Is Memory Always Author?

When we ventured forth these past few days I saw the first rowan berries. There were leaves that had the first blush of autumn on their leaves. This week Storm Ellen blew threw and knocked out our electricity for nearly twenty-four hours. Then there was the knock-on effect to the internet server up on Arigna Mountain when their backup generator gave up. The sky has often had interesting splashes of Prussian Blue on its palette. In the meantime, in the long hours when I was conserving the juice in all my devices, I wrote pages of longhand. All of it prose. Not a jot of poetry.

Some is prep for the online creative writing workshop that will begin on 1st September. There is a single space left! So if you have been humming and hawing over it, grab it while you can. Full details here: https://sojourningsmith.blog/2020/08/18/creative-writing-workshops-on-zoom/.

The hours of prose breaching the margins of my notebook is thanks to an online course I have been following, courtesy of the Cavan Arts Office. Online courses are a very good way to fill the creative well. You never know where they will take you. I have been looking at one being offered by the Cavan County Writer in Residence, Anthony J. Quinn, Wild Storytelling: Nature and Landscape.(http://www.cavanarts.ie/Default.aspx?StructureID_str=6&guid=188). In the murky light as the rain poured down and the wind raged, toppling trees and decapitating gladioli, I surprised myself with the flood of memory pouring onto A4 pages in my notebook.

Now my life is not all writing. I have spent many hours as a Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark guide, leading tourists around Cavan and Fermanagh and the Geopark’s fringes. Nature and landscape are really important to my life. But the very first exercise pulled me back to a very different geography.

My childhood was spent in Marcellus shale country, not in the border country where the two pieces of Ireland rub shoulders. Memories flooded in. What was meant as a nature and landscape piece became page after page of an inscape, a memoir of growing up in a small Pennsylvania town in the 1960s.

This came as a complete surprise to me. Quinn did lead me into the wild, into the unexpected terrain of long ago memory. The Celts reckoned that memory was the fount of all poetry. Perhaps. At the moment it is the fount of prose. I have a very messy draft. But then wildness is not known for its tidyness.

The craft of writing is about clearing up after your messy drafts. But I am still deep in the flotsam and jetsam of the memories storming across the pages. I need to allow it to blow through me onto the page and then move to the screen where it will get shuffled around, arranged and rearranged. There will be cuts. Those always hurt. But I remember what my mentor said about thinking of those edits as conjoined twins. You are not killing your baby. You take that sliver of infant writing and put it into a separate incubator. Hope that it may survive and thrive to have a life of its own in a separate piece.

Over the next few weeks the Sunday Weekly may be more about prose than poetry. We shall see. But I do have a poem for you this week. It is only at third, or possibly the sixth or seventh (whose counting?) draft stage and has been lying in its cot for a month or so. The Relic Road is the local name for a lane that used to lead to the old Protestant cemetery, which nature has obliterated. It is heavily wooded now. Every storm brings down limbs and branches that litter the narrow lane’s way.

If Marc Chagall Painted the Relic Road
 
Every fragment is sanctified,
flesh long saponified salts the earth,
skin slipped off like a gown. 
 
Souls of the departed sail, swooping
in the singing trees - their echoes hoop
where no one lives but the Pleiades.
 
The ground is grit of knuckle bone.
Also luminous as winter’s bright aconite.  
The shivering trees are acolytes looking on
 
at tombstones long past subsided, 
swallowed by earth, erased by wind, the wind,
season upon season. No names remain.
 
No descendants survive to look on and remember.
Just the trees.  Their murmuring. The sky.
The music of ghosts flying past.
 
 
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

Featured image is a Photo by Michal Ico on Unsplash

A Season of Remembrance

The Sunday Weekly poem arrives after a remarkably hectic week given the time of the year. I am not even sure why or how to describe such a procession of pleasant happenings as hectic. Perhaps I still have an extended post-birthday giddiness from my mock Mojito last Sunday. Yet, here we are descending into the dark pit of the year and I am feeling as frisky as Tigger. I love the alternating low sky with heavy rain, the astonishing sunsets and brief minutes of brilliant sunshine that are like the embers of a low fire.

Sundown over Paps of the Morrigan

No wonder the ancestors designated this the time of year to share memories and stories. It is averred that the Milesians, one of the early invaders of the island that we know as Ireland, said that ‘poetry is all memory.’ In an oral tradition that would be in a literal sense, but I am sure there are more metaphysical and metaphorical meanings to tease from that rubric.

In the twilight our group lit 350 candles in jam jars and placed them around the paths in the labyrinth to light our meditative walk around after sunset. John also lit a fire in the seating area in centre of the labyrinth for comfort. It was a night when you needed to wrap up well and wear a hat and gloves.

.

Labyrinth

Surrender to amazement. Be found
in the lantern lit labyrinth surrounded
by velvet darkness. Above,a cloud scudded sky
is blanched by a pregnant moon. Remember.
Once again, you may find who you truly
are. Bewilderment may find you a miracle
so fervently beseeched it was forgotten.
You may breach the maze in your mind
in the night's blooming darkness, its welcome
silence, in the scrying for your future,
reading the embers in the need fire.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved
Sundown at our home Friday night.

Memorial

Those readers who will have seen my Armistice Day poem, Collateral Damage, last 11th November will probably have guessed I have a strong pacifist allegiance.  As one with early Quaker ancestors in my motherline  perhaps those tendencies are written onto some chromosome. In the land of my birth this is Memorial Day weekend.  Which led me to contemplate the memory in the word memorial as much as the monuments we make to the dead. Living as I do in a mythic part of Ireland that was home to megalith makers, my mind began to roll over a few rocks. (“What is it with you about rocks, Bee?!” I can hear My friend Mick query.) This is the Poetry Daily for Memorial Day weekend.


Memorial

What is it within us

so millenially deep,

this need to mark in stone,

to resurrect rocks to stand,

to surround and ground our dead?

Stone memory of them

who have become bone, ash, dust,

who have become the light

that once danced in falling star

that met magma, became man.

Here lies someone, who’s ours,

even those nameless remains

we remember, mark rock.

Stone makes us immortal,

takes us back to the cosmic.

Copyright 2019 Bee Smith

The Long View

One of the joys of growing old(er) is seeing a life from the virtual start and following the story arc along the way. It truly is the long view, a perspective you simply cannot claim, I feel, until you are over sixty years of age. Your adult memory may be reliable when their infant memory is a blank slate. I love how my older sister, nine years my senior, has memories of getting the news over the phone of my birth. (This was in the days when Dads were banished to the waiting room or were at home watching the children that had already been hatched.) But it is also highly instructive about how we author our own stories from the point of view of narrators other than ourselves.

Poetry practice is influenced by this long view.

The Long View

In the morning
she still perches on the end of the bed
all chatty and lively
I nod and remember
the bounding in
on Christmas Day
fourteen going on four.

It's not all
Ground Hog Day
like it is
for most grown ups
even ones like her
now everyday
never the same old
same old

But a day
which presents itself
as a gift.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.