Weekly Poem – What Would I Give?

I took a break from the blog last week. It was a week of reuniting with members of my husband’s family who live over the border in Northern Ireland. On the 4th, his eldest brother celebrated his 80th birthday in the care home where he resides. We convened with his twin brother and took turns to visit as he can only have two at a time. It was a stormy drive with scattered deluges on the way there, but we made it there and back. The following day our much loved niece came for her week off from her hospital job. It was a laid back time- she crochetted, I knitted, we picked elderflowers and I initiated her into cordial making according to the Aunty B method. (Include lemon balm and rose petals in the mix.) We revelled in one another’s company. What we cherish after the many Lockdowns this past year is the face-to face meetings. We are all vaccinated and we still are not being wildly sociable.But we are prioritising seeing loved ones who have been scarce on the sofa these past eighteen months.

I only caught up later in the week with an article in the Weekend Guardian Review by Tishani Doshi. It is a dangerous job being a poet. (I know some will have cognitive dissonance over this. We are, as a tribe probably a majority of myopics with poor hand -eye coordination.It’s like imagining a librarian as a guerilla fighter…which, metaphorically speaking, they are actually.) Several years back I did some research for a Toastmasters speech. According to PEN International, oppressive governments have never liked writers in generally, but they disproportionately jail poets. Which is a surprise since being a poet earns you peanuts. We are hardly oligarchs bankrolling a coup. Yet apparently our economic disadvantage allows us a super-power for getting up the sensitivities of dictatorships. Poets are considered much more of a threat than even investigative reporters or editors of publications critical of a regime. Read the full article here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/jul/05/flogged-imprisoned-murdered-today-being-a-poet-is-a-dangerous-job.

Perhaps poetry is the best way to authentically bear witness, not just to the facts of events or the sweep of history, but of the feelings invoked in an individual who is a particle of the zeitgeist. I think of the Cursing/Blessing Stone that is in a townland about seven miles from us. In the face of insurmountable injustice, when individuals and a population have no recourse to compassion or natural justice, why wouldn’t you lay a curse in the absence of any other personal power? But also, when things go right, why wouldn’t you bless the justice giver? Now many will tell you that an unjust curse will backfire on you and your descendents for many generations to come. But that stance lacks the point of view of a person whose only agency to to call down whatever supernatural power to deliver some accountability for evil done and cruel power exerted over others. We grow impatient for Nemesis to arrive. In bearing witness with language, both spoken and written, perhaps poets are invoking a similar curse or blessing for human accountability and hustle on the karma delivery. Perhaps, somewhere on the periphery of the collective unconscious dictators understand that poets will call down Nemesis on their heads.

The weekly poem grew out of our last monthly poetry session (July’s session is this Saturday where we will tackle the terror of the villanelle.) We met on Zoom on Juneteenth and we explored the theme of freedom, which offered me the opportunity to channel some empathy for social justice for others. I hark back to a quotation in an On Being email.

We all come into this world with a need for connection and protection AND with a need for freedom.

Esther Perel
What Would I Give?

What would I give for a life that meant I
had a full belly, a roof overhead,
a quiet night in with the telly
uninterrupted by shouts downstairs or
bangs on doors by a dealer or a loan shark
wanting 100,000%
compounding interest. Then, the bailiff
coming to pull you out with your mattress.
What would I give for a life with nothing
to lose- not a home thrown like an old bone
gnawed by rats who're at the Leccy metre. 
Just let the kids be okay. Let my mum
get her hip replaced without delay.
What would I give for a life? Everything...

Copyright © Bee Smith 2021. All rights reserved.

Featured image Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash

Freedom Day

Belated Happy Juneteenth! And Happy Solstice -either Summer or Winter depending upon your hemisphere. My mother would have been 104 years old yesterday. A high school friendship with an African American girl, Nellie Gator, was strongly influential in her support of civil rights for black American citizens during the dark Jim Crow years. She never forgave the DAR for refusing one of her operatic sheroes, Marian Anderson, Constitution Hall as a concert venue. While she never scurried down the genological rabbit hole to prove her ancestors fought in the American Revolution (unlikely, as we now know many were Quaker), but she said very firmly, with tightened lips that “even if she could, she would never join them.” I think Mom would be proud to share her birthday with this newly proclaimed US national holiday.

I did not post yesterday because of my monthly Zoom poetry group. We explored free verse, or open form, poetry. While North Americans have a strong tradition in this form, my Irish students are less familiar with it. While rhyme has not been something that has come naturally to me, I often find that Irish people can spontaneously rhyme from their very first effort at a poem! So this was a bit of a challenge for the Irish born members of my Zoom group.

But I warmed them up with a syllabic form first, the cinquain. I used this in my Geopark Poetry Map schools workshops as an alternative to haiku. Most primary age children will have had a bash at haiku by the time they are ten years old. The cinquain is a five liner, easy for a 45 minute workshop; it’s lines run, 2,4,6,8,2 syllables.

We addressed the theme of freedom in our poems yesterday. In keeping with both the day’s theme and the free verse task, I read aloud poems by African American poets, Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes and Gwendoline Brooks. All these poets were new to my Irish colleagues.

Here is my cinquain for Juneteenth.

To be
Able to breathe
Not always watching your back
Knowing your someone's prey
Freedom

Happy Freedom Day! Happy Juneteenth, Mom! Meanwhile, it must be summer on schedule now. The wild orchids of West Cavan are out for Midsummer’s Eve. May this liminal day bring you gentle revelations.