Day 12 of NaPoWriMo/GloPoWriMo and it really does feel like running a marathon. I do not have a conventional work schedule. My husband is retired and I am self-employed. How do people with a 9-5 life manage this? Draft on lunch hour? Steal some online posting time on break? I am managing to do something everyday, but I cannot guarantee quality. Maybe some people only post the really polished stuff?
Anyway, today’s prompt should have been easy, but it hasn’t and I am not sure that I have fulfilled all the qualifications for a haibun. If you want to check, read the article here. I have more tasks to confront, so I have to settle with having tried.
Here is the prompt.
We’ve challenged you to tackle the haibun in past years, but it’s such a fun one, we couldn’t resist again. Today, we’d like to challenge you specifically to write a haibun that takes in the natural landscape of the place you live. It may be the high sierra, dusty plains, lush rainforest, or a suburbia of tiny, identical houses – but wherever you live, here’s your chance to bring it to life through the charming mix-and-match methodology of haibun.
I am, at least, very fortunate to live in a landscape lush in detail. I have to call it News from Our Townland because everytime we meet our neighbour Winnie down the lane she sticks her head into the car and says. “Any news?” And for non-Irish readers a townland is basically an outlying rural district. Our townland translates, I am told, as ‘the place of the briars.’
News From Our Townland
At noon, in fields stretching south, dye daubed sheep, lowing cattle mourning calves gone to Mart, bog cotton in springtime, the cuckoo flowers blooming just before the cuckoo arrives from Africa
wind turbines on Arigna, gorse acid splash in the mist on hummocks of hills, the gap to the southwest where the Atlantic gales blow in on us, rattling the glass
the sun slips behind that bump running along John’s and Paddy’s property line, that tangled hedge, dipping into Lough Moneen, at dusk dripping magenta, violet and ink
Place of briars. Thorn trees twined and bound in ivy and lichen year round after ditching their spring prom blossom dresses into the shuck. Or jewelling naked limbs with sloe and haw, brazen rowan for wild bird fodder.
The song sung at the holy well to a plaster Mary. Blackbird and thrush trill to trickle of stream tune. The offerings tied to the bare hawthorn – coins from around the world, a teddy, a shoelace, rosary beads in loving memory – oh Holy Mother, hear our prayers
Day 5 of NaPoWriMo has more of a GloPoWriMo theme. The prompt is all about translation and I very nearly wimped out on this prompt. You are meant to take a poem in a language you don’t know, and add in a photograph. And then write about the photo modeling your language on the original un-translated version. My head exploded!
Just to clarify, this is the exact wording of today’s prompt.
Today, we’d like to challenge you to write a poem that, like the work in Translucence, reacts both to photography and to words in a language not your own. Begin with a photograph. Now find a poem in a language you don’t know (here’s a good place to look!) Ignore any accompanying English translation (maybe cover it up, or cut-and-paste the original into a new document). Now start translating the poem into English, with the idea that the poem is actually “about” your photograph. Use the look and feel of the words in the original to guide you along as you write, while trying to describe your photograph. It will be a bit of a balancing act, but hopefully it will lead to new and beautiful (and possibly very weird) places.
Ideally, we are supposed to choose a poem from an unfamiliar language. Here I cheated some, eventually going for a short German poem. I have forgotten more German than I ever knew, since I last haunted a beginners class in 1975. I looked at other Germanic languages, but the translations were side by side the original in the online examples I checked out, which felt like a bigger cheat temptation. So I decided to grab a bi-lingual Rilke from my bookshelf. I also have some Nuala ni Dhomhnaill, but Irish sounds nothing like it looks and my head had another melt down. So Rilke it had to be.
And since I was getting a headache I decided to cut myself some slack and ‘put a dog in it’ as suggested on Day 4’s NaPoWriMo prompt. I had a perfect moody black and white of Ellie at Corry Strand last autumn.
But I cannot say that I am proud of this effort. I can only say that I did not opt out, which I frequently did last year. And sometimes you just have to push yourself out of the comfort zone. This was distinctly uncomfortable.
But to get to a point where I could even try today’s assignment, I had to haiku . I wrote one to another photo, which was taken from a bridge not far from the source of the River Shannon. It was glorious springtime and I was with Cavan BirdWatchers.
Bee Smith facilitates creative writing workshops, with experience with all age groups and in men-only and women-only groups. She lead haiku walks in Northwest Ireland. If you would like to information about workshops and events and would like to be added to the mailing list please fill in the contact form.
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.
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:
The date for my fools for poetry reunion was long ago set for 5th August. I proposed a haiku walk, or ginko, as a way of exploring both nature and stretching the writing muscles with a new poetry form. Haiku looks deceptively simple. No more than seventeen syllables, no need to rhyme. No conventional metaphor saying one thing is like another, or comparisons to lead the reader. Just three lines of nature description.Or not, in the case of senryu, where you look at human nature, rather than flora and fauna.
But haiku can also be a bit of a fiend. Three lines of 5-7-5 syllables flows beautifully in Japanese. In English it can seem stilted and over constrained. Also, while you might be able to write a snapshot, do your three lines convey a bigger picture? Because that is rather the point of haiku. It implies a larger, or greater truth. Sometimes with a sense of humour.
Then again, strict haiku traditionalists insist on a kigo, or seasonal word. So we started our workshop kicking around some words that would universally be recognised as signposting season of Lunasadh, as August is fashioned in Irish: rowan berries, blackberries, bilberries, mushrooms. All these anchor us to a certain point in the wheel of the year.
Morag got to model some found kigo.
We had to joke about rain. Which is kind of a default setting for the Irish. For Brid, living over in central County Cavan had been a bit sceptical about the walk given that floods of rain were cascading down the concrete walls of her home a couple hours before we were due to meet. I had to explain how the mountains hemming us in on all sides gives West Cavan a unique micro-climate that often defies weather prognostications.
Sunshine shall be had!
Haiku poets walk
(That’s a nod to Anne-Marie’s and my mutual friend, John Wilmott, who is a great promoter of Japan’s shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, in Ireland.)
Glenfarne Forest Demesne, just over the boundary in North Leitrim, was the venue I chose for both the shinrin-yoku and the ginko.
We followed the trail and took in some of the sculptures that grace the forest, which also offers views across Lough MacNean to Fermanagh. We stopped and looked; the benefit of being in a group is that one of you is likely to know the name of the species that has caught your attention. Thank you, Christine!
Forests always feel magical and a bit mystical to me. I had wandered a bit ahead of the rest who paused at a boulder. “I see a face!”
Green Man leers
Now you see him! Now you don’t!
Sinks back into moss, bark, tree.
No, the photo does not convey how we all saw what looked a bit like a skull, or like Edvard Musch’s The Scream, peering from the tree. But we all saw it!
If you would like to join me in the future on other guided haiku walks, email me email@example.com.