Freedom Day

Belated Happy Juneteenth! And Happy Solstice -either Summer or Winter depending upon your hemisphere. My mother would have been 104 years old yesterday. A high school friendship with an African American girl, Nellie Gator, was strongly influential in her support of civil rights for black American citizens during the dark Jim Crow years. She never forgave the DAR for refusing one of her operatic sheroes, Marian Anderson, Constitution Hall as a concert venue. While she never scurried down the genological rabbit hole to prove her ancestors fought in the American Revolution (unlikely, as we now know many were Quaker), but she said very firmly, with tightened lips that “even if she could, she would never join them.” I think Mom would be proud to share her birthday with this newly proclaimed US national holiday.

I did not post yesterday because of my monthly Zoom poetry group. We explored free verse, or open form, poetry. While North Americans have a strong tradition in this form, my Irish students are less familiar with it. While rhyme has not been something that has come naturally to me, I often find that Irish people can spontaneously rhyme from their very first effort at a poem! So this was a bit of a challenge for the Irish born members of my Zoom group.

But I warmed them up with a syllabic form first, the cinquain. I used this in my Geopark Poetry Map schools workshops as an alternative to haiku. Most primary age children will have had a bash at haiku by the time they are ten years old. The cinquain is a five liner, easy for a 45 minute workshop; it’s lines run, 2,4,6,8,2 syllables.

We addressed the theme of freedom in our poems yesterday. In keeping with both the day’s theme and the free verse task, I read aloud poems by African American poets, Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes and Gwendoline Brooks. All these poets were new to my Irish colleagues.

Here is my cinquain for Juneteenth.

To be
Able to breathe
Not always watching your back
Knowing your someone's prey
Freedom

Happy Freedom Day! Happy Juneteenth, Mom! Meanwhile, it must be summer on schedule now. The wild orchids of West Cavan are out for Midsummer’s Eve. May this liminal day bring you gentle revelations.

Weekly Poem – What the Cat

It has been a hectic few days. Today is the closing date for the Geopark Poetry Map. Which is why the Weekly Poem is published a bit later in the day than normal. The rest of the week will also be busy reading the submissions and liaising with Geopark staff via Zoom.

It was also a day that began early with a school workshop on the Geopark Poetry Map in a Fermanagh school. While the rest of the world seems to be getting broiled, steamed or stewed in summer heat, here day broke with a temperature of 12C/54F. And there was no promise of it nosing much farther than that until much later in the day. The workshop had to be outdoors, but we had a bell tent for shelter and rough hewn ‘desks’ from reclaimed cable reel wheels and stools from tree stumps. The children sat on tarps spread over the bark ‘floor’. The rain held off, but the midges, as we say here in this part of the world, were mighty! This particular primary school is interested in the whole concept of Forest Schools. Given the pandemic, this is their moment! Covid Regulations do not allow visitors inside schools at all (except for repair and maintenance workers.) For freelancers like me, our only way of interacting with school children is outdoors and in a mask or face shield. For teachers who can squeeze us into their programme, they are grateful for the children getting some outside influence. A new face, even if it is behind a plastic face shield.

More than ever before I feel strongly that poetry writing needs to be part of the core curriculum.” Poetry makes you feel calm.” So said an 11 year old today. It has been far from calm these last two years, which make up about a fifth of their lifetime already. Poetry writing can help children process all the emotional challenges of this pandemic and what it has meant for them personally and for their families. Nature can be healing, too.

The school we visited today is very lucky in having over an acre of land that they can use for playing fields and outdoor activities. They plan on erecting another tent ‘classroom.’ But most schools do not have that option. In Brooklyn, where my brother lives, they closed his street so the public school on the corner could have recess space. The playground itself was transformed into an outdoor classroom last fall.

It was an early rising. Not quite amrit vela as it was already light. I dashed off a poem for today and began noodling with another. While one of our other cats has often been the featured hero of poems published in this blog, we have a new entry today. The ginger ‘legacy’ cat. Basically, we have an inexhautable supply of feline muses in this household.

