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

Nine Months of the Poetry Daily

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.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.




Peace sculpture at Cavan County Museum
Peace Sculpture at cavan County Museum

Making It

Today’s spark for poetry practice is another kind of exhibition. Over the spring I have been working in the classroom on a Cruinniú na nÓg (young one’s creativity) project . It culminates in a showcase at Dowra Courthouse this Saturday when the kids get to show off their writing and we get to hear recordings of some of their work, as well as interviews about the process. Which leads directly to the exhibit, also at Dowra Courthouse, by artist Maria Bagnoli, on Making. It was a project   exploring an artist in place, but much of it was a meditation on the creative process. Part of the exhibition’s aimwas to  incorporate   representations of the activities going on in the building – jewellery repair, pottery, dress-making, yoga, creative writing classes. At the opening Maria invited me to read my poem “Dancing with the Dressmaker’s Dummy”, which expressed the writing happening there in a poem echoing the main elements of the exhibition. 



Making It

Make.  Formulate.   Create.

Light a fire.

Arrange a bed.

Beget.

Perpetrate a crime.

Enunciate your speech.

Originate.

Bully and browbeat.

Calculate your sums.

Snatch the last

bus, train, plane

to escape.

Bob and feint.

Win a trick

or score a century.

Mark your brand.

Shout out your style.

You’re making it.

Both cause

and effect.

Copyright 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved. 

Feng Shui the Poetry

feng shui poetry

Hi! My name is Bee. And I am messy.

I know all about the theory of feng shui. It really appeals to me philosophically. It’s just – I’m messy. Or lazy. Or more interested in reading.Or writing poetry. Or cooking. Than cleaning and sorting out stuff. There is more living to be had.

Until one day even I can no longer stand the chaos. I hit another wall with poetry practice this morning. I was up before dawn and I just was not feeling it. I just felt achey from eleven weeks of it. But I kept pushing the pen and then realised that afterwards, I need to start clearing up the rubble that has accumulated while I have been doing other stuff.  I have a friend coming over. I will do a mea culpa about the mess. Fortunately, I am secure in her love and non-judgement. Yeah, I’ve been busy. But so is everyone else.

Anyway, this was what finally emerged after I started pushing the pen across the notebook’s surface.


Feng Shui the Poetry

I am a heaps and piles kind of gal
and was a heaps and pile kind of kid.
It was my mother’s frequent plaint –
to clear the bureau top, to dust its patina.
 
So I have been having this urge recently,
to purge all the house’s cupboards and drawers,
to do a proper inventory of everything in stock –
foodstuffs, craft materials , old crocks.
 
I need to organise this almighty jumble –
maybe even invest in some labels-
instead of being a rummage sale poet
who is burrowing through heaps and piles.
 
I feel like I am living in a rummage sale
happening in some church’s basement.
I can’t see wood from tree let alone patina.
Maybe I need to be like those forestry guys.
 
The one’s across the lane culling the plantation.
They are stacking timber at 8pm
following a klieg light and revving their engines,
clearing at dawn and organising in darkness.
 
So maybe I should feng shui the poetry
and start by collecting my three sacks –
the one for keeping, the one for rubbishing,
the ones worth re-cycling to the charity shop.
 
But first I have a lot of heaps and piles
and too many over-stuffed drawers.
I’ll tackle them now before Christmas
and start anew with immaculate conceptions.
 
Copyright © Bee Smith 2018

Featured image Photo by John Weinhardt on Unsplash

Cento on Hope

For today’s poetry practice I thought I would be a bit lazy. Except it turns out that what I picked is not as easy as I thought it would be. I was researching new poetry forms to give a whirl and the cento appealed. Poets. org set out the guidelines for a cento here. They call it a patchwork poem, which does have alliteration. But I kind of feel it is a Mash Up. My own attempt does not use complete lines from a poet in every line. Some only use a fragment, or, in one instance, literally mash up two in a single line.

In view of my gratitude brief for November in terms of subject I feel today’s poetry practice celebrates my thanks to the lineage of poets stretching back into antiquity. The subject, Hope, may reflect what some are feeling today.

 

Hope Mash up

 

I stood out in the open cold.

The dark, too, blooms and sings.

We all approach the edge of the same blackness.

 

When the world falls in around you,

the sun rises in spite of everything.

A joy, a depression, a meanness…

 

When the worst thing happens

Time flies, hope flags, life plies a wearied way.

You see behind every face the mental emptiness.

 

Hope is the hardest love to carry.

The thing with feathers doesn’t need anything

from my old bitterness.

 

And just for those who are interested in knowing which poets got picked for the patchwork poem, this is the line by line reference.xds  p

 

Richard Eberhart

Wendell Berry

Elaine Feinstein

 

Naomi Shihab Nye

Derek Mahon

Rumi

 

U.A. Fanthorpe

Christina Rosetti

T.S. Eliot

 

Jane Hirshfield

Emily Dickinson/Naomi Shihab Nye

Antoniio Machado

Letting the Wolf In

Okay. I may have to channel more Allen Ginsberg today. For the one day, which I hope I live to see, when the women of the world inherit the earth. That going high actually wins the day. Because it is never a good thing to let a wolf into your house. Because, as the song says :

When the wolf gets in your house, you can’t get him out.

Letting the Wolf In

Everyone knows the one
of the one in three. Or is it one in four?
Or more?
But everyone knows her, that one,
the sister friend daughter wife.
We know the why
of whether or not she did not
report.
For fear of
More humiliation,
degradation,
blame.

The shame.
Even if you managed to dodge
that particular bullet-
pushing him off,
not being too drunk or stoned,
or tired and emotional
(because the wolf smells that).

Every woman has seen
That Look –
red-faced roaring,
the mean drunk squint,
the huffing and puffing
that will blow your House down,
big toothed laughing at your door

that it was a joke,
he was teased,
led on,
innocent as an unabused altar boy.

Everyone of us
Has met him sometime, somewhere-
at the Beer Bash,
or dorm party,
in a dark parking lot,

in your own home
where the wolf
has been let in
the House.

Copyright 2018 Bee Smith

 

Poetry, PoeTree & Culture Night

A busy couple of days without the leisure to polish a lengthy poem for poetry practice. Tonight is Ireland’s Culture Night and up and down the country there will be events celebrating every kind of art form. Tonight I will perform some poems at Dowra Courthouse Creative Space, a repurposed redundant rural courthouse that is now an exhibition, performance and meeting space. It kicks off at 4:30pm with a pottery class by local ceramics teacher Jim Fee. (The courthouse even has a kiln to finish off the production!). From 7:30pm there will be a procession of performers starting with estimable Mike Absolem and his harp. My husband, Tony Cuckson and I share a storytelling and poetry slot at 8pm. Musicians and singer/songwriters will entertain until 10:30pm.

From poetry to PoeTree on Saturday with another of my outdoor writing workshops. This one is free courtesy of funding from Create Ireland and Cavan County Council. The walk and workshop will concentrate on haiku as both poetry form and a mindfulness practice. Cavan Burren Park, Blacklion is my favourite venue and never fails to offer fresh inspiration on every visit. Meet me at the Visitor Centre at 2pm for a stroll with a pen and notebook. Be prepared for some stop and stare time. If you want more information ring me on ++353-71-964-3936.

So writing practice for today demands exercising the haiku muscle. Also, it is brief. So it. An ideal form for the time famished writer. Okay, breathe in. Breathe out…and

It can be done in seventeen syllables. Or less. It can be less.

The storm stripped the willows

The gaps between trees

Lets new light in