NaPoWriMo Goes All Proverbial

Day 22 of NaPoWriMo explores proverbs from different cultures. This prompt was fun and stretched me some. If you want to spend a little while today exploring how other culture’s proverbs cryptically and eliptically convey certain home truths, then do visit the link that is at the bottom of the quote explaining today’s prompt. What really fascinated me was how geographical near neighbours could have a very similar allusion, but have subtle differences in meaning. Compare and contrast the Armenian “Stop ironing my head.” (i.e. stop anoying me) with the Turkish “Don’t iron my head!” (i.e. don’t go on and on about it!). One implies an active command and lets you know how unhappy they are with you, while the other feels more passive, like a plea to just stop talking over and over about a topic, like your granny who keeps repeating the same story.)

Our (optional) prompt for the day asks you to engage with different languages and cultures through the lens of proverbs and idiomatic phrases. Many different cultures have proverbs or phrases that have largely the same meaning, but are expressed in different ways. For example, in English we say “his bark is worse than his bite,” but the same idea in Spanish would be stated as “the lion isn’t as fierce as his painting.” Today, I’d like to challenge you to find an idiomatic phrase from a different language or culture, and use it as the jumping-off point for your poem. Here’s are a few lists to help get you started: One, two, three.

The poem I finally wrote is a mash up of three different culture’s turns of phrase – Hebrew, Ukrainian, and Estonian.

At the End of the World
turn left.
It’s generally a good rule of thumb
if not a finally tuned tool for navigation.
You’ll find my cottage is at the edge,
one and half country miles from
nowhere everywhere.
The lights are on but no one’s home.
The door’s open. Give the dog a bone.
Feed a coin to the meter.
You’re very welcome.
Turn right to find your way back
from the edge of the end of the world.
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

Sleeping Beauty’s Castle

I quelled at the optional prompt from NaProWriMo on Day 21. They suggested doing a ‘homophonic translation’ where you take a foreign language poem and just ‘translate’ it into your first language based on what it looks like and how you think it might be pronounced. Nightmare! No thank you. This is a prompt from previous years. I did try it in the past when I was religious in my practice of not abstaining from the daily prompt. I have done twenty days this year, but NOT today. Anyway, when I woke up for some reason Sleeping Beauty’s castle was floating around in the murk of my semi-consciousness. So I decided to write a poem on that theme.

Anne Sexton wrote many poetry re-workings of folk and fairy tales from the Brother’s Grimm. So there is some lineage to my own take written during this pandemic’s Lockdown.

Sleeping Beauty’s Castle
Nothing moves under clear skies.
Underneath the leafy bramble vines
the city sleeps. Not even a mouse creeps.
The cat in pursuit is captured for all time
in freeze frame. The sweating cook, overset,
has her oath silenced in real time.
What prince seeks Beauty who sleeps
as if coffin encased in her regal bed?
Why or how should he awaken her?
Perhaps, in the end, it is not for her marble
beauty but, in his heart of hearts,
pity. And so moved, he proffers a single,
soft, caressing kiss, quite chaste. And then
he watches as her eyelashes begin to flutter.
She stirs. With another and another her eyes are wide.
And what does she see? Is this young man
a lovelorn swineherd? A cad? A noble lad?
Is he the Deus ex machine that will make
her tragedy into comedy? She arises,
no longer hag ridden, or spell smitten.
Beauty can now choose. Will it be love?
Or gratitude? Or any of a multitude of story endings?
The castle, no longer stricken, has been flicked
by some metaphysical switch into life.
The cook forgets what made her feel cross.
The cat’s still wily. The mouse is fleeing for its life,
scrabbling frantically at any chink it can find
in the citadel’s woodwork.
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved. 

Today’s featured image is a Photo by Dominik Scythe on Unsplash

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!
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

Inventory of Personal Effects

NaPoWriMo Day 19 dawns overcast and chilly. It’s the kind of day when, since it is a Sunday, calls for pulling on a cardigan that colour coordinates with your pyjamas and call it getting dressed. Sunday, after all, is meant to be a day of rest. Being confined within two kilometers from home has meant keeping pretty busy – not just poetry, but helping in the garden and keeping domestic upkeep ticking over. I have maintained a fairly strict routine, but today I am feeling like I need a flop. Which is why when the NaPoWriMo Day 19 prompt called for “walking archive” I decided to tackle the prompt by letting my eyes do the walking from my bed. This was the full invitation:

Today, our optional prompt challenges you to write a poem based on a “walking archive.” What’s that? Well, it’s when you go on a walk and gather up interesting thing – a flower, a strange piece of bark, a rock. This then becomes your “walking archive” – the physical instantiation of your walk. If you’re unable to get out of the house (as many of us now are), you can create a “walking archive” by wandering around your own home and gathering knick-knacks, family photos, maybe a strange spice or kitchen gadget you never use. One you’ve finished your gathering, lay all your materials out on a tray table, like museum specimens. Now, let your group of materials inspire your poem! You can write about just one of the things you’ve gathered, or how all of them are all linked, or even what they say about you, who chose them and brought them together.