What the Cat Brought In

through the bathroom window last night
would upset you.
A fledgling, some feathers more fluff
than sleek wings.
Maybe it had already tumbled down.
Maybe Toff
did not hunt it down, but either way
it's been left
outside the bedroom door, a trophy of his
devotion.
Even though birdie carcasses give me the
willikers
I get out the dust pan and brush,
removing
what would make you sad at start of
a new day,
the trophy of my own devotion.

Copyright © Bee Smith, 2021. All rights reserved.


It’s Not All Countdown

The closing date for submissions to the MACGeopark digital Poetry Map is fast approaching. The closing date is 15th June 2021 and I am still getting enquiries for submission guidelines. While I am feeling the countdown of days – 5, 4,3,2,1…it’s not all about the countdown. There are a lot of moveable parts to this project and even after the closing date there is much more that will happen before it is unveiled in October 2021.

Last month’s blast of poetry prompts and memes on Twitter and even Instagram seems to have caught some traction. We have had an open call out since Poetry Day Ireland since 29th April for poem on specific sites within Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark that highlights some aspect its geoheritage. Martina O’Neill, Development Officer for Partnership & Engagement created a wonderful document siting the geoheritage points of dozens of sites around the Geopark. (I quoted copiously during the 14 days of Geoheritage Poetry Prompts for the Poetry Map.) The earth has been reflected in ancient monuments like the wedge tombs and dolmens, and more recently, in industries like Belleek Pottery and family run lime kilns. The Geopark has glacial erratics, but also has the built heritage that the smaller rocks were used to make sweathouses, dry stone walls, castles and abbeys. We also have many sites of special scientific interest for plants and the blanket bog on Cuilcagh and other upland areas. Because of the limestone we have orchids, too.

Early Purple Orchid

But that is only one moveable part of the project. First we commissioned five established writers to create new work. Dara McAnulty, author of the award-winning Diary of a Young Naturalist, will write on Big Dog Mountain. (The North American edition has just been published by Milkweed.) Noel Monaghan has many poetry collections published by Salmon Poetry; Loughoughter is his chosen site. Maria McManus grew up in Belcoo with the Marble Arch Caves just down the road from her homeplace. Seamus Mac Annaidh has published in many genres – novels, poetry and history – in the Irish language and is known by English readers mostly for books centring on Fermanagh history. A J Quinn is best known for his crime novel series set in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

We were able to announce all the commissions for Poetry Day Ireland on 29th April 2021. Then began the push and open call to new and emerging poets for their poems which will conclude this Tuesday, 15th June.

Sundials are much quieter than ticking clocks…potentially more earth friendly, too…

The other part of the project has been really challenging. How to involve school age children? I have facilitated poetry workshops in primary schools before. So that held no terror. But there was a long wait for getting vaccinated as I felt it only prudent, given my age and health, to have that done before venturing out. Immunity Day came on 24th May for me.

But even venturing out still means not going into schools. And therein we have another challenge – the Irish weather! The school year for primary pupils ends in the last week of June. This has been an extraordinarily challenging year for teachers and having someone come into the school with an additional project which may, or may not, compliment the curriculum was just one factor to consider. The other is that they are playing catch up from winter when they have only had home schooling. In rural areas remote learning was sometimes just impossible. As far as I am concerned teachers are the unsung front liners of this pandemic.

Yet despite all these challenges one school in Cavan and Fermanagh agreed to have me come in for a 45 minute session on the project. Fortunately, the Geopark has a lot of good material that is aimed at schools that were stockpiled from when they could engage with them pre-pandemic.

Given Covid regulations the workshops are outdoors. Fortunately, the rain and the midges were busy elsewhere when I worked with the older students at Curravagh National School in Glangevlin, Co. Cavan. What better way to teach geoheritage than to point to the rocky outcrop behind the school and name it – karst, weathered limestone. And then swing my arm the other direction and talk about drumlins and how drumlins even gave their name to a Cavan abbey. Outdoor classrooms have more than just one advantage.

