It started on 15th September 2018. I have been writing and posting a poem a day for nine months. I reckon it takes longer to make a book than a baby.
Later this morning I will be showcasing the written work done by nine 9-12 year olds who attend a two room-two teacher school at Curravagh in the West Cavan uplands. Funded by Cruinniú na nÓg (Creativity for Youth) programme I was able to spend sixteen classroom hours with them developing story – from the purely imaginative to writing a first person narrative of a real person or historical character they had to research. There is a small exhibition of their work and a recording of them reading some of the finished product happening at Dowra Courthouse Creative Space today at noon.
For inspiration for today’s poetry practice I look back on the week and an expedition with those children and the 5th and 6th classes from Blacklion’s national school. We had a field trip connected with another project I am collaborating on with a local ceramic artist, Jim Fee. We went to the Cavan County Museum in Ballyjamesduff. There is an outdoor exhibition that recreates a trench system from the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
The epigraph that sparks today’s poem is from Plato. Someone quoted it on Twitter. (Yes, truly!)
Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history. – Plato
History as Poetry
The latrine was used by thousands. It was a hole in the ground. Barely yards away. As close as the enemy. When it rained it overflowed. It ran into the trenches where soldiers crouched in stench, heads bowed to avoid the sniper's reach.
The nurses in Casualty Clearing were as close to the enemy as any man. With less say. They had no vote, but died for King and country, mopped up blood, closed eyes of dead men - mostly young. One was aged twelve. One was aged sixty-seven.
Victory tastes of vinegar and gall. Few are spared, less saved. It stinks of old men's money, the rattle in the bag of guineas gold swapped for a load of sabres.
Watch the children pause at the peace sculpture, doves rising like the wheel of fortune from the blasted bog oak tree. Rising as the water falls from figures weeping on their knees.
The Poetry Daily today owes gratitude to Traci York (http://www.traciyork.com) for striking the flint in the tinderbox of my imagination this morning. Her Throwback Thursday blog showed scanned old family photos. That was the nudge I needed to start the poetry practice. Thanks, Traci! And while her digital photo share has captions the montage below was deliberately left uncaptioned. My own family’s photos lived in several boxes on my mother’s closet shelf. The daughter of a studio photographer and granddaughter of an Atlantic City Boardwalk photographer in the first decade of the 20th century, she treasured every print that came her way. The family archive is now with my sister.
It's not the same looking at an album or the curated and framed photographs, those serried ranks of winsome cherubim, ancestral narrative choreographed. It's a self-conscious display, the public faces, a crafted story lines the hall. Like photo stills. Almost cinematic, starring roles in someone's life after all.
Here is the shoebox full of random snaps. The Kodachrome prints mixed up with old ones taken with the Box Brownie overlap - uniformed poses of war veterans, early 20th century studio portraits of grandparents when they were beaus. Boxed up, they spend an afterlife all muddled, affections, separations - take your pick. Stories dismantled without subtitles. We perservere to record - click! click! click! Once we were happy and all in accord. Here is the memory to keep us moored.
At some point during my sleep I briefly woke with the day’s poem all neatly configured. But I didn’t sit up and write it down then and there. So the poem was a dream. The dream was a poem…or poetry writing. It drifted back into morpheus.
I have a demanding ten days ahead. So today is my day of rest. I need reading. I am being fed by friends. But I crave a deluxe Sunday breakfast first. So I am keeping poetry practice short and sweet. Also, I am saluting the latest accessory to help me move through the next ten days. You know how there are shoe women or handbag women? Well, now you know which one I am.
I used the tanka for a writing exercise on trees with the school group on Friday. It has been awhile since I turned my pen to writing one. So for this restful Sunday the Poetry Daily gives you a tanka on a handbag. My new one is the colour of Colman’s English mustard. I was calling to me like a siren from high up a shelf in the shop. It has mock tortoiseshell handles. I am completely infatuated.
It’s my day of rest. I am feeling a bit frivolous.
The tanka is essentially a haiku or senryu followed by a couplet of seven syllables each. Like haiku there is no rhyme.
I carry sunshine zipped up inside my handbag along with these things - hairbrush, hankies, compass, pen, pebble stones. Forget lipstick.
Living fairly far north, our day light is long at this time of year. Of course, cloudy conditions can curtail some of the light show, but as we rapidly approach summer solstice, the daylight has crept into the night time hours. Twilight is very long. With the moon waxing and set to be full on the 17th, we barely experience full darkness for very long each night. If you live in a populated area with street lighting you won’t have had the sensual pleasure of the summer solstice’s soft light show where you can see your way down a lane at midnight without the benefit of using a torch or flashlight. (Of course, the midges here might eat you alive on such a night time dander.) Daylight is long at this time of year. Of course, cloudy conditions can curtail some of the light show, but as we rapidly approach summer solstice, the daylight has crept well into the midnight hours and beyond. A friend was still awake at 2:30am the other night and marvelled as the sun began to creep over the yardarm at 3am. Twilight stretches into and becomes our night. With the moon waxing and set to be full on the 17th, we barely experience full darkness for very long each night. If you live in a populated area with street lighting you won’t have had the sensual pleasure of the summer solstice’s soft light show where you can see your way down a lane at midnight without the benefit of using a torch or flashlight. (Of course, the midges here might eat you alive on such a night time dander.)