I tend to group items that have caught my eye or have personal meaning and place them on windowsills around my house. They are like mini-altars to…whatever. So I let my eyes rove around like I was a chief inspector trying to learn something about a victim or suspect. (Yes, this has been influenced by some late night reading of a detective novel. Louise Penny, as it happens. I have been rationing the reading of my library books while staying home. That was my last fresh whodunit finished in the early hours.)

Inventory of Personal Effects
1.Conch shell-
   ocean echoes.
2.Driftwood -
   sculpted into hawk’s beak.
3.Talking stick-
   the truth spoken
   over feather.
4. Scallop fan-
    outlines mellowed.
5. Rosewood beads –
    petitions softly speak.
6.  A fossil stone –
    secrets unbroken
    grouped together.
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

I hope you have a restful Sabbath while you are staying at home.

Today’s featured image is a Photo by James Wainscoat on Unsplash

Le Weekend a la Lockdown

The prompt from NaPoWriMo Day 18 would have us thinking about Saturdays. That, inevitably, invites a contrast between before lockdown and what a weekend means now that we are in lockdown. Because without external cues, we might lose track of what day it is at all. My husband had to check with me a couple days ago. My reply was that I checked on my tablet everyday to keep track.

Our optional prompt for the day also honors the idea of Saturday (the Saturdays of the soul, perhaps?), by challenging you to write an ode to life’s small pleasures. Perhaps it’s the first sip of your morning coffee. Or finding some money in the pockets of an old jacket. Discovering a bird’s nest in a lilac bush or just looking up at the sky and watching the clouds go by.

I figure I have written a good deal of poetry about small pleasures. They feature largely in our life out on an acre and quarter in West Cavan and give it much of its rich texture and rewards. Again, to quote the husband who says (ironically), “Another fine mess you got me in.” Which is a Stan Laurel line.

One of the features of our life in lockdown, and semi-retirement, is to have self-imposed routines. So my topic zeroed in on a new feature in our home routine of the small pleasure kind during lockdown and staying at home. My husband is very fond of cake, but when there was a dearth of flour and eggs early on in lockdown I brushed off some of my American cookbooks and returned to my native tradition of cookie baking. There is more bang for your buck in terms of ingredients. Also, they last a whole lot longer in this house.

The poem that finally emerged in my notebook and got tarted up when typing up, does steal a phrase from Stephen Colbert’s “A Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” I daresay he hasn’t trademarked it (yet) and I hope I will be forgiven for snatching it to go in the final stanza.

Le Weekend à la Lockdown
There is no bustle or rustle of thick newspaper.
The supplements have grown thin, though remain rich
There still remain some weekly landmarks to savour,
because if it is Saturday then it is time for Kitchen Witch
to wave her magic spoon, take her shift as shaper
in cookie dough of flour, sugar and butter.
Will it be this week orange and cardoman? Or vanilla?
Coconut or chocolate? Or peanut butter?
What’s left in the cupboard to set out in tray flotillas
of sweetness in a world that is full of bleakness?
Reading those headlines when we can get newspapers,
there is just one story. There must be some uniqueness.
Quarantine-while, millions get up to all sorts
                                                       of at home capers.
But if it’s Saturday, then here in my home
                                                     I am a cookie baker.
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

Featured image is a Photo by Rai Vidanes on Unsplash

In the Olden Days…Technology

NaPoWriMo Day 17 has invited us to write a poem about old technology. If you are technically kind of (b)old, then you have seen lots of technology upgrade and go. But the one that I feel is the most radical and historically revolutionary is the typewriter. I began my typing career as a callow fifteen year old learning how to improve my typing skills in a summer school class. I had had my own portable typewriter since I was twelve, a Confirmation gift if memory is correct. By the time I had an office job manual typewriters were making way for electric typewriters, the ever so jittery IBM Selectrics where you had to learn to virtually coo at the the keys instead of bullying them like some of the crankier manual models. I graduated to word processing early on with the first PCs and never looked back. Wow! You can easily correct your mistakes. For someone who was fast, but not always accurate, this was such a wheeze!

So my poem is a salute to the QWERTY keyboard and the manual typewriter in the days when you used five fingers instead of the opposable thumb to tap on a keyboard.