I have worked with these kids before and it felt joyful to see how much they have grown and matured over the two years since I last worked with them in June 2019. Even though we were outdoors, I masked so that I could look at their work and help them when they asked questions. But what really impressed me was that all but the very youngest pupil opted to wear a mask, too. As did their teacher.

But who they really wanted to see was my husband, who they know for his guitar and singing and sometimes even a story. He sang into his plastic face shield from a safe social distance. And somehow, it felt a bit like the old normal for us and for the kids. As their principal told me. They need to see new faces and hear new slants on things. It was a memory of how things were when we last met two years ago and how things are now, but still there could be some silly singalongs and laughter.

On the 15th Tony and I will be in Fermanagh, but there the primary school has a big bell tent that we can shelter in at a safe social distance with a large group. The tent has been acquired because of the interest in Forest Schools post-pandemic. And they are fortunate enough to have the space for it. There, too, the head teacher was keen when he learned that my driver can come along with his guitar. We dropped off the Geopark material and my lesson plan in advance to prep the class teacher on what we aim to accomplish – a poem. I have two short forms to offer that can rhyme or not, but what I really am eager is to hear where they have been in the Geopark and how they feel about those places. Getting some aspect of the arts into schools during the pandemic is considered a huge boost to the kids by teachers who know the added value they bring.

In the Cavan school I learned that one pupil has a lime kiln on their land. (Oh, for a lime kiln or sweathouse to feature in a poem; wish list!) Another lad climbed Cuilcagh with his family as a memorial walk on the anniversary of his father’s death. Geoheritage is not something museum-like to these kids who live in Geopark communities. It is all around them and inside them.

You can email queries or submissions to GeoparkPoetryMap@gmail.com by 15th June 2021.

MACGeopark Poetry Map Work Continues

It is a bank holiday weekend here is the Republic of Ireland. There is still time to visit various sites around Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark and see if your poem could make its mark on our digital Poetry Map. The project includes five commissioned poets who are working on poems on the Marble Arch Caves, Cuilcagh Mountain, Big Dog Forest, Devenish Island and Cloughoughter. Your poem could be one among those written by Dara McAnulty, Anthony J Quinn, Noel Monaghan, Maria McManus and Seamus McCanny. Poems can be in Irish, but need to be accompanied by an English translation.

There are well over fifty sites scattered across the many hectares of land that straddle the Fermanagh and Cavan boundary. The Marble Arch Caves was the original site, along with nearby Cuilcagh Mountain Park, that first earned European Geopark status . We became a Global Geopark in 2004. But there was a wider vision. With the Good Friday Belfast Treaty of 1998, there was the real opportunity to create the very first cross-border Global Geopark on the planet. South Fermanagh and West Cavan share the lakes, drumlins and moraines, the limestone and Neolithic history that were formed long before a line was drawn on a map in 1921.

Just as UNESCO recognises that the Giant’s Causeway and Brú na Boinne are part of world heritage, so too do they recognise that this landscape is also an important feature of world heritage. Geoheritage will be celebrated in the poems that will mark these sites on our digital Poetry Map, which will go live on the Geopark website this October.

The deadline for teen and adult submissions closes on 15th June 2021. We have already received submissions not just from Cavan and Fermanagh, but from the USA, France and Singapore! The project has been able to engage with the Irish diaspora, as well as let the wider world know about the importance of what lies beneath our feet.

Meanwhile, Covid-19 restrictions have meant that working with the Fermanagh primary schools and the Cavan National Schools has been fraught with obstacles. So far I have a school in each county for one session each. Basically, I will be facilitating a geoheritage poetry workshop outdoors. The Fermanagh school has a bell tent, which is blessing, given the capricious and often fluid nature of Irish weather. The Cavan school will check the weather on the morning and we shall go forth accordingly in faith with a prayer that the weather gods be kind.