Poetry practice today is in praise of this seasonal twilight zone. The title, day for night, is a cinematography term use to film night time scenes during daytime (sometimes because of budgetary and schedule constraints rather than artistic reasons). Francois Truffaut even had a 1973 film titled Day for Night, a film about film making which in French was called la nuit américaine (translating as the American Night.) At any rate, the long days and backlit nights of summer solstice feature in the Poetry Daily today.
Day for Night
The long hours of twilight, their chiaroscuro painting our world as if filmed in black and white, shot as day for night.
We negotiate the familiar lines and shapes in our landscape bleached out by moonlight backlit by a sun barely slipped below the horizon. A hare shoots across our path, a darting silhouette. Pulses start, rise and recede after a moment.
In this solstice season of light sleep and restless dreams that come in fragments, jagged pieces of shadow their half-light infiltrating the long hours of the long light of the night in this solstice season of twilight.
Oh, yeah! Books are the best friends when the world is just too people-y. The real BFFS, since words on paper survive even the most awesome of authors. Even when not reading,it can be very soothing just spending time in their company. Every once and a while I have a major tidy up of bookshelves. Not just a feather duster sweep. The major vacuum cleaner and haul the book case away from the wall to really get all the dust out sweep. That kind of tidy up happened with one bookcase yesterday. This is partly as a way for me to figure out how to rationalise the book storage problem in a small house with two avid readers. We do have regular culls and give to the charity shops- usually popular fiction in the crime/mystery genre. (It’s cause Nancy Drew was my first BFF.) But even so, we need more book storage space. We are going to be given a small one, but as I was double stacking books yesterday I began to dream of another six footer for my writing room. So the Poetry Daily celebrates my besties – books! And if you pooh-pooh the power of books – and poetry – then consider the testimonials by people like Jeanette Winterson who credit them with saving their life at some stage. In that double stack, behind the current poetry volumes by Mary Oliver (who was also saved by reading books) are some of my own childhood.lifelines.
Walk right in! Behold! A world cupped in my hands.
By the power of imagination, an alternate, new universe, an abode bricked and mortared. Words by the author. Music played out in reader's brain.
Transmission between two covers our own virtual reality for an evening or an hour.
I am not feeling exactly on my game this morning. Either I have really bad hayfever, or I have a cold. This past week I guided local school children on a walk on the Cavan Burren. We are fortunate to walk on land that has been continuously, but gently, occupied for as long as humans have lived in Ireland. Most of these school children come from families with centuries long roots in this place that is very much on the map in the myths told about the first peoples of ancient Ireland.
I was pointing out how rocks and trees were the big story of this place. It is thought that high chieftains were inaugurated under a tree sacred to their clan. But we also have the inaugural stone for Clan Maguire not far from us. The Tuatha dé Danaan are said to have landed first on Slieve Anieran, which is twenty miles or less from them, just over the boundary in Leitrim. The goddess Danu is said to have married Bile, the old Irish word for tree. The school group in Glangevlin lives close to the Belavalley Gap, where the Tuatha’s smith forged their magical weapons. And then, because I have atrocious Irish pronunciation there was a brief discussion between the teacher and children about the word tuatha. Most often it is translated as the people, or tribe, or the children of Danu. But it also has a further nuance, which carries with it the sense of it being the place, or land, of Danu.
Which hit me like a big chunk of sedementary rock off of one of those glacial erratics in Cavan Burren Forest. Which also has its fair share of rock art cup and ring marks.
Whether it is the weather, or post-menopausal insomnia, or whatever, my mind is still awake long after I am usually asleep. I am not going to try and second guess my body and will just roll with the energy and do my poetry practice in the early hours of the new day. It still counts. Write a poem a day within the twenty-four hour clock of the time zone I am living in. Partially, I think my wakefulness is due to a telephone conversation last evening after supper with a dear friend, which was a rather deep analysis of how institutions fail and how humans are too frail to live with uncertainty. So they do stuff – often ill considered things, too – to fill the vacuum of their anxiety and insecurity. (Brexit. Building walls. Shopping compulsively. Self-medicating.) And then we turned to the the subject of the will of God – or, if that sort of language disconcerts you – the will of some higher consciousness that has a wider canvas than one’s own little ego. And how for religious people, keeping faith while waiting to discern the will of of this higher consciousness is a test of courage as much as it is of patience.
Which led me on to the 21st century phenomenum of FOMO, or fear of missing out, if you have not come across this in cyber space. We may think of it as unique to the digital age, when everything is terribly fast and instant messages flash across wireless connections. (Like magic, they even call it ethernet!) However, upon reflection, it probably has been with us much longer since patterns repeat in nature and human behaviour is also subject to patterns. It has just been rebranded, an adaptation overlaid onto that impulse or sense of urgency that drives one to say yes to everything to fill a vacuum. Most often of insecurity or an inability to just sit quietly with uncertainty.
It is with relief and some elation, that sense of freedom to pass up events, to allow them to go on without you. There is no need for rush or panic - a polite 'No, thank you' to any or all invitations is sufficient for remedying social anxiety of one sort - the terror of missing out.
Nothing is ever so important. You can check your ego with your coat and hat, never going back to show your claim check. Stillness is a thrill. How else can you hear the throb of your own pulse or heartbeat? It will do without the juddering skips when gripped by fear. And then, somehow, the world grows larger for saying 'No.' It sounds odd, I know, but I swear it is so. Lighter. Freer. Or maybe the way towards joy. Being able to slide into the sleek, silky garment of one's own skin and know that this is enough. It fits. Nothing missing.