Happy UNESCO World Poetry Day

Cuilcagh Mountain

Each year March 21st rolls around. Some years, like 2021, it is also the spring equinox (or equilux as I like to think of it as we bask in lengthening daylight). But it is always UNESCO World Poetry Day. And, if you are not already familiar with it, UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. After UNICEF, it is probably the most high profile of the United Nation’s work, other than sending in military peace keeping missions in hotspots around the globe. UNESCO World Poetry Day is also a landmark in my own life as I launch an exciting poetry project that I am curating. But first, let’s have a little digression as I unpack the acronym and it’s context.

UNESCO covers, broadly, what is our world heritage. That is why Skellig Michael, Newgrange and the Giant’s Causeway and Coast have earned the UNESCO World Heritage site moniker. The science bit covers the land we live on – the rocks, the waterways, the weather that sculpts the land over time – in an ice age or in a weekend when a fierce storm blows through. The land pretty much dictates our culture as we adapt to our habitat and create art and customs informed by our geographical location. Education is how we transmit both heritage, scientific knowledge and culture.

The Shannon Pot where the Shannon Rivers emerges from underground is a Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark site

The United Nations was always in my consciousness from an early age. When we lived in Queens, there was a United Nations Village beside my sister’s and eldest brother’s primary School, St. Nicholas of Tollentine. So they had classmates of children whose parents were working at the UN. The actual building where those parents worked was across the East River and opened in 1952. I went on a tour of the building in 1963 when it still was spanking new and very modern. What lives in my memory is a mural that was very abstract. I asked the tour guide what did it mean. I earned indulgent chuckles from the audience. Little children often ask the questions that the adults think, but also reckon will make them look unsophisticated.

Which brings me to another UNESCO designation that is close to my heart and where I make my home. I live within the demesne of the Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark. It is a global geopark because it straddles an international boundary; Fermanagh is in the UK’s Northern Ireland and Cavan is in the Republic of Ireland. It was the first cross-border global geopark on the planet. That it was created in the wake of the Good Friday Belfast Treaty in 1998 is a cultural monument to co-operation after over thirty years of civil strife. The geology of this area has huge international significance and the artefacts from the previous millenia tell the story of how our human inhabitants developed their culture.

A glacial erratic in Cavan Burren Park called Fionn’s Fist is an example where geology meets mythological tale

What better way to transmit that heritage then with poetry? The first dwellers probably sang songs of successful hunts, lamented loved ones who passed, celebrated births and the seasons’ passing. Those first stories will have changed over time as each age changed the tune and timing, but the great themes are eternal and connect those of us living today with our mitochondrial mothers. Science helps us excavate new facts and amazing discoveries where we can alter our view about how this living organism -Earth – lives, breaths and shape shifts. Poetry transmits how we interlink with other living organisms. The work of poetry is to make connections.

SHakeholeCladdaghGlen
Shakehole Claddagh Glen

Which brings me to the perfect marriage of my biophilia and poetry. Today, we launch a digital project with Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark where we will be mapping the geopark poem by poem. Five established poets have been commissioned to create new work on the geoheritage of sites across the geopark. I will be curating the project and reaching out to new and emerging poets asking them for their own contributions. Twelve of those poets will also feature on the Geopark’s digital poetry map. As schools reopen I will be doing outreach with the 9-12 year olds who have visited geopark sites where they live for contributions.

The project has been funded by the Geological Survey of Ireland’s Geoheritage Fund. Cavan Arts Office is funding my work as curator of the project through an Artist Development Award. We are also grateful for Cavan’s Ramor Theatre contributing professional actors to recite the work and to record sound files.

Ultimately, the Geopark Poetry Map will be on the Marble Arch Cave UNESCO Global Geopark website. later in 2021. You will be able to click onto the digital map and read the poem off the screen and click on the sound file and hear it in your ear. Poetry is both a visual and aural experience. The Geopark Poetry Map is a vehicle for doing outreach from a safe distance in these pandemic times.

I live in what feels like a miraculous landscape. My hope is that the poems will educate, entertain and inspire the public to cherish this precious place where I have been graced to live these past twenty years.

If you would like to know more about the Geopark Poetry Map, how to submit a poem for consideration, or to just get more background information about some of the seventy sites around Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark, please email

GeoparkPoetryMap@gmail.com

I look forward to reading the poems that will celebrate the great geoheritage of this landscape.

Since this is a poetry blog I better finish with a poem. The poem is dedicated to Dr. Kirsten Lemon, who was the geologist who taught me and the other Cavan Geopark Ambassadors about the wonders of the earth beneath our feet back in 2011.

Iapetus
For Dr. Kirsten Lemon

The primordial soup
boiled over,
a neonising tsunami
overflowing,
making a subtropical hollow
ocean
over iron stained desert floor

Ebb and flow , 
sun up and down,
landmass creaks and groans.
Still - the magma goes.

The Cailleach never shrugged.
Not at all!
Nor she shirked. 
She bore the granite load,
lugging it, going heave-ho!
Playing pat-a-cake,
She mixed mud and stone,
taking the two and making one –

an island of halves,
bi-valved, being both, 
doing the double,
tied with her apron’s strings.

Running her giant’s thumb
down the seam
the Cailleach made her mark
with a spit and a lick.
She sealed its secret,
calling it a promise.

Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. By permission of the author.