When I was first proposing a project in pre-Covid 19 days, it was with a plan to engage with schools on Poetry Ireland Day 2020. We may not be in Lockdown these days, but we still live with restrictions that are often unpredictable. I do want to try and involve the kids – they are the future of the planet after all – in some way. I have to say that teachers really have my sympathy. They are working under some really stressful circumstances. One principal noted that while the Department had said that school trips were now allowed, another directive indicated that transport for said proposed outings was not available! I imagine that across the country many feel that what is given with one hand is then often taken by the other! Teachers have been working heroes and sheroes these past eighteen months and they are sometimes not given the credit for being pandemic front liners.

I am just grateful that I am vaccinated and that we can do these gigs outdoors (roll on Forest Schools!), which is actually more appropriate when you are talking about the earth. I can wear a face visor, so the kids will be able to see my face. Both principals mentioned that their kids are hungry for seeing new faces and hearing a differant slant on a subject. In which case, I feel a bit like Inspiration R Us! (Tony is allowed to bring his guitar into the bell tent. When I cautiously asked if he was allowed to not have to sit in the car to wait for me, I tentatively ventured that he bring his guitar. The response was not just positive, but positively enthusiastic! He may even have a short Geopark kind of story up his sleeve, too!)

There are lots of moveable parts to this project. We have commissioned work, poems from new and emerging poets, and school children. The final piece will be recording all the poems so that there will be both an ‘off the screen’ and an ‘in your ear’ poetry experience. The digital Geopark Poetry Map will go live in October 2021.

There is still time for you to make a contribution to this project! Ten days left to submit a poem!

Geopark Poetry Map Prompts 12

Greetings Earth lovers and Poetry writers! I am posting the MACGeopark Poetry Map Prompt a bit later today because…you know…life laundry, messages (as they call those hunt and gather errands in Northern Ireland); a neighbour needed a lift to fetch their car that had been mended. They day evaporated and I am just getting down to this after a hastily eaten tea whipped up in the space that of a Bewitched nose twitch. (Beans on toast with a fried egg if you are truly curious.) Today I want to highlight a dramatic site in Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark that you cannot fail to notice if you travel the Blacklion (Cavan) to Florencecourt (Fermanagh) Road. The border seamlessly moves from Cavan with a segue into a “Welcome to Fermanagh” sign – no Customs post or passport control. This road known locally as the Marble Arch Road and it leads to many of the Geopark’s best known sites. Hanging Rock dominates the landscape. I remember seeing it for the first time twenty years ago and feeling full of awe as we drove past. It has showstopper writ large. If it were a Broadway musical it would be the 10 o’clock number.

But as I passed by with the jaw hanging loose, little did I know its truly remarkable nature.

Overlooking Lower Lough Macnean is a magnificent 50 m high limestone cliff – the Hanging
Rock. The limestone from which the cliffs are formed was created around 340 million years
ago during the lower Carboniferous geological period, when Ireland lay close to the
equator. Located on the edge of a supercontinent, where sea-levels were higher, the area
that we now call Ireland was covered by a shallow tropical sea. The limestones formed by
the accumulation of lime-mud on the bottom of this ancient sea floor and from the remains of dead sea creatures that would have thrived in these waters. Limestone formation is a very slow process; layers and layers of limey deposits build up on the ocean floor and are
compacted by the weight of the water over millions of years. Closer inspection of the
limestone will reveal, fossils (typically bones or shells) of creatures that lived in this ancient
tropical sea. This specific type of limestone is known as Dartry limestone.

Interestingly, two stream risings lay at the base of the cliff, known as the Hanging Rock Risings. One of the risings is constantly active, while the other dries up during times of low rainfall. The risings are traced to only one source, Legacapple on the Marlbank above, but the water is believed to combine from a number of other sources.

Yew and juniper cling to its face. At the bottom of the cliff is one of the finest ash woodlands
in Northern Ireland. It is believed that the great variety of lichens found here indicate
woodland cover since ancient times. An area was clear felled in the early 1940s and has
now grown back naturally.

