committed to writing a new poem each week to get in training for NaPoWriMo2018 from 1st of April. To learn more about the thirty poems in thirty days challenge, check out NaPoWriMo2018. So I am ‘doing the double’, using one exercise to fulfill two committments.
I am curious about word origins. During the doodle that is often the shitty first draft, I got hooked on the origin of ‘scape’, as in landscape or seascape. And that opened all sorts of thematic horizons.