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.
It is rare to mix poetry events with the great outdoors. Much less in March! Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark sites- the splendour of Claddagh Glen, Florencecourt, Co. Fermanagh, and Cavan Burren Park, Blacklion, County Cavan – offers two such unique outdoor poetry events. Irish Tree Week and World Poetry Day are the reasons we just have to go forth and create poetry.
But allow me to give you a personal preview on both events in this video.
Despite the wind and snow, this weekend marked the beginning of Irish National Tree Week, which is actually ten days celebration of the great oxygenators of our biosphere. To do my bit, I am leading a unique Haiku Poetree Walk at a Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark site. So next Saturday, please join me and get hooked on the haiku habit at Claddagh Glen. We will meet at 11am, Saturday, March 10th for a two hour walking in the spirit of a traditional ginko. For full details and updates, click on the Facebook event link below:
Haiku is an ancient Japanese poetry form – seventeen syllables, three lines, no rhyme. It takes nature as it’s great theme. In a Geopark, we have nature is a huge presence.
Just one word of caution. Haiku can become habit forming!
But in a good – even healthful – way.
The second event marks UNESCO World Poetry Day, which comes around every year on March 21st. Geoparks are a UNESCO designation, so it seemed an ideal opporunity to marry two of my passions – Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark and poetry. On the St. Patrick’s Bank Holiday Monday, March 19th, I will be reading poems that take direct inspiration from Geopark sites at Cavan Burren Park.
“Earth Writing” is a compilation of poems inspired by the landscape of Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. Last summer I wrote here about the Cavan Arts/Creative Ireland project “Ancient and Wild”, which brought together artists from all kinds of disciplines to create work inspired by the Geopark’s distinctive landscape and heritage. If you look at other blogs listed under the ‘Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark’ category from last summer and autumn, you will see some of the sites we visited as a group. A day out included a visit to Cavan Burren Park and Claddagh Glen, two of my very favourite soul-stirring sites of the many magnificent ones dotted along the Fermanagh and Cavan boundary. For more information, click on the Facebook event link below:
Writing is a vocation. But so, too, is workshop facilitation; it is not so much teaching, as inviting people to play with you. The added bonus is that you make up the game. I have led many creative writing workshops to all age groups, all men, all women and mixed groups. I’ve led workshops in libraries, community resource centres, a room above a tourist office, at a Buddhist centre, in hospitals, a yurt, and prison. But what may prove my most popular offering defies the conventional creative writing tag. Yesterday, I guided twelve brave souls through a writing process I call Soul Journeys: Writing Your Spiritual Autobiography. I have taught material on this subject many times, within varying time slots. But what keeps getting affirmed is that people want to explore their own story of soul growth.
I am grateful that the group I met with yesterday wants to continue working with the material the workshop prompts revealed for them. I am also grateful that the individuals trusted me to guide them and trusted their fellow participants to share the process of examining their soul’s storylines. In a safely held environmemt where trust flourishes, often the themes and plot twists of a lifetime become clear. By framing a indivual story within universal archetypes, one’s own heroism shines.
While early Quakers like John Woolman faithfully recorded their experience of The Light in journals, there are many approaches to convey and frame our spiritual sojourns on planet earth. But because we are often ‘in the messy middle'( to borrow a phrase from Brené Brown), we may think that our spiritual life needs to look something like this to be worthy of interrogating and sharing with others.
When actually, a soul journey is much more like this. A Life lived passionately and authentically is likely to have a bit of chaos and mess. It probably looks a bit more like this:
If you would be interested in a Soul Journey writing workshop in your locality, contact me at email@example.com.
Featured image was taken from a photo by Jane Gilgun and then app’ed by PhotoLab.
There is a point to having one day being the Sabbath, a day of rest and contemplation. There is a point to taking a tip from Orthodox Jewish women who cook in advance and leave the dishes and clearing up for twenty-four hours once a week. Leave the quotidian grind behind and contemplate the larger reality in a pause. For some, worship fulfills that pause, but organised religion and ritual left me cold years ago. Secular concerns rarely nourish the soul; at least, that is my experience, but I was brought up in a religiously observant environment. I am not alone in having a hunger for the numimous. In the absence of collective ritual, poetry offers itself as a sacrament. Even the ritual “Take this and eat in memory of me” resonates not only the nourishment offered in the sacrament of Communion, but the mentioning of memory. In the genealogy of St. Brigid, memory is the ultimate source of poetry.
This Sunday snow falls in a desultory dance outside my window. I went to the poetry bookcase and pulled out an anthology at random. What does Spirit want to speak to me today? Even though I have left the spiritual traditions of the Peoples of the Book, the Judeo-Christian attachment to books remains. I pulled Risking Everything: 110 Poems love and Revelation from the shelf. Then I opened it and what a pleasure to have a David Whyte poem before me.
Moses appears on the first line of “Fire in the Earth.” I had to smile. So appropriate for a Sunday morning reading. Secondly, the title synchronously echoes some exercises in writing spiritual autobiography I have undertaken.
Like many writers, most of my income is earned from teaching. This is no hardship and I discovered that I had a vocation for encouraging people to use words to express themselves and find greater confidence in their inherant worth. It has been my privilege to work in prison and share in profound moments of communion and revelation . I have witnessed the exhileration of those with literacy challenges seeing the words from their lips crafted into a poem. Currently, I am a co-pilot on a Cavan Youth Arts Lab project with a dozen 12-14 year old girls; already I can sense we are moving into that communion space of affirmation.
On the last Saturday of this month 24th February, I will lead a half-day workshop Soul Journeys: Writing You Spiritual Autobiography. The workshop will take place in a appropriately liminal space. The Markethouse in Blacklion lies metres from the border with Northern Ireland where Cavan meets Fermanagh. The workshop will run from 11am-3pm. Bring a notebook and a comfortable pen with a good ink flow. Bring some food tomshare at lunchtime. Also, prepare to enter into the sacrament that is your own life.
I highly recmmend a listen to this podcast of David Whyte. He has some powerful words to say about the nature of poetry, the poet’s purpose, and how e can re-frame our life story and make meaning from our lif’s experience and soul’s destiny. David Whyte RTE 1 Podcast
As you journey through next week bear in mind my friend Pen’s words to me this past week
In theory, every encounter – even with the postman – is sacramental.