All Shall Be Well

The great Irish poet Derek Mahon died on 1st October. In terms of contemporary Irish poetry giants, this was the second great loss of the year. Eavan Boland passed away in April. Both were also influential on the international English language poetry scene. Boland was a professor at Stanford in California. Belfast born Mahon was a member of Aosdána, one of the select writers who received Irish Arts Council support to keep writers writing.

Mahon is the author of one of the poems nominated as a poetry prescription for our Covid19 times by The Atlantic magazine -“Everything Will Be Alright.” You can listen to the incomparable Andrew Scott (The Priest on Fleabag, Moriarty in the most recent Sherlock series) read the poem on this You Tube clip. https://youtu.be/kfjYhje2zrE

You might think from the poem’s title that it’s a bit Pollyanna-ish. But here is a line quoting from the poem to set you right. “There will be dying, there will be dying, …”

It reminds me of the mystic Mother Julian of Norwich, who is famous for her saying “all shall be well.” Mother Julian lived through, and survived, the Bubonic Plague and the Peasant’s Revolt. Catastrophe visits every century. We are not unique. Yet, amidst all that turmoil she set down her mystical visions in a book, Revelations of Divine Love.

I do not think that you need be a theist to contemplate that we need a great deal more love, empathy and compassion in our world. Julian of Norwich was an anchorite. She was literally isolated from the world, immersed in prayer, fasting and entertaining the angels of revelation, which she shared first with the people of Norwich, and then with the wider world.

Isolation can be hard, and harder still for some who rely on literal human connection on a daily basis. But perhaps there is a missed opportunity. A student of mine wrote a wonderful dialogue between grief and gratitude this week. To immerse yourself in loss alone is to miss the connection with its twin, gratitude. There will be death, but everything will be alright.

I am revisiting a poem written for NaPoWriMo 2020 this week, tweaking it and revising. The brief was to write about something handmade, but is really a litany of gratitude.

Handmade 

Once, 
a Celtic knot clock
was in the Christmas box.  

Also,
hand painted silk scarves,
a Technicolor Joseph’s coat shawl  made 
way back in the early 1970s,
knitted coffee mug cozies.

Each year,
jars of pumpkin chutney, 
blackberry jam, apple jelly -
gifts
the visitor brings to the door.

Decade after decade,
the meals my mother made daily,
casseroles from leftover ham at Easter, 
tuna melts on Fridays for
when I got off the bus from college.   

Once,
My father’s hand touched my mother’s shoulder. 
She turned towards him 
and let me in.   

Copyright© Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved

The world is going through heavy weather. We know multiple kinds of bereavement. But there is much to be grateful for, too. I am reminded that Quakers write not obituaries, but testimonies “to the grace of God as lived in the life of X”, giving thanks and celebrating the luminosity of a life well lived. Gratitude can help us navigate and mediate grief.

Featured image Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

In the Round

If Turning was last week’s post then Round and Round seemed logical for the title of this Sunday’s Weekly. Actually, the poem for this week is a rondeau, so you have been warned.

The earth energies – the weather that is not externally climactic, but inwardly true – have been stressful this week. The elderly dog, who has made guest appearances in past poems in this blog over the years, is declining. A new problem appeared this week. While she does not seem to be suffering she needs to be seen by the vet this week. In these days of Covid-19, the waiting time to be seen at the vets is much longer than usual. Normally, we might be seen in two days when ringing for an appointment. We had previously made a check-up appointment that involved a nine day wait. The sweet receptionist did some diary contortions to move Ellie’s appointment up from Friday to Tuesday. There is no avoiding the fact that she is a biggish medium-sized dog and she is past her 17th birthday.

If that wasn’t enough to surge the adrenaline in one week, I launched the Zoom workshops this week. Just to spite me, the cyber demons locked me out of my tablet two days before launch day. Thanks to our local Computer Guy – shout out to Charlie Connor of We Fix Computers in Belcoo – I had an unlocked tablet by 3pm Thursday. The laptop where I do my writing is ancient. I suspect computers age in dog years. This one – whom I love and treasure – is still Windows 7, but is over nearly eight years old, and well past menopause. The backup was a mini-Ipad. But I didn’t fancy having to host a group peering at a seven inch screen. It is difficult enough with an 11 inch tablet! The audio and video on the old laptop was poor and Zoom felt counterintuitive. Two hours before launch time, a friend was helping me do a dummy run to make sure everything was going to work. Shout out to Siobhán for being the friend in deed!