To the west, in Rossaa Wood, oak, beech, great willow and elm have grown to full maturity
and shelter a rich variety of plants. There are slopes covered in grasses amongst which
grows the colourful Welsh poppy. toothwort, a parasitic plant, lives on the roots of hazel and
elm. It looks unusual as it is totally white and stands out against the mosses on the damp
woodland floor. Red squirrels can occasionally be seen in the woodland while the elusive
pine marten has been sighted in recent years.

Local legend says that a rock dislodged from the cliff and fell onto a local salt trader taking
shelter from a storm. This rock became known as the Salter’s Stone or Cloghoge and sits
prominently at the road side to the east of the reserve.

Martina O’Neill, MACGeopark Development Officer, Partnership & Engagement

A geoheritage poem based on Hanging Rock can tap into many of the elements of this MACGeopark site. First, there is the distinctive profile.

Image by Joan Shannon

The other components are wind and water, the fossil record in the limestone and.in the many tree species. Yew and juniper are considered some of the ‘first trees’ to have emerged after the Ice Age Melt. Indeed, at Florence Court House and Grounds, a National Trust site further down the road, there is a yew that is referred to as ‘The Mother Yew’ of Ireland, as they have the oldest representative of the species Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’. This is ancient landscape on so many levels.

You still have time to submit a poem to put this site onto our digital Geopark Poetry Map. Your poem may be represented alongside the commissioned work of five poets from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. If you want to submit a poem in Irish that would be very welcome, but please include the English translation alongside it. If you would like full guidelines please email GeoparkPoetryMap@gmail.com. The closing date is 15th June 2021.

Geopark Poetry Map Prompt 2

Hello earth lovers everywhere! While curating the #MACGeopark Poetry Map digital project I realised that we have some international interest. For the next fortnight I will be publishing little Geopark Poetry Map Poetry Prompts to help you compose your geoheritage themed poem on one of the sites to put on our digital map.

Here in Ireland we have only just had travel restrictions to move around outside of one’s own country lifted last Monday. So the Geopark staff and I decided we would extend the closing date for submissions since even in Ireland there were only a small percentage of the population that could visit sites. Certainly, those two nearest to my home – Shannon Pot and Cavan Burren Park – were outside my 5km range all winter and I live in a Geopark community.

Poetry is all about connection, often making a surprising Venn diagram between two disparate subjects or objects. While yesterday’s geoheritage poetry prompt offered you images of rock art and megaliths in Cavan Burren Park, today we visit the wet ash woodland of Claddagh Glen.

Claddagh River, Florencecourt, Co. Fermanagh

And, since the sea is about an hour away from us, if I need some positive ions to wash away any angst this is my choice of where to go to ‘shower my head’ (shar yer hay-ed in Armagh parlance) – blow away the cobwebs and any cares.

I think you will agree – Power Shower Head at the Claddagh Glen Cascade Falls!

Poets have always used images – paintings, photos, visual art of all kinds – as poetry prompts. So I will include some photos of walks I have taken in Claddagh Glen over the years marvelling at what water and wind and time create.

I will leave you with a poem I wrote in July 2014 when I guided an American woman and her two children on a Day Out to Geopark sites. One my most vivid memories of that day is standing by the Claddagh River with Bergen as we witnessed a heron swoop down and pass us as it flew up the river course.

What Meredith, Tina, Bergen, Gretchen and I Saw One July Day

The ever shifting light, cloud, weather, shadow
The peat in bags, the drumlins, loughs reflecting light
The rock, the trees, the falling water stained by peat
The well, it's holy water, the cave carved from the rock
The moss dressed trees, bubbles from the well
The feathers, song thrush, surprise of heron swoop through Glen
Heart pebble and river rock with white feather
Water trickling, mizzling, flowing, cascading, the heart
The Pot, the source, the memory, the flowing back, trickling

Bee Smith © 2014

If you are unsure of what geoheritage is read the blog I published last week. https://sojourningsmith.blog/2021/05/11/what-is-geoheritage/.

