After the Poetry Marathon, the Work

…really begins. What I found out by writing a poem a day for 365 consecutive days was that I had stamina and focus. I could sit down and write longhand and then transcribe and refine on a keyboard and post it out in the world to prove to myself that the day’s job was done.

By the very nature of the process some of the work was lame. But not all of it. Some of it just needed tweaking, punctuation, better spell-checking, chopping, and rearranging. Editting, in other words.

I have been really fortunate to have been given a grant from the Cavan Arts Office to work with a mentor/editor since October. The process of finding the mentor was more difficult than anticipated, but I ultimately found the right poetry midwife for me. Maggie Hannan has the knack of when to guide me to puff and when to push and then squeeze out the revised draft.

It’s made me a better crafter of poems, the new ones written in the aftermath of the marathon. Poems generally do improve, like a stew or soup, left alone for a day or two for the flavours to macerate. When you stir the pot you know what to add or how to improve on the recipe. (I like food. With the holidays and house guests I have been cooking a lot. Please forgive the food metaphors.) The Weekly poems I publish each Sunday have sometimes had up to seven days of sitting and getting seasoned.

But make no mistake. Editting is hard. It’s not so much about killing your babies as, to paraphrase Maggie, as when and where to separate the conjoined twins so they can go to live and breathe in separate cots.

By nature I am a fast writer. I get lots of ideas and learned long ago the trick of slipping under the internal censor’s radar to get that first draft down. (Don’t ask me how. It’s maybe a superpower.) Editting is slow work and one that can try the less patient. This process that began by myself last August has taught me that craft is not slipshod. It is slow, painstaking, sometimes boring. It also brings out the inner insecurities that can snare you and make you give up. Unless you have that mentor/editor to companion you in the process. Who is patiently keeping you at it and quietly encouraging you.

The solo collection work is ongoing with revised poems piling up. I can see the end in sight. Almost. I had a certain idea about it in the beginning, but that went out with the tide many moons ago. Now I am swept up in the process and letting the poems lead me a comma and cut at a time. But soon it will be time to take the next scary step and approach publishers.

While I have an enormous sense of gratitude to Maggie, I also want to say thanks to you readers, those who faithfully keep in regular touch, as well as those who just pop by now and then. I have had three special reader/friends who trawled through the old posts at the beginning of this editting process to suggest ones they felt were the strongest or really resonated.

But I am also often surprised and touched to find from my stats that there is someone in Liberia or Finland who cares enough to read what I have written. I wonder that my descriptions of this misty Celtic isle are of interest to so many who live on the Indian subcontinent.

When you are writer, some days it really does feel like the world is the size of a pea.

It’s About Time

Our clocks went back to universal time at 2am this morning. I woke up just after 6am in the chilly twilight and felt immeasurably better.I burrowed back under the heft of the duvet and extra blanket. But even with the lie in, I was up early penning the Sunday Weekly poem. This is the time of year to make like the bear or small furry animals who disappear down tunnels into their dens. To parlay a Mary Oliver quotation differently… my “soft animal body” loves this time of year. Which does coincide with my birthday at the week’s end, so perhaps not quite so surprising. I revel in this dark part of the year, called Samhain in Ireland, and unlike many folk, feel quite energised by it. I am digging into the darkness.

We are not only setting the clocks back and diving into the darkness of Samhain, as we call Halloween and the month of November here in Ireland. (We even get a bank holiday for Halloween! It’s the ancient Celtic New Year. Yet another example of how we ‘do the double’ with two celebrations for New Year.) . It is also a New Moon in Scorpio. Those who live in environments with a lot of artificial light will never fully appreciate just how dark a dark moon can be at the darkest part of the year. You can understand why they thought the ancestors and other spirits roamed the countryside. It feels like the point just before the bang went off and the cosmos was born.

The early hours also had me looking at the etymological roots of the English words burrow (since I was so enjoying my snuggle in) and barrow. The latter can be a handcart and essential gardening tool in one sense. But the sense I was seeking was its life as an ancient burial mound. Long, long ago we put the ancestors to bed in what was not unlike an animal’s den. My favourite ancient monument on the Cavan Burren is called the Cairn Dolmen. First they buried their beloveds under a pile of stones. Later, the neolithic people plopped a dolmen on top of the pile of stones. Now, time is making it subside into the mound. It begins to look like a barrow.

My own personal name for this is The Fairy Cairn.

The Cairn Dolmen, Cavan Burren, Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark

I will only be giving you one poem this Sunday. Which is not to say that I have not been scribbling other drafts. But they were really only fragments.