I disapprove of drama on the home front. Specifically, I disapprove of electronic devices throwing hissy fits in time sensitive situations.

But I have just named four instances of people being kind to me this week. And that does not even include those who belatedly delivered my husband’s 70th birthday present. Last February, I commissioned one of the lads at Loughan House to wood burn some lines from Tony’s favourite poems on signs to dot around the garden. Also, there was one adorned with a guitar and bees, saying “Tony’s Garden”, the design suggested by the Sign Maker. (I am incredibly indebted to the visual artists in my life who know what I want better than I do.) The signs were ready early, but I asked the Sign Maker to keep them until closer to Tony’s vernal equinox birthday. I wanted it to be a surprise.

Then, of course, the biggest surprise of them all – Lockdown. And even as restrictions eased the gates at the local open prison remained closed. Credit where credit is due, the Irish Prison Service has zero Covid-19 cases because of the protocols they put in place. Not all countries can claim to have cherished their incarcerated as well.

The very first day the Education Centre at Loughan re-opened the Sign Maker approached one of the teachers to help organise Tony getting his present. Later that day, five months after his birthday, one of the Education Centre teachers who lives locally delivered his present to our door.

Wasn’t that kind?

The cyber angels smiled on us Thursday night. The wifi fairies held the signals steady for both weekly sessions, barring a few moments of wobble from the eastern fringes of County Cavan Saturday. The transatlantic participant flashed a view of a Rhode Island harbour for her new mates to glimpse, much to delight all of us who are new scenery starved. The first unit of Pick n Mix is complete and we move on to Poetry in Week 2.

More reasons to be grateful.

One participant needed to drop out but didn’t want a refund. That made a scholarship place for someone who really appreciated the opportunity.

Wasn’t that kind? The scholar was incredibly thankful.

In a roundabout way this Sunday Weekly has come round to kindness and gratitude, even in a week that has been fraught. Life offers much to surprise. Much like a good poem.

With poetry next week in mind I shifted gears and decided to flex my lyrical muscles and practice a tight form this week in poetry practice. It has been a while since I concentrated on technicalities. A book opened onto a page outlining the rondeau. It has a refrain and my eye had picked up a phrase from a past notebook that was rattling around my imagination. .

A rondeau is usually thirteen lines, though the prompt I read suggested making one fifteen lines long, with each line is between eight and ten syllables. There are three stanzas: a quintet, a quatrain, and a sestet – five, four and six lines per stanza. There are only two rhymes in a rondeau. The first line becomes the final lines of the second and third stanzas. The repeated line is a well used device in the poetry tool kit.

Let Your Secrets Breathe

Let your secrets breathe. Let truth be set free.
If, as my friend says, the world is a pea
then the mote in the eye - no cause for tears.
Let no storm blight your sight or cause you fears
or leave you bereft, adrift, out at sea.

Yes. If the world is basically a pea,
tight in its pod, no thing is so weighty
an axis for shame to revolve this sphere.
Let your secrets breathe. Let truth be set free.

Though many might - and will - disagree,
preferring to keep the truth mystery.
Avoiding presence in atmospheres
gone silent. Ruminative. Insincere.
Blinded by eye mote that cannot foresee.
Let your secrets breath. Let truth set you free.

Featured image Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Noticing

A lot can happen in a week’s time. This week I piloted my first creative writing Zoom session with a handful of volunteers who are helping me find my way towards the most workable method and format. I have been facilitating creative workshops in the Marble Arch Caves Geopark region now for nearly ten years. I know I will need to alter some of my teaching methods, but I also want to maintain the integrity of the sharing sessions. Besides, come winter when we are all holed up, we will need these kinds of interactions as we isolate to keep the bugs at bay. We have another session at this week’s end which I hope will tease out the details of how I will operate in the Word Alchemy Zoom Room.