You can email GeoparkPoetryMap@gmail.com for full submission guidelines and receive lots of research that the Geopark staff have prepared to help you write your poem.Closing Date is 15th June 2021.

Mapping a (Part of the) Geopark this Poetry Day Ireland

Today is Poetry Day Ireland and the 2021 theme is New Directions: Maps and Journeys. I love those synchronicities where the Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark Poetry Map project intersects so neatly with the 2021. theme. Obviously, there is something in the zeitgeist wants those themes highlighted. The pandemic has had all of us recalibrating our internal True North. There is about as much anxiety about ‘re-entry’ post-vaccine as there was in Lockdowns 1,2, and 3. While, as one reader of this blog has observed, the illness has divided so many in terms of approach to isolation, masking and vaccinating, we have also been challenged to connect, to stay together by remaining apart.

Poetry, at least in my mind, is all about the connections and innovating to make disparate dots meet. Poets have long been inspired not just by visual artists, but by science. Poets however, as Emily Dickinson would say, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” As curator of this project, I am eager to see how poets will look at so many of the sites in Fermanagh and Cavan and tell the truth of them – and their geoheritage – but slant.

The digital Geopark Poetry Map was born out of a need for a Plan B when the Artist Development Award from Cavan Arts Office project was completely impossible under lockdown. Plan A was to work in schools the week of 2020’s Poetry Day Ireland. The schools were closed. The light bulb went off in my brain one day. I had the vision, and the Geopark staff loved the idea. But we needed more money than my award. Enter Geological Survey Ireland’s Geoheritage Fund who were keen on the project, which includes commissioned work from established writers, as well as new and emerging poets and schoolchildren.

All the poems must include an element of geoheritage which is defined by Geological Survey Ireland as “encompassing features of geology that are intrinsically important sites or culturally important sites offering information or insights into the evolution of the Earth; or into the history of science, or that can be used for research, teaching, or reference.” The rocks and the earth sciences have been in synergy with this region’s inhabitants for millenia- humans, flora and fauna. It is all part of the spiorad áite, or spirit of the place.

The Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark has this special designation because both natural and built heritage are of international importance. Ireland is an island that has a vein of literature, that runs to the very marrow of the culture. It’s the right time to celebrate the heritage literally under our feet with this digital map during a time when our movements are circumscribed but our imagination can remain wide open.

For this Poetry Day Ireland I set myself the task of writing a geoheritage poem that is set in the Geopark. While I have left particular sites open to the new and emerging poets who would wish to submit contributions to the Geopark Poetry Map, I chose to write a poem about one of the distinctive features of the geopark – ribbed moraines. Indeed, Ireland has the largest ribbed moraine field on the planet. It’s just you cannot see it, except aerially.

A map of Cavan’s drumlin country
The Hindmarsh Theory of Instability
In Ribbed Moraines

The world is made of caprice and chaos.
Or so it may seem.
Even as the land quakes and is sliding
avalanches, sacred geometry
spirals around ice,
its melt, clay and rock.
Though you might not see.
Though the evidence is there at your feet.

Boulder and clay fractured by ice slide.
Dragged like Jayne Torville
in the grand finale to Bolero,
Dean pulling them prone,
their skates scarring tracks across the surface.
Parallel ripples 
evidence of creation’s  mammoth feat.

Minibus bouncing down a Cavan lane,
a verdant hummock,
suggestion of the ribs in the moraine.
More like lazy beds
built for Giants’ appetites in times
before potatoes
would be a feed in a fulacht fia.

A lough pocked land where little rivers run
between, twisting,
gnarled like the antlers of the Giant Elk
dropped off at the end
of its last rutting season. Extinction.
Fossil memory.
The sacred geometry in chaos.

The buzzard flying high above can see
the lines that ripple,
running down ancient Grandmother Earth’s cheeks.
The buzzard can see
more than we who have all the evidence
there beneath our feet.
Caprice. Chaos. Sacred geometry.