Before the tippety- tap of laptop,
the clackety-clack of a Remington manual
or a Smith Corona.
Before the middle classes worked in pods,
the typist girls swam in Esther Williams’ pools.
Before, three generations were schooled
in Typing and Notehand classes, where
more imaginative teachers urged you to carriage return
in time with the William Tell Overture
after weeks practicing lines about quick dogs
and brown cows dozing in pastures.
Ribbons were primed with ink. You made a mess of a manicure
changing the tape. One’s  missteps were corrected
with white liquid Typex in the days before
auto correct, spell check and Grammarly.  
We memorised our QWERTY, studiously.
You got to know your machine, how some
left their Ts and F’s uncapped whether
you hammered the keys or gently tapped.
A typewriter had personality and originality.
Its’ letter press was as unique as a thumbprint.
With fingers strengthened on piano etudes
a young girl could pack a portable and go forth
into the world. She didn’t have to be a shop girl,
a maid, telephonist or nurse. She could go and try
her luck in the world of commerce, or publishing,
or even reporting the news. She might drink cocktails
and eat oysters such was her big new world.
She just needed to be fast, accurate, literate,
the master of  QWERTY, and then
she could have her own apartment in the city,
and finally be the mistress of her own destiny.
We made triplicate carbon paper copies for posterity.
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

Over the Top

I have to say that the the past few days’ NaPoWriMo prompts have not really grabbed me, but I have faithfully plodded on getting up and writing and posting something daily. Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt didn’t really do it for me either. The prompts are optional, but no other prospect appeared, so I decided to just treat this as a five finger exercise, a poetry etude. This was the prompt:

today we challenge you to write a poem of over-the-top compliments. Pick a person, place, or thing you love, and praise it in the most effusive way you can. Go for broke with metaphors, similes, and more. Need a little inspiration? Perhaps you’ll find it in the lyrics of Cole Porter’s “You’re The Top.”

So my offering today has no particular person, place or thing in mind. I just decided to see how many over the top, effusive, statements I could make that would rhyme with ‘Top.” So, today I have simply indulged in word play.

Over the Top
Anything Goes
Over the Top
My ickle licky lollypop,
you’re the cure I suck from every cough drop.
You inspire such belly flops
that you are my go to non-stop
when pursued by traffic cops.
We’re desperados outwitting hotel bellhops.
We’re sneaking out before the cheque flops.
You are my hat, shoe, book, coffee, butcher,
bucket and head shop.
You are the pepperoni on my pizza top,
the fizz in my soda pop,
and all the food I need, my mutton chop.
You deserve for the organ to let out all its stops.
You shine when drenched in soft spring raindrops.
You grace the wallpaper of my ancient laptop.
because you make a destination of any old whistle stop.
You make my heart beat be-bop.
You are the Swing Time that keeps me on the hop,

My Own Coney Island

NaPoWriMo Day 15, the true midpoint in the month’s writing a poem a day challenge. Today, they want us to take our cue from some music we love. Now, I tried a jazz inspired poem months ago This was the exact wording of today’s challenge, which had me nonplussed for a bit.

Today, I’d like to challenge you to write a poem inspired by your favorite kind of music. Try to recreate the sounds and timing of a pop ballad, a jazz improvisation, or a Bach fugue. That could mean incorporating refrains, neologisms and flights of whimsy, or repeating/inverting lines or ideas – whatever your chosen musical form would seem to require! Perhaps a good way to start is to listen to your favorite piece of music and “free-write” for the duration of the piece, and then use what you’ve written as the building blocks for your poem.

I tend to think of my husband as the musical one in our household. He sings and strums. I am more of a hummer girl. Which was a nickname from junior high. I hummed absent mindedly in the school library. Mostly because I forget lyrics. It’s the tune for me that is catching. One artist that I did catch from exposure to my husband’s taste in music is Van Morrison. It took me a while, but his Avalon Sunset album converted me. And today, I have taken the song that would most certainly make the cut for my Desert Island disc. (For those who are unfamiliar with this cultural reference, BBC Radio 4 has had a Sunday morning programme for decades where a celebrity is interviewed and they choose ten pieces of music that would be pressed to take with them when they are stranded on a desert island. They are given the Bible and allowed one luxury to choose as well.)

Van Morrison’s Coney Island would definitely make it on the Desert Island disc. For one thing…there are lots of strings in the instrumental. His song refers to a Coney Island on the Ards Peninsula in Northern Ireland. Sligo also has a Coney Island, rabbits being fairly prolific in these parts. My poem doesn’t end at Coney Island, but the one place I really want to visit after lockdown in over. Because I miss the ocean.


Sunday sunshine and we are bouncing along the back lanes,
not a coney, or badger, or fox in sight in the midday glaring light
as we pass the promenade of mountains over to our right –
the Playbank, Cuilcagh – and the glimmer off Lough MacNean,
hanging a left going towards Sligo, following the line of drumlins
out towards  the Atlantic. And we go on and on, the CD blaring, and
our resting faces are smiles. We’ve packed tea in thermos flasks,
ham sandwiches  to allay hunger stoked by a hearty sea breeze.
And we go on and on, past Manor and turn towards Glencar, stop
for an ice cream by the lough and watch it melt along with the
shimmering  scenery. The flume of waterfall is not going up
at Devil’s Chimney for want of storm and rain. I keep taking snaps,
trying to capture a scarab in honeyed amber.  And then we are nearly there,
crossing the sandy wetland flats and then we are at Streecagh.
You stride on ahead on the sandy miles, while I am paddling ankle deep
in the icy shallows, looking west for out and out across the fathomless
stretch of sea, counting how many shades of blue or green or gray
I can see as the clouds shift, watch seagulls wheel and hear their cry.  
I pick up shell sand scrutinise pebbles for fossils. Turning back,
 I can spot where you are sitting leaning back in the arms of a grassy dune
 and all the while I think wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all the time.

Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved

Dead Poets’ Halloween Party

Day 14 of NaPoWriMo2020 is the midpoint of the month. It is not unnatural to flag when you are running in a marathon. Although when I did the 365 poem a day marathon from September 2018 until September 2019, it was July, when the end was in sight that I really felt I might stumble, fall down and not get up. This morning felt a bit like that moment. I was up way to late hand sewing face masks for friends (I have scrap fabric; my young friend who shops for us sourced elastic in Carrick on Shannon.) My brain felt a little fragile. I didn’t want a really big challenge, or any challenge really.

I challenge you today to write a poem that deals with the poems, poets, and other people who inspired you to write poems. These could be poems/poets/poepl that you strive to be like, or even poems, poets, and people that you strive not to be like. There are as many ways to go with this prompt as there are ways to be inspired.

In the end I did do something I do not ordinarily do. I decided to tackle the task as a prose poem. Whether it works or not I have no clue. But I did have some fun with it. And that was really what I needed this morning, when I slept late while the sun shined.

Dead Poets’ Halloween Party

Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton have their heads together over vodka stingers, there in that dark corner.  No one wants to interrupt. Because. You know!  collective eye roll) it didn’t end very well for both.  They suffered for their art. Bless their wounded hearts! Men disappointed them. Dorothy Parker could have told them so.  She was sad, too. Oh! There’s little Emily Dickinson. Even she is living her life over in that solitary corner like it is a loaded gun while she sedately sips her sherry. I wonder if you sauntered closer if her eyes really are the colour of fortified wine?  They do seem to unnaturally glitter and shine. Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry have only just recently entered the room. He has come as The Green Man.   Mary is Mother Goose this year, leading a posse of her late, much lamented dogs into the party. They are chowing down on cocktail sausages put down on the floor by the bartender. Good Lord! The bartender is Frank O’Hara!  Meanwhile, some Imagists are striking a tableau over to one side. An absurdist is pouring concrete onto their feet to make them a plinth. What poet does not want to be an edifice? If this bar stocked saki, I bet the top banana himself, old Basho, would grace this party. Him standing amidst the fray in his shabby kimono. It might potentially offer an amusing Zen moment, everyone’s poetic lack of permanencewhen all we strive for is eternity.

Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

Apologies for the weird formatting. WordPress does not seem to be able to easily accommodate the wildness of prose poetry line breaks. If anyone can suggest a solution, please comment!

Grand Theft

I considered abandoning the prompt for Day 13 of NaPoWriMo. “Today, I challenge you to write a non-apology for the things you’ve stolen.” This springs from the alleged T.S. Elliot quotation “Today, I challenge you to write a non-apology for the things you’ve stolen.” Which, to be clear, he did not say exactly.

One of the surest tests [of the superiority or inferiority of a poet] is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.

Eliot, T.S., “Philip Massinger,” The Sacred Wood, New York:, 2000.

So today’s poem is not about misappropriation or the sly pillaging of the office stationery cupboard. I have played fast and loose with the prompt, given that I was reared by a very pious and principled mother. Close friends can attest that I have not passed a driving test in three different countries. I gave up in the attempt to drive a car as a kindness to motorists.

Grand Theft
Why stop with gobstoppers?
Why not go for the whole gob?
If your life feels like an off Broadway flop
and you really, really hate your job,
but…you can see it there, all sparkling,
like the River Jordon, not diamonds...
Suddenly, it seems possible to be starring,
not just some extra. You just need good timing.
One lucky break. Take it. Then make your escape.
This is your life after all. The shiny
new one, where no one knows your make
or model. Where you can exchange large for tiny.
You cross that bridge to the Promised Land.
A vehicle is just a means. The end,
however, is the life where you have free hand,
some divergences that others may not comprehend.
That happens when you become a star.
You sack your agent.
You drive your life like it’s a stolen car.
You abandon entertainment. Instead,
you take up high octane amazement.
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

Featured images is a Photo by Alessio Lin on Unsplash