World Poetry Day

March 21st is UNESCO World Poetry Day. Unsually, I try and guide a walk in the weekend closest to this day at one of the Marble Arch Geopark sites, since geoparks are also a UNESCO designation. This year is beginning to have lots of projects crammed into a finite diary. The closest I wll get to this is leading a workshop on poetry at the Dowra Courthouse Creative space this Sunday. We will meet from 11am to 2p, 24th March, in the restored courthouse that has become a creative space with workshops that includes a pottery kiln and jewelery making workshop. Dowra is a Geopark Community that straddles the Cavan and Leitrim county boundaries.

There are still a couple spaces available. All you need do is bring a lunchtime snack, a comfortable pen, and a notebook. Be open to experimentation, to writing truly appalling first drafts, and moving on to feeling the joy of the creative sap rising with springtime.

Meanwhile, here is a World Poetry Day bonus poem…on the state of poetry.

Poetry

It sits like the elephant
in the corner of the living room,
treated as irrelevant,
a difficult to quantify
its quantity or quality
as economic unit.

Tell me the weight and rate
of soul? If you feel that one exists
inside darkest nights, within great joy?
Then everyone wants to reach
for a poem.Or to grasp a pen
to pioneer that frontier
of their understanding
of what costs nothing
and contains a world.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Featured image
Photo by Trust "Tru" Katsande on Unsplash



Poetry Events in the Geopark

It is rare to mix poetry events with the great outdoors. Much less in March! Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark sites- the splendour of Claddagh Glen, Florencecourt, Co. Fermanagh, and Cavan Burren Park, Blacklion, County Cavan – offers two such unique outdoor poetry events. Irish Tree Week and World Poetry Day are the reasons we just have to go forth and create poetry.

But allow me to give you a personal preview on both events in this video.

haiku, MarbleArchCavesGlobalGeopark

Haiku and More, March in the Geopark

Despite the wind and snow, this weekend marked the beginning of Irish National Tree Week, which is actually ten days celebration of the great oxygenators of our biosphere. To do my bit, I am leading a unique Haiku Poetree Walk at a Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark site. So next Saturday, please join me and get hooked on the haiku habit at Claddagh Glen. We will meet at 11am, Saturday, March 10th for a two hour walking in the spirit of a traditional ginko. For full details and updates, click on the Facebook event link below:

Geopark Haiku PoeTree Walk

Haiku is an ancient Japanese poetry form – seventeen syllables, three lines, no rhyme. It takes nature as it’s great theme. In a Geopark, we have nature is a huge presence.

Haiku  Geopark

Just one word of caution. Haiku can become habit forming!

But in a good – even healthful – way.

The second event marks UNESCO World Poetry Day, which comes around every year on March 21st.  Geoparks are a UNESCO designation, so it seemed an ideal opporunity to marry two of my passions – Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark and poetry. On the St. Patrick’s Bank Holiday Monday, March 19th, I will be reading poems that take direct inspiration from Geopark sites at Cavan Burren Park.

“Earth Writing” is a compilation of poems inspired by the landscape of Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. Last summer I wrote here about the Cavan Arts/Creative Ireland project “Ancient and Wild”, which brought together artists from all kinds of disciplines to create work inspired by the Geopark’s distinctive landscape and heritage. If you look at other blogs listed under the ‘Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark’ category from last summer and autumn, you will see some of the sites we visited as a group. A day out included a visit to Cavan Burren Park and Claddagh Glen, two of my very favourite soul-stirring sites of the many magnificent ones dotted along the Fermanagh and Cavan boundary. For more information, click on the Facebook event link below:

World Poetry Day Cavan Burren Walk

Wrap up well! Fingerless gloves might be useful on the haiku writing walk. Homemade cake will be provided.

 

Celebrating

It’s UNESCO World Poetry Day. It seems fitting to post as much poetry on social media today of all days.  It also is keeping me at the task post-Arvon with writing and revising poems using the skills that Carola Luther passed on in our one-to-one mentoring session.  

 

Some people think poetry is an elitist activity. It’s not.  It’s about the soul seeking the form to express its longings.  Well, all art does that; poetry uses words and rhythm. When we only had the oral tradition they were songs.  Now we like to let the words sing and dance across a surface- page, screen, or even a wall.

 

Everyone needs poetry. We often turn to poetry during those liminal times of life to help us navigate and articulate transitions- birth, death, endings and beginnings.  Why else is Spring such a popular topic for poets?  It’s an annual beginning that goes on giving.

This poem was inspired by a browse through Manchester Art Gallery with my creative colleagues from Cavan.  The words in bold type are stencilled on a wall in the interactive gallery, which is also a great play space for kids to get creative. Or, in my case, a middle-aged woman with a word fetish.

 

Words On the Wall of the Interactive Gallery

 

Lean goes forward.

Balance backwards.

Place is context.

Positive is space.

Negative, its absence.

Edge is a paper cut,

Dimension, a paper doll.

Form, dressmaker’s dummy.

Shape is fabric.

Line is the ending.

Collide is Oomph! and Ah! And Ha!

Chance is one’s fortune.

 

Copyright © Bee Smith 2014. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

Bee Smith sojourned in March 2014 with the Leonardo da Vinci Life Long Learning Programme “Developing Creative Practice Across Borders” to Yorkshire and Lancashire organised by the Cavan Arts and the Social Inclusion Unit offices. She is keeping up the new found creative writing habit now she is back home in the wilds of West Cavan.