Copyright © Bee Smith, 2021. All rights reserved.

Have a wonderful Poetry Day Ireland. And I hope to see many submissions to the MAC Geopark Poetry Map in the coming weeks. The deadline for submissions is 31st May 2021.

Geopark Poetry Map

NaPoWriMo 2021 Day 5

Just when I said I would not be frequently posting during NaPoWriMo 2021, I contradict myself. Partly because I was awake earlier and felt rarin’ for a poetry prompt. Also, one of the examples for today’s prompt is entitled “Pennsylvania.” Since I was reared in that state I felt that I needed to rise to the occasion. Also, the prompt kind of irritated me. I resisted it. And then I riffed …But you may want to refer to Natalie Shapero’s poem “Pennsylvania” to see what I did with it. The inner light referenced in Shapero’s poem was a phrase popular with Quakers, who founded the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. My reference is less oblique.

This prompt challenges you to find a poem, and then write a new poem that has the shape of the original, and in which every line starts with the first letter of the corresponding line in the original poem. If I used Roethke’s poem as my model, for example, the first line would start with “I,” the second line with “W,” and the third line with “A.” And I would try to make all my lines neither super-short nor overlong, but have about ten syllables. I would also have my poem take the form of four, seven-line stanzas. I have found this prompt particularly inspiring when I use a base poem that mixes long and short lines, or stanzas of different lengths. Any poem will do as a jumping-off point, but if you’re having trouble finding one, perhaps you might consider Mary Szybist’s “We Think We Do Not Have Medieval Eyes” or for something shorter, Natalie Shapero’s “Pennsylvania.”

NaPoWriMo.net, Day 5 2021
The State of Utopia

Other children knew church, factories,
coal mines, farms, strip malls and Dairy Queen.

I knew confusion.

I thought God was transcendent, not
confined within buildings and rites.

In school, it was mentioned our state was
William Penn's "Holy Experiment."

There's such a thing?!

There were reams and screeds written
throughout the 19th century -

obsolete schemes for a better world -
best for love and kindness.

Evangelised. Despised.

Anywhere a chancel light glows
within dreams green utopia.

One of the reasons for not posting as often is that even re-worked posts are not eligible for submitting to publications or competitions. One NaPoWriMo poet I follow erases part of the work after a few days. This feels like a lot of admin. But some I will hold back for future reference elsewhere. Such is my rationale in 2021. But then again, I may contradict myself!

The featured image of the Susquehanna River is Photo by USGS on Unsplash.

NaPoWriMo 2021, Day 4

I have been faithfully writing a poem a day this year, even if it is just a haiku or senryu in my bedside journal. For NaPoWriMo 2021 I am not being slavish about posting every single day. For instance, the past three days have been warm and sunny in my part of Ireland. When you live in the country you work with the weather. I despatched nine loads of laundry to line dry, and then launched into some house and garden paint projects to freshen us up. Keeping active and creative is good for our mental health, especially this winter of Lockdown. Changing the hobby creative activity itself can reinvigourate your writing. So that is what I did for the first few days of NaPoWriMo, working away in the sunshine by day and writing last thing at night in my notebook.

I congratulate those poet FBF who have been faithfully posting on their page daily. But this year I have decided to be flexible in terms of daily posts. I have my hands fairly full with managing the Geopark Poetry Map project. Also, I am mindful that I need to pace myself given the toll of Lockdown Fatigue. Last week, I was fortunate to have a Zoom workshop for Cavan Creative types with Miffy Hoad of Mental Health Ireland. I have been working hard on keeping my five pillars of mental health upright this past year: Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning and Give. I need to do some work on Take Notice. Which I am doing. Pace, pace, pace. As Cristina Baldwin writes: “Go at the pace of guidance.”

I loved the NaPoWriMo Day 3activity of creating a personal universal deck as a writing tool. I will get round to it this week, but must check my card stock stash first. It strikes me as a really useful tool for prompts that I will pass on to my students.

But now for the Day 4 2021 NaPoWriMo prompt:

Poetry often takes us to strange places – to feelings and actions that are hard to express except through the medium of a poem. To the “liminal,” in other words – a place or sensation that exists at or on both sides of a boundary or threshold, neither one thing or the other, but something betwixt and between.

In honor of the always-becoming nature of poetry, I challenge you today to select a photograph from the perpetually disconcerting @SpaceLiminalBot, and write a poem inspired by one of these odd, in-transition spaces

NaPoWriMo.net, Day 4, 2021
@SpaceLiminalBot
Closed For Renovations

One is never so derelict as to become
transfigured - no project ever too arduous,
or mountain high to climb. We have plans for glory!
From ruin, the decrepit wreckage that is
hollow shell, many storied splintered timber
becomes the body of a dream. Before what is...What
shall transition from a slippery becoming
into solid being? For time, lubricious
quantity that it is, even tenses overlap.
What is past ruin? Where is current plan? Future
can be both perfect and imperfect, the fairy
that grants wishes and mischief. We are, for now,
closed. In need of refreshment and refurbishment
before we open fully to all the glory.

Have a restful and safe Easter holiday weekend.

Grit, Resilience and Gratitude

Happy Thanksgiving. I don’t have turkey for dinner here in Ireland, but I am making my own version of Hoppin’ John. I also baked a sweet potato pie. While all my blood relatives are in the States I did manage to have a socially distanced meet up with my Irish friends who are family in the Carrick on Shannon Farmer’s Market today. We needed to see each other’s faces after a couple months of only having phone and message contact. So I am grateful to all those people patiently queuing six feet apart and wearing masks outdoors unless they were sipping a coffee to keep the chill out of our bones. The bangharda (woman police officer) really had very little to do other than be a discreetly watchful presence on the sidelines.

And isn’t it strange how you can still recognise people even when they are masked? Maybe it is mostly voice recognition, but I did correctly identify someone who I have not bumped into for years! And he spotted me, though my husband thinks the accent and voice volume probably announces my presence.

Peter and I counted ourselves to be blessed to live in the part of Ireland with the lowest infection rate and with people who have kept with the programme. We also are blessed to live in a beautiful part of the country with plenty of nature for exercise within 5 km of our home. Having a rural setting and low population density is no guarantee of low infection rate, so thank you all you vigilant residents of West Cavan and Leitrim.

I am also very grateful to the band of Word Alchemists who have Zoomed twice weekly, many since September. They have provided me with social engagement, intellectual stimulation, and a little bit of income. I am also grateful to all those who have subscribed to my December e-course A Light in the Window:  A 21 Day Journey Together Through December’s Dark Days.

Another thank you needs to go out to Cavan Arts Office. They have been running Zoom workshops to support artist’s spirits during Covid 19. Lots of our projects have had to be cancelled or re-configured. I attended one facilitated by Louise Gartland of Artonomy on Grit and Resilience. This pandemic has had us dig deep to discover what qualities of endurance we have to call on. We also looked at how we can nurture our resilience, to get up when we are down. Just this week I have been able to see the truth in challenges being opportunities. I had a 2020 Artist Development Award project for work in schools. Well, the virus and no vaccine put paid to that plan. But I came up with another idea, partnered with another organisation I am connected to, and we found out yesterday that we got the €6,000 grant of a project I will curate. It is far more ambitious than my original plan and its scope is wider. So, thanks for the challenges that turn out to be fun opportunities. More news about that later.

Fortitude was not a word that came up on the Zoom whiteboard when we talked about resilience and grit, but in hindsight I think it should have been there. Here is a revised poem originally posted on Thanksgiving 2018.

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,
the getting safely passed over,
all of you inside me 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 is able to forgive,
the memory that will never forget,
and – most of all – you own will to live.
 
Copyright © Bee Smith 2020

Even if you are eating a turkey club sandwich in your pjs, you are not alone. We are all connected somehow and someway. We can thrive even in seclusion.

May you feel all your blessings in your very marrow today and everyday.