I did have my first meeting with my mentor/ editor this week, beginning the revision process that will eventuate in a solo collection of poetry that began life in the 365 consecutive poem a day project that ended in September 2019. What you see in this blog is basically a second draft, occasionally a third tweaking. I am now beginning the slash and burn process. A friend of a friend calls this the ‘Kill Your Babies’ stage. My wise editor reframed this as…”think of it as separating conjoined Siamese twins and putting them in their own cots.”

This is how one unconjoined Siamese twin breaths in this new micropoem.

Her reading glasses
folded
lie on the bedside cabinet
with the paperback,
it's bookmark
three-quarters the way through
forever.

My etymological survey this morning ended up at a website on Paracelsus who had some very esoteric terminology used by theosophists. But it became my word play sandbox for the Weekly Poem. The title, Yliaster, is defined as the primordial matter out of which the universe has been formed in the beginning of time.

Time is very much on my mind this morning.

Yliaster

First
there was brine
so much
it sank into the earth.
It fell from the sky.
Those salty tears
became
the scaffolding of the cosmos.

Next
came brimstone,
the noxious engine,
the truth that no light
comes without
a spark
and a parp
keeps things moving.

Last,
quicksilver,
scattershot,
inspired,
all too, too
self-aware,
a realisation,
a dashing away -
flighty, fickle, unfair.

All so like us.

Chaos begat Chronos
from salt, sulphur, mercury.

We got
Time.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Featured image Photo by NASA on Unsplash

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

Day 365 of Poetry Daily

The Finish Line is crossed. I woke in full moonlight coming through the curtain cracks. The final day has dawned. Except it is not dawn yet. As so many days over the past 365 days I have been up early doing my poetry practice. A year ago I began what I thought of as etudes, like those five finger warm ups my long ago piano teacher had me do. Except I was doing them in poetry. I knew I could write a poem a day for a month because I had done NaPoWriMo for two years during April. But somewhere around month three my friend in Maine, Sherri, began to refer to the posts as my Poetry Daily.

And for those faithful readers who have been good enough to stick with me for the year, fear not! I will be posting a Weekly Poem every Sunday. So there will be a poem tomorrow. Because the poetry writing will continue, just not the daily posts. I need to allocate that time to editting and manuscript development. But for the first few days there is a scheduled little poem to help soften the change in your daily routine, too.

By serendipity, in the clearing up and out yesterday I came upon a commonplace book I started with quotations that beguile me. Here is part of one from Ben Okri from While the World Sleeps.

The poet needs to be up at night, when the world sleeps; needs to be up at dawn, before the world wakes; needs to dwell in odd corners, where Tao is said to reside; needs to exist in dark places, where spiders forge their webs of silence; near the gutters, where the underside of our dreams fester. Poets need to live where others don’t care to look, and they need to do this because if they don’t they can’t sing to us of all the secret and public domains of our lives. They need to be the multiple witnesses around the central masquerades of reality in order to convey fully all the unimaginable dimensions of the deity’s terrible and enchanting dance.

Ben Okri, While the World Sleeps

I always think of Ben Okri as ‘the incomparable Ben Okri.’ You read a paragraph of his writing and you feel like you have attended a master class in writing and living. I am in awe of his wisdom and facility of his writing.

So here I am again in the dark. Using the illuminato pen which a faithful reader and friend Siobhán gave me last Christmas to facilitate writing in the amrit vela, these ambrosial hours before the world wakes

Thank you to the readers who have followed me on this writing a poem a day journey these past twelve months. I hope you will continue to check into the blog each Sunday. Some of you are known to me, through Facebook and real life. But others live on anonymously in cyber space. But I see you! And thank you for seeing me here, writing from an betwixt and between corner in rural Ireland.

Unmooring from the Margins

To go into the woods.
To watch as they chop
the last tree down.
To sometimes stick with the path.
To then lift your feet from their margins
to adventure in the dark.
To learn to navigate by moonlight.
To master the fear of your own starkness.

Woods. And trees.
Paths. And journeys.
What else is poetry?

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Penultimate Poem

Day 364 of 365 days of writing and posting a poem a day. Except for the blip on 30th November when the internet went down. There were two posts on 1st December. When I considered what might be a fitting subject as I have the finish line of this poetry writing marathon in sight, I thought I have not, directly at least, written a love poem for Ireland. I also am very fond of old style maps. You know, the paper kind, rather than the interactive, digital sort. Months and months ago I found this wonderful image of an old map of Ireland that has been on my desktop teasing me. It’s a map of Ireland from circa 1808. It delinates the four ancient kingdoms of Ireland- Ulster in the north, Leinster in the east, Munster south and Connaught in the west. I live in a village on the Black Pig’s Dyke, which was an ancient earthwork system to discourage cattle raids from over yon border. (These schemes for walls never work. Why do we never learn, but just keep repeating the same old same old?) Half of my village is on the Ulster side of the River Shannon, where I live. Cross the bridge and you are in Leitrim and Connaught.