Also this week, our Taoiseach announced that the Roadmap to Re-opening is being accelerated since we have maintained our flattened curve. From next Monday we can drive anywhere, not just stick to our county or venture 20 km if we have to cross county boundaries. We still need to mask on public transport and in crowded shops, but we are also asked to be sensible and leave anywhere as the it begins to build a crowd. And, as always, maintain two metres social distance and wash your hands! But I cannot say I am hankering to go any great distance. I can now book a hair dresser appointment and get a trim from my local hairdresser who will be in mask and PPE and providing for customers likewise; I am waiting patiently for my appointment. That may be about as much excitement as I can take. Appointments with Nuala are generally jolly.

And I guess it was like this for our ancestors before the advent of the car or automotive mass transit. We stayed local. We knew our locality intimately – the blades of grass as much as all the human inhabitants. Currently, I am slowly savouring an excellent book written by a fifteen year old from Northern Ireland. Diary of a Young Naturalist shows me so much of what I do not notice. I wish I could match the all of the bird species to the songs I hear. Sadly, I may know many by sight, but few by sound.

My Zoom session picked up on a quotation from an article in the 13th June Guardian Review section. Several writers were asked what they had learned under lockdown. I picked up on one quotation from Kiran Millward Hargrave.

What lockdown has taught me is to notice. My luck, yes, and also the many blessings of where I live.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/jun/13/overcoming-fears-discovering-nature-what-i-have-learned-from-lockdown

We have just passed one of the great axis points of the year. In Ireland, summer solstice happened at 10:43 pm last night. The wind was wild and the rain sometimes quite fierce. Then we have the solar eclipse (a new moon) at 4:45am. Yes, I did set the alarm and I scrabbled around trying to get the live feed to the Solstice Gathering in Glastonbury. (I visited at Bealtaine 2018; Chalice Well gardens are beautiful.) But they had some tech difficulties with the wind and weather and the opening was a bit delayed. By the time of the peak of the eclipse it was 7:40. The rain had stopped and wind eased, so I took my drum out onto our new patio area and drummed prayers of gratitude to the land that has held us in its verdant palm through the months of maintaining the collective quarantine.

Love the land and the land loves you back
What I Noticed In My Cocoon

I saw:
the early purple orchid for the first time in eighteen springtimes
I have walked up and down and up and down again
and again on the lane just outside my front door.

I heard:
the cuckoo calling and calling from week three of staying put.
Out in the garden one day my husband called out to me.
A great buff cuckoo had flown over our nest.

I smelled:
anxiety in my sweat. Sometimes it hurt so much to think about... 
I would lean into the kitchen sink and think 
"Brace! Brace! Brace!" and wait for the wave to crash.

I tasted:
so I cooked up whatever deliciousness made from the anything to hand. 
And I baked, rationing out the butter, eggs and the sugar 
to make sure we always had some sweetness on our tongues.

I touched:
I could pat the dog and carry around the cat.
I picked flowers from the garden and arranged them artistically.
I held my husband's hand. Sometimes guiltily. Because I could.

Then:
one day when I pegged the washing on the line I looked up
and saw a jet stream's track arching across a clear, blue sky.
I asked:
Why?

I wanted to write something that was included both the summer solstice and the eclipse. I tried some haiku, a senryu and tanka. In the end, I was most satisfied with the tanka.

weekly poem each Sunday by Bee Smith
solstice eclipse tanka
The weekly poem each Sunday

Keep in touch each Sunday with this blog when I will announce when creative writing workshops will be up and running in the Word Alchemy Zoom Room.

Handmade Gratitude

Day 20 of NaPoWriMo is all out of order. I slept ten hours and rose late for me. It was sunny. So that dictated doing laundry. Also, I had the lines of a completely other poem going through my head as I was waking, so I jotted that draft down before I would forget, as I drank my first cup of tea. So here I am well past lunchtime getting down to the the daily promp for posting . And although I am sort of writing according to spec, I feel as if I am colouring a bit outside the lines. Rather than concentrate on a single item, I found myself in list poem land. Or maybe it is a litany of (handmade) small and great gratitudes.This was the actual (optional) prompt.

Today, in gratitude for making it to Day 20, our (optional) prompt asks you to write a poem about a handmade or homemade gift that you have received. It could be a friendship bracelet made for you by a grade-school classmate, an itchy sweater from your Aunt Louisa, a plateful of cinnamon toast from your grandmother, a mix-tape from an old girlfriend. And whatever gift you choose, we wish you happy writing!

http://www.napowrimo.net/
Handmade
 
Once, a Celtic knot clock.
 
Several hand painted silk scarves,
and crocheted woolly ones, too.
A Technicolor Joseph’s coat shawl
way back in the early 1970s.
A cover to keep my iPad toasty.
 
Jars of pumpkin chutney.
Blackberry jam and apple jelly.
Chocolate chip cookies.
Knitted coffee mug cosies.
 
The meals my mother made daily
decade after decade,
casseroles from leftover ham at Easter,
and tuna melts on Fridays
when I got off the bus from college.
 
My father’s hand
as he touched my mother’s shoulder.
She turned towards him
and let me in.
 
Copyright© Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.
handmade gratitude
My handmade gratitude journal done in a Crafting Your Soul Workshop back in 2018.

Today’s featured image is a Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

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.

Gratitude

They say it is an attitude and I suppose they speak the truth. I woke this morning late, after a night of broken sleep. The phone rang, which interrupted my morning contemplations. Yet, these did not toss me off centre. What filled me with wonder amidst so much that is shadowy and just plain wrong in the world was a thankfulness . Perhaps I am just one of those glass half full kinds of people. Or, perhaps gratitude is the anchor that keeps me centred amidst small trials and gives courage in the face of major tribulation. Regardless, I woke up full of the amazement that is core of gratitude.


Gratitude


It’s a small cup

forever full,

an unseen hand

pouring from a teapot

that never needs

replenishing.

“Just like that!”

But it’s no

sleight of hand trick.

Though just as magic.

It makes us “Oh!” and “Ahhhh!”

We applaud.

Bravo! Brava!

We appreciate the show,

the ticket to ride

home to the small cup

of hot tea

at the ready

by our elbow.

Copyright 2019 Bee Smith. All right reserved.

Gratitude for Fortitude

The illuminated screen said 5:55am. In the land of my birth, it was only just Thanksgiving. Even though I won’t have turkey (although I imagined a ghostly whiff of some roasting while I made my first tea of the day), candied yam or pumpkin pie, I still preserve the ritual of giving thanks on Thanksgiving. And my mind turns to my own migrant ancestors. Some went off in leaky ships on a long transatlantic journey back in the early decades of the seventeenth century.. More recently my namesake German grandma passed through Ellis Island with her parents and toddler sister. Americans are migrants and nomads. Even Native Americans had to travel across the frozen Bering Strait to migrate into the North American continent. We all had to hoof it to get there one way or the other.- on foot, by dog sled, corracle, long ship, clipper, or airplane.

My poetry practice for this dawn’s early light takes its cue from the gratitude theme. Ideally, that should be more than one day a year because those who practice gratitude tend to be happier and kinder. Thanksgiving is probably the major family gathering feast day on the calendar. So it seemed right to conjure family, no matter how remote, on this day.

Fortitude

I thank you ancestors for
your spine and pluck,
for your knowing of when to leave,
the courage to try your luck.
 
I thank you ancestors for
your endurance of marathon runners,
for keeping some faith when
hope hoisted up its anchor.
 
I thank you ancestors for
my very blood and bone.
I thank you thousands who loved,
and those that felt all alone.
 
I thank you ancestors for
bringing me here, for the going
through and getting passed over,
for my own bodily strands helixing.
 
I thank you ancestors for
feeling your fears, for your shadows,
for this task of mining the golden vein
in even the most chaotic fandangos.
 
I thank you ancestors for
now you may rest in peace,
bestowing on descendants the tasks
like rescuing Jason’s golden fleece.
 
I thank you ancestors for
your quests and heroic journeys,
for the tiny triumphs and huge betrayals,
for your centuries’ continual re-sorcery.
 
I thank you ancestors for
the heart that can allow us to forgive,
the memory that will never forget,
and – most of all – you own will to live.
 
Copyright © Bee Smith 2018


Patience

A stray tweet drew my eye, which then led me to the wonderful Terri Windling blog, Myth and Moor.  Her midterm blog was on Hope and Faith. (I recommend that you read in in full here.) She quotes another favourite writer, Rebecca Solnit. She writes about writing as being a lonely occupation, although I would style it as solitary rather than lonesome.

(Writing) is an intimate talk with the dead,with the unborn, with the absent, with strangers, with readers who may never come to be and who, even if they do read you, will do so weeks, years and decades later.”

Which brings me to today’s focus for gratitude. I am grateful for patience. I am grateful that my mother cultivated it in me. So today’s poetry practice in on patience. But I am also grateful that there are wonderful women writers out there like Terri Windling and Rebecca Solnit.

And I am grateful for readers no matter how few, far between, or late in the day. Thank you, dear readers!

I am also grateful to know so many good, honest criminals who open my eyes to so much about everything that is really pertinent to living.

 

Patience

 

Prison teaches you patience, Michael said.

Writing is a patient art. Also one

that requires daily acts of devotion.

It becomes an article of faith, too.

A musician or visual artist

may get audience real time reception.

Applause in the present. The Wow! is now.

Like a garden, writing starts as seedbed.

What crop will show ultimately depends

upon climate and the weather. And faith

something will come of it all in the future.

Patience is what makes you keep turning up-

pruning, watering, mulching, feeding the soil.

My good, honest criminals and I are

much the same. In so many ways we know

all permutations of patience, not as

saints, or even as sinners. We know how

to do time. We’ve even elevated

it to art. It’s ineradicable

in our hearts. Like writing is for a start.

 

Copyright © Bee Smith 2018

Nature Poem

Having a meme for 30 Days of Gratitude is a helpful prompt for poetry practice. Because somedays it can feel a bit blank. I need something more than caffeine for a kickstart. And so I consulted the meme my niece posted on Instagram. And if it is 8th November, then Nature is the theme. Which I can relish. Not everyone may realise that I live in Paradise. It’s part of a wider region known as the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. And a geopark, for those who are scratching their heads, is a UNESCO designation for regions of outstanding international significance for both natural and built heritage. I sometimes am incredulous that we actually stumbled on this area when we moved from Yorkshire.

So before I post the poem, let me give you a wee slide show of my corner of the universe.

nature

Bee Smith River Shannon nature

nature

I mustn’t neglect to include a cow picture. This is cattle country after all.

nature

And some cow parsley that festoons our lane every May.

nature on our lane

I suppose I could have gone for a lyrical pastoral poem. But we live close to upland country. It is much more wildish in West Cavan.

Nature

 

green

bronze  gold

moss

lichen

 

sky

canvas

cloud

drop cloth

 

lake

water

still

presence

 

tree

rooted

bare

sleeping

 

stream

flowing

down

river

 

sea

roaring

tide

turning

 

bird

feeding

wings

flutter

 

sun

rising

day

starting

 

moon

waxing

month

cycling

 

night

skywatch

owl

hooting

 

all

nature

is

changing

 

like

Luna

we

return

 

like

daylight

too

returns

 

 

Copyright © Bee Smith 2018

Antidote to Despair

It’s midterm election day in the States today. And no matter which way the results go, whether you exalt or despair, it is historic. There is a general feeling that this is make or break time for democracy. Plenty anxiety has been shared online and in private conversations. But then I read a Facebook post this morning by a friend living in Atlanta, Georgia. And this is where my gratitude comes in for today’s poetry practice. And it is important to sing the everyday heroes, who get up and volunteer and keep the shebang from making it feel like the hand basket is on hell fire.

So no matter how things turn out, get up tomorrow and give of your free time for free for something bigger for the good of all. That’s Wendy’s secret. And this is in praise of those who give lifts, listen in hard places, tend food banks, collect donations, distribute good will. And all the rest. This is us at our best.

 

The Antidote for Despair

 

This is for Wendy of Atlanta, Georgia

Be grateful for all those volunteers

 

This is for you, Wendy, who knows

the secret antidote for despair,

and shares. Which is the first part, giving.

This is the first strand in the weaving

of the civic web. Give it away free.

This is the secret to redemption.

Also, its primary grace. Practice

in the polis on micro-level

this universal lacing. That is,

love casts out fear. It’s getting to know

neighbours far and near. Seeing their faces.

Getting to know new names, their stories,

how which of them have problems with kids.

That’s how sharing starts to halve the shame.

It puts kindness back into kindred,

because empathy always out votes blame.

It mends the unravelled and taunted.

Its silk is as strong as steel. Its web

is well-made to cradle a nation.

 

Copyright © Bee Smith 2018