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

Word Salad

Poetry practice, this writing a poem a day lark,is certainly stretching all my capabilities.  I have added in another little challenge for November in a nod to the 30  days of Gratitude people. So my subject must be something for which I give thanks. One gratitude prompt had words on the list. And this suggested dictionaries to me. I have a large Oxford, an etymological and a rhyming dictionary on my book shelves. Not to mention online resources in a pinch when I am feeling too frail to lift the weighty tomes. I love dictionaries in all forms.

For an added challenge I decided to try a hithertoo unknown poetry form called the octameter. Its invention is attributed to Shelley A. Cephas and I found it on Linda J. Wolff’s blog Write An Octometer. 

The octometer is two stanzas of eight lines each. Each line must be five syllables long. And there is a complicated rhyme scheme, too. It feels a bit like doing a crossword puzzle. The poem references two writing warm up exercises I use in my Word Alchemy workshops. See if you can guess which!

 

Word Salad

 

Who has need of jewels

with a dictionary

in their possession?

Bless Dr. Johnson,

Webster and Oxford!

With a lexicon

you can feast your fill,

word epicurean.

 

Words fresh and crunchy,

word Venn diagram

or cold collation

with syntactic dates.

To be rambunctious

plan to obfuscate.

All language’s cousins

kiss in this cauldron.

 

Copyright © Bee Smith 2018