There was a rosy glow of dawn’s early light over the Playbank as I let Ellie out to answer her call of nature this morning. It never fails to take make me feel blessed to call this place home. So, a love poem for Ireland…

Éireann

Island or land mass
aorta?
Every chamber
has its particular
function.
Everyone
of its four fields,
their rivers,
arteries of love
running through.
Their oxygen, too.

It may only be
the size
of a human fist,
yet everything
depends
upon this:
the morning mist,
its mythic hints,
the river gods
serving
the seat of awe.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

The Minim

The trench warfare to reorganise our home goes on. It goes on drawer by drawer. My husband ordered a book that arrived in the post yesterday. It’s called The Minimalist House, written by Joshua Becker, who is an an evangelist for the more of less (which is also the title of another book he has written.) It promises strategies for emptying those drawers and pep talks to strengthen your resolve. This is no time for sentimentality. Each week there is yet another visit to the recycling centre and the charity shop and the clothing bank. Odd socks are being let go.

Every evening now I spend time working my way through the conundrums of keep, charity shop, waste, recycling centre. I canvas friends to see if some item might enhance their life, since it no longer has a place in mine. Because is there really any dedicated space left for that designated keeper? Day 363 of the Poem A Day marathon dawned and what occurred to me was that I needed a bit of word play. A bit more being in the midst of all this doing. One of the things we have kept is an etymological dictionary and I started looking at the first two syllables of minimalist.

Meanwhile, I feel as if I have had the homeopathic remedy for hording stuff that might, but never ever does, come in handy. We arrived in Ireland eighteen years ago with the equivalent of two panel vans of worldly goods. I have radically pared down before. It never gets easier. But once you achieve a certain age you develop a sense of responsibility not to leave too much mess for the ultimate person who will do the last house clearance, the one where you cannot be present.

The Minim

Reduce it to a single drop.
Its quintessence
reduces everything
to the fifth element - ether.

Which is good to put you to sleep.
It occupies
rarified space.
Everywhere. Invisible.

Like radio or wifi -waves
penetrating
upper realms
in some new republic of air.

Just take your minim. Bottle it.
Unstop its cork
and watch it burn.
This is the smallest, least of things.

One single downstroke in half-time
sounds the half note.
The tone is dropped
with the old Roman coin you've earned.

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Featured image: Photo by @plqml | @feliperizo.co on Unsplash

Everyday Objects That Make You Smile

The Great Cull to make our house much more zen continues. It begins to get compulsive as you plow through drawer after drawer full of stuff that has been cached there out of sight and mind. I think I may have found the camera lead a friend who visited mislaid two years ago! It’s good training for the days after the 365 poem a day routine. Because then editting begins. You need a certain ruthlessness on what needs to go. (Oh, beautiful line, you need to go now. You do not really have a home in this poem. Good bye!)

But the Great Cull has concentrated me on objects that may not necessarily spark joy, but do make you smile. I think this is the great appeal for kitch items. I have to say I have a wee jug of a topless blonde woman who has bare knockers that jiggle; she makes me smile. It is patently silly, but the whimsy wins everytime. These everyday objects, which may not be art, are the stuff that make you smile. For some it might be a pillar box red fridge. Or it could be a seashell.

I reckon that those of us born in the post World War II Baby Boom generation have a special quandary around stuff. We were raised by parents who had known the privations of global economic depression and world war. Some lost everything. Others had next to nothing. We were raised by parents who horded rubber bands and saved gift wrapping paper scraps. You saved everything because you never knew when it might come in handy. And there was always the fear of shortages. We are also the generation that experienced the consumer boom and free global trade. You can get just about anything from anywhere. And it tends to constitute clutter until you cull. But there are still the objects that make you smile to contend with. Those are the tough choices.

Everyday Objects That Make You Smile

Two centuries ago I would be lucky
to own an everyday dress
and one for Sunday best.
They would have hung on pegs
in a narrow room
along with a linen bag
full of handknit stockings and night shift.
There would be two pinafores
to drape overall
to stay the dust, mop up the grime.

What would have made that long ago maid smile?
Was it a length of pretty ribbon,
cherry red or sky blue?
Perhaps some lace to lay on her throat
when she had her one day a month day out.
Or was it the yeasty rise of a loaf of bread?
A tune that kept going around in her head?

Would it be some wheat and poppies
she gathered and placed in a cracked jug?
That cracked jug...
sitting on the windowsill
catching the morning light.
What made her smile in her everyday
of short rations,
with her still hungry eye
for beauty,
that went over and above
utility?

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Featured image: Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash