What I Learned Writing A Poem A Day for a Year

Before I kick off the Sunday Weekly Poem, I felt it behooves me (such a lovely word behoove, and one rarely gets an opportunity to use it!) to have a bit of reflection and de-briefing on the experience of writing and posting a poem a day everyday for a year.

It began on 15th September 2018, with https://sojourningsmith.blog/2018/09/15/some-poetry-making-etudes/. My childhood piano teacher, Miss Mildred Herring, gave me a book of five finger exercises to build my piano playing muscles. I was an indifferent piano scholar, but the idea of regular poetry practice appealed. I wanted to write better poems. I knew I could write a poem a day for a month, since I had been able for two NaPoWriMo’s.

I never set out with the intention of writing a poem a day for a full year. But around Month 3 it began to occur to me that I might be able to do it. I loved the regular poetry practice. If I was late writing in the day, my day just did not have the same quality.

So this is what I gleaned from my experience of writing and posting a poem a day for a year.

Poetry Writing is Grounding and Centring

Let’s face it, no matter where you live on the planet, we live in uncertain times. I began the project and found that the daily writing practice helped me channel my anger and anxiety. It became a place for my mellower musings, too. I got it out and put it ‘there’ on the blank page. And there it remained, transformed and tamed. Poetry writing was the ballast that kept my internal boat from capsizing. Over time, poetry and the boat all became one thing.

Vulnerability Has Transformative Power

I love my fellow poets and writers, but to be brutally honest, as a genus we can be a bit precious over our product. We are sensitive plants and probably need to be to do the work. But if one is ever going to share the work you need to grow a thicker skin. By posting daily I did not have the luxury of a lot of time to edit and refine. So some of the poems are raw and others just plain lame. I had to get past my inner critic’s perfectionism, which can sometimes be the great destroyer of creativity and its creations. (Remember Kali, the mother destroyer goddess. We all have our inner Kali. But we don’t need to kill all our babies in the re-write and editting phase.) By working fast I had no time to be precious. I woke. I wrote. I posted. I got on with the rest of my life’s day. In that very vulnerability of putting it out there I found creative power. I learned not to be cast up or cast down by blog statistics. I just did the work.

Routines Create Neural Pathways

By writing daily I had the ability to try out new poetry forms. When I started I was technically proficient in assonance, dissonance, syllabics. I was a bit allergic to end rhyme. I had written maybe one sonnet in my life. I was not against formalism in poetry. I have written haiku and know all the variations on that form (NB: https://sojourningsmith.blog/2019/05/22/when-a-haiku-is-not-haiku/). But trying out sestina, pantoum, and sonnet stretched me technically. Admittedly, last autumn I had more time to research and learn. But it was great preparation time spent when things got really hectic come January 2019. The neural pathways had been pioneered. The habit of daily writing was well bedded in by the time my schedule got tighter. The routine was carved into my brain’s neural pathways and things were sparking nicely there. My brain was humming happily.

Nonetheless She Persisted

Yes, there were times when it was very hard to do the practice. But by then I realised the writing was not just a writing practice. It was a form of spiritual discipline. It was my morning meditation practice. Houseguests, who are people who love me, understood that morning was sacrosanct and the hush needed to be maintained. (For this I am profoundly grateful. Most hostesses do not leave their guests to fend for themselves first thing in the morning and demand radio silence upon the house. But they respected the writing practice.) A migraine delayed writing and posting, but did not deter. Nor did deathbed vigils, bereavement and funerals. But by that time, I realised that the writing practice was holding everything together for me.

But I will admit that at Month 10, I really began to flag. I was generally tired from juggling several teaching projects, as well as getting up early to write each morning. I am more pit pony than racehorse and the first six months of the year felt like I was at full gallop. But I kept at it because I was so damn close! ( I have got a competitive streak, which usually only gets outed during Scrabble matches.) I could see the finish line in sight. A 30 day course of daily writing prompts rescued me for four out of the last six weeks before finish line.

What’s On My Mind

Up until this year I would probably have characterised myself as mostly a nature or environmental poet. I knew that there was a storytelling voice in there too, which some critics would cast askance. Writing a poem a day challenged me to explore new subject matter. It loosened me up. But I didn’t have the time to actually look back and see if there was a thematic thread running through the poetry posts. In the past two weeks as I have reviewed the archive I can now discern a few different categories of my pre-occupations. And this will help me go forward to create a manuscript of the best of the 365 Poems A Day.

What’s Next

I do have very kind and faithful readers who have indicated that the Poetry Daily will be missed. But they seem to understand that I need the time for editting and pulling together a manuscript to create my first solo collection. Previously, I have have collaborated with my sister, Pamela A. Smith, on a transatlantic haiku ‘conversation’ and with Helen Shay in our co-collection Binary Star. Helen and I have another co-collection in the works.

But first I need to whip the solo collection into shape. So watch this space.

In the meantime, I will post a Weekly Poem each Sunday. I will point you to some previous ones in the archive at times. And in the first week there are a few scheduled little poems to help wean you from the Poetry Daily.

But now…start the Weekly Poem routine! I did not realise that I had written a poem on a similar theme last year. (Poets have their obsessions and recurring themes that are as regular as the full moon. To see what last year’s version looked like see this post. https://sojourningsmith.blog/2018/09/25/harvest-moon/

Harvest Moon (II)

Moon to illuminate
all that's been dreamed
all that's now done

The starry firmament
shines a woman
holding some sheaves

Not a bull or a ram
not a half-horse
that's half a man

Not fish or scorpian,
crab or lion,
not even goat

Not the adrogynous
water bearer
or inert scales

She who bears the seed to
ultimate fruit
holds the harvest

A woman holds the sky
as she always
does on this earth

Everything she dreamed
is now all done
so she can dream

yet another turn round
the sun, the moon,
the seed, its bloom.

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Until next Sunday! Read a poem a day while I am away!

Featured image Photo by Anita Austvika on Unsplash

Waiting Room

I have been perusing the archive of the poem a day over the past year to begin putting together a longlist of poems for my first solo collection of poetry. Bits of my life are layered in. So it came as no surprise that I have drafted the Poetry Daily at least once before in the waiting room of our GP’s surgery. It was routine blood taking today and they start very early. You have to fast. So it was without benefit of caffeine that I penned the first draft of the poem for today as I waited my turn for the blood letting. (Never easy. Just use the left, Audrey! The veins on my right routinely collapse. As the daughter of a laboratory technician I am pretty blasé about this. Four tries later the single vial needed for the thyroid check was accomplished. I have written so much about rock and stone over the year I did begin to ponder ‘getting blood from a stone’ and its applicability to me.)

Sparing any thoughts of Godot, there is also the next breathless twist in the Brexit scenario. Which, in the eventuality of a no deal crash out will have implications for all of us living in border country. Our GP’s surgery is a few hundred yards from the border. Just over the bridge that is the border is the nearest pharmacy to get your prescriptions. We go to and fro with ease without a hard border these last twenty years. But a no deal Brexit could change all that. There has already been one bomb on the border defused already. Although the good news is that Peace V will carry on the twenty year journey working towards peace and reconciliation on this island. Because it takes a generation to really make change.

So millenials in Northern Ireland, make sure you are registered to vote. A general election is coming and the majority in Northern Ireland wished to remain in the EU.

 Waiting Room

That taut air of held breath
in the space where we wait
for the other shoe to drop.

Some drum their fingers.
Others fold their palms
and temple their thumbs.

The studied yawn.
Staring at phones.
What's the news this dawn?

Some stare straight ahead,
seemingly can't blink, but
maybe we all need their kind of meds.

In balancing on the high wire
Don't look up! Certainly,
don't look down!

It saps your inner fire
does waiting - for a birth. Or a death.
Just anything definite.

Though long-term you acquire
a grace and patience
that furrows even the smoothest brows.

But better the bad that you know
than the worse that might come.
Waiting is never ever any fun.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Featured image: Photo by Martha Dominguez de Gouveia on Unsplash

Prodigal Soul

We like to keep the Sunday mornings extra still, a bit sleepy. Non-doing means more being. There has been plenty happening in the house over the past week or so. It’s great to have a quiet day before a week ahead that has several daytime appointments. To have the slow start in the gloomy half-light as the day begins feels extra special as I begin the last lap on the 365 poem a day Poetry Daily marathon begins. This is Day 358 of writing a poem a day. Seven more to go.

But first I did a little reading and I came across a post that is really appropriate for some Soulful Sunday reading. Over the past year I have considered lost souls, or those who give theirs away piece by piece. I commend to you this poem by US poet laureate Jo Harjo for some Sabbath succour. https://poets.org/poem/calling-spirit-back-wandering-earth-its-human-feet.

So the poem turns out to be very short after I scribbled out the first doodles in the notebook.

Prodigal Soul

The one who wandered away
from their soul
who went chasing after
or got chased

came back
re-discovered its true keepers
beside a sanctuary lamp left lit
in perpetual vigil

Drink wine!
Break bread!
Celebrate!

See before your own eyes
how our guest
transubstantiates


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Have a day with more being than doing in ways that will replenish your soul. A lot is happening in the world.

Featured image Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

In Dark Ages

Ah, my writing routine is back to its Planet Normal. Wake up in the half-light, half-dark. Gradually come to. Rise for tea, some non-verbal chat with cats as I wield tin and spoon. Then return to notebook and pen and the blank page to see what will turn up for the Poetry Daily. There is only one more week to go when I reach the 365 Poem A Day mark. I have written a poem a day since 15th September 2018. I have posted it on this blog everyday bar one, when my internet service was down. I posted two the following day. I posted as a way to keep a check on myself. If I didn’t post I might have become a slacker to the poetry practice.

What first emerged in my morning’s cogitation was a spin on a prayer from my childhood. Actually, it was only a line from a half-remembered prayer and then I began to riff on that. Which I will not share. But it took me into deeper waters of consciousness. Deep time keeps cropping up and also what was termed in my infant school history books as The Dark Ages.

In Dark Ages

What made the Dark Ages go dark?
Was it barbarian hordes sacking Rome,
making it burn,
along with Alexandria's library
turning all knowledge to ash?
Was it the temple's collapse?

What makes a world a civilisation?
When is its bright firmament a vacuum?
What makes its light go dark?
When exactly does it jump the shark?

Was it greed and hubris that made it dark?
or the rape and pillage leaving indelible mark?
Pity and terror is the classical definition
for the appropriate response
to tragedies' transitions.

But those Greeks lost their world.
It crumbled to ruins., too.
Yet in all that age and its gravest days
there must have been someone
who kept alive some vital spark.

Much was lost. But much was retained.
Probably by a black-clad granny
keeping the family tinderbox safe.
She knew what to do, how to take
flint and some sticks and chafe them
into fire to make food,
to be able to see each others face.
The light returns, if not the great.
Empires burn. To some that's a disgrace.

I ask more questions....
what do you love?
what do you vouchsafe?
what gentles you in chaos and
rescues you from the inevitable pathos?

What tools have you been left
to strike the light
to allow you to discern
what is a dark age
and what is your immediate concern?


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Featured image: Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Call And Response

The prompt from #30DaysOfSummerWritingChallenge visits Campground Sessions. I found myself awake in the ambrosial hours, otherwise known as stupid o’ clock, and finally gave up on sleep, cracking on with the writing prompt for the Poetry Daily. Having written, I managed to get a nap after dawn. Although I am far from sporty, I am familiar with the campground summer experience. Camping is a relatively inexpensive way to have a holiday. For over five years post-recession, we spent nine days under canvas in Ireland each year. (Never say I am not hardy. Yes, sometimes it rained hard.) Then the desire for comfort overtook the desire for campground cameraderie. But I know what it’s like.


Call and Response

Seeing you all in huddled shadows
of flickering flame,
the spray of stray sparks
as the logs crack and fall into embers.

Hands clutch hot chocolate in enamel mugs.
Smoke slowly kippers
the congregation.
The murmur of soft spoken talk at night,

it's quiet back and forth. A laugh  echoes
across the campground
where most almost sleep.
Drifts of distant infant's wails gone midnight.

The treads of late night loo visitor's thud
is muffled by dew.
Canvas zips screech loud
when the only sound is the rise and fall

of hundreds of campers dreaming under
canvas under sky
calling each other.
Their dreams are deep. Their responses in sighs.



Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

In three weeks time I will have crossed the 365 day poem a day finish line. I am beginning to look back in the archive for poems that need some tweaking and polish to pull together my first solo poetry collection. Do you have any memories of stand out poems you have especially liked that you read on the blog over the past year? It would help me immeasurably if you would let me know which ones were the most effective and affecting. Pop the title in the comments section, please. And thank you!

Featured Photo by Joris Voeten on Unsplash

Beachcombing

The prompt for today’s #30DaysOfSummerWritingChallenge is ‘Surf’s Up!’ Counterintuitively what flashed into my mind was an image of beachcombing one January back in 2011. That became the basis for today’s Poetry Daily.

The beach is my happy place. I’m not sure how I have managed to remain so inland or landlocked all my life when my heart and soul yearns for the ocean. Recently in Bundoran one steamy day I saw a toddler racing towards the water’s edge. I was getting ready to run interference when dad did a rugby save, scooping her up just before she touched down toes in the sea. But it reminded me of an anecdote my mother told me about my infant experience of the seaside. I, too, ran straight for it. I was likely 18 months old at the time. She regretted not teaching me to swim then, because I never really got the hang of it when I finally had lessons at the local pool. The Y pool also gave me one awful ear and sinus infection. I never took the final test for the certificate. And I am still loathe to put my face into pool water. But I don’t mind being smacked by an ocean wave. I can still fondly remember my brother Steve instructing me in how to ride the waves when I was probably about four.

We went to the beach every summer of my childhood because my mother’s beloved sister lived half a block from the Atlantic Ocean. It had also been where my mother lived out her teen years before she trained as a lab technician in Philadelphia and began a career that took her to West Virginia, North Carolina, the US Coastguard and then the Bronx, before she married and had a family.

Which segues into the Poetry Daily poem for this Monday. It’s not about Sligo-side surfers, but my favourite beach pastime – beachcombing.

Beachcombing for Gravegoods

My sister and I paced the Atlantic's fringe
in January's arctic wind. Show had frozen
on the boardwalk. We paces with eyes on the ground
for seashells strewn on F. Street Beach.

Just as in summers after supper was done
my mother and I walk the beach in setting sun.
One year my brother, some yards behind,
laughingly pointed out our footprints in the sand,
mother's and daughter's gait being the same
rhythm and kind.

Not that that would be true untill the end of her time.
No. But each summer we foraged
for ocean's treasures to take hom.
We made a display in an old cookie tray -
sand saved, some razor clams and scallops,
mussles, sand frosted shards of glass,
bits of old cord and driftwood.

One year my sister scored a giant conch.
I have it still. When I am six feet underground
it will accompany me.
Just as I made a posy of F Street seashells
to sail with my mother when she set out
into the fathomless sea.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.


F Street Beach
F Street Beach c. 1960

Summertime

Cue up Ella and Louis and think of life as easy. Day 3 of the #30DaysofSummerWritingChallenge gave us this prompt “What does it mean to take your ease in summer?” But all you have to do is mention the first bars of the Gershwin classic and I am back in the summers of my salad days. I was in Washington, DC. and, to semi-quote Noel Coward, never is there a more tropical zone even in September. But what can you expect from a city built on reclaimed swamp? The Mall used to be a canal, but when Abraham Lincoln’s son Willie fell in and then died of malaria he order it to be filled in.

It has to be said that I was in DC at the height of the disco craze. And Saturday afternoon Soul Train was on tv. The title is also borrowed from the sound track of my youth.

Summer in the City

Summertime is all slow saxophone
or rocking up to the Soul Train beat,
hopping on to the swing of the song.
It's shimmy, shiver. You sweat your bones
in humidity and vapid heat.
But we danced, damn it! The whole night long.
We were young, single and feeling sexy.
Prowling. Not enough drink in the land
to quench a summertime thirst or lust.
The night cools. It gets loud and boozy.
Talk turns to beach drives, sun up on sand.
We dance out the dog days of August.
Summertime high on testosterone.
And its swan song on lone saxophone.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Apologies for late posting. My circadian rhymns are all over the shop at the moment. Antihistimenes may also have their part to play.

Featured image Photo by Meg Barnett on UnsplashFeatured image