After the Poetry Marathon, the Work

…really begins. What I found out by writing a poem a day for 365 consecutive days was that I had stamina and focus. I could sit down and write longhand and then transcribe and refine on a keyboard and post it out in the world to prove to myself that the day’s job was done.

By the very nature of the process some of the work was lame. But not all of it. Some of it just needed tweaking, punctuation, better spell-checking, chopping, and rearranging. Editting, in other words.

I have been really fortunate to have been given a grant from the Cavan Arts Office to work with a mentor/editor since October. The process of finding the mentor was more difficult than anticipated, but I ultimately found the right poetry midwife for me. Maggie Hannan has the knack of when to guide me to puff and when to push and then squeeze out the revised draft.

It’s made me a better crafter of poems, the new ones written in the aftermath of the marathon. Poems generally do improve, like a stew or soup, left alone for a day or two for the flavours to macerate. When you stir the pot you know what to add or how to improve on the recipe. (I like food. With the holidays and house guests I have been cooking a lot. Please forgive the food metaphors.) The Weekly poems I publish each Sunday have sometimes had up to seven days of sitting and getting seasoned.

But make no mistake. Editting is hard. It’s not so much about killing your babies as, to paraphrase Maggie, as when and where to separate the conjoined twins so they can go to live and breathe in separate cots.

By nature I am a fast writer. I get lots of ideas and learned long ago the trick of slipping under the internal censor’s radar to get that first draft down. (Don’t ask me how. It’s maybe a superpower.) Editting is slow work and one that can try the less patient. This process that began by myself last August has taught me that craft is not slipshod. It is slow, painstaking, sometimes boring. It also brings out the inner insecurities that can snare you and make you give up. Unless you have that mentor/editor to companion you in the process. Who is patiently keeping you at it and quietly encouraging you.

The solo collection work is ongoing with revised poems piling up. I can see the end in sight. Almost. I had a certain idea about it in the beginning, but that went out with the tide many moons ago. Now I am swept up in the process and letting the poems lead me a comma and cut at a time. But soon it will be time to take the next scary step and approach publishers.

While I have an enormous sense of gratitude to Maggie, I also want to say thanks to you readers, those who faithfully keep in regular touch, as well as those who just pop by now and then. I have had three special reader/friends who trawled through the old posts at the beginning of this editting process to suggest ones they felt were the strongest or really resonated.

But I am also often surprised and touched to find from my stats that there is someone in Liberia or Finland who cares enough to read what I have written. I wonder that my descriptions of this misty Celtic isle are of interest to so many who live on the Indian subcontinent.

When you are writer, some days it really does feel like the world is the size of a pea.

Writing Workshop Nuggets

Along with co-facilitating two identical workshops yesterday, I managed to hop into Ange Peita’s “Fundamentals of Creative Writing” workshop. Because sometimes it’s good to get yourself back to basics. I have been juggling so many projects these past six months sometimes you can disappear up your own hole. Ange is Austalian and one poetry form she introduced   yesterday was from a workshop she attended in Oz. Didn’t completely catch her friend’s name.  (May have been Les?) But it is a brilliant five liner. I got up this morning and decided to exercise it for the Poetry Daily.

This is the format. Five lines that go as thus:

  1. A quote
  2. Something about the past
  3. An action
  4. The theme
  5. The future

So I borrowed from Emily Dickinson to start.
“Hope is the thing with feathers”

Went dormant, possiblyextinct forever

Now it is the last precious to take wing

That alights after the soul takes flight

That seeks another morning after each dark night.
Copyright 2019 Bee Smith . All right reserved.

 

We will be heading back home at noon. Here is a poem I wrote in the workshop about home.

Home

My home is a ship

sailing along the bog road

past hedgerows

navigating through a sea of trees.

It’s woven its sails from birds’s nests,

twigs, cat dander and dog hair.

A southwesterly breeze

is shifting us around so

we’ll not go aground on Cuilcagh,

bashed to bits on glacial erratics.

My home is tiller and cargo,

starboard and portside,

sailing through starshot skies

guided by moonlight.
Copyright 2019 Bee Smith. All right reserved.

Day 22 NaPoWriMo2019

…and I am up way to early for the NaPoWriMo prompt to be published on the website. Basically, I fell asleep too early and wound up taking a nap. So after a while I gave up on sleep and began to remember how I loved writing in darkness at winter solstice. Then it got light earlier and I slept a bit later. I am semi-allergic to sunshine and actually prefer autumn/winter to summer. And who doesn’t love spring (except in Elliot’s Wasteland.

So I decided to just to do poetry practice and work with what was staring me in my face. Also, time for another villanelle practice.

Write Ritual

It’s so still. I love writing in the dark.
I write  with a plump peach moon for my lampstand
in silence before those up with the larks
(barring the scratch of my pen making marks,
the twang of  rubberband mental reaches).
It’s so still. I love writing in the dark.
It  redefines what is shadow, and stark.
In the small hours I can explore new found land
in silence before those up with the larks.
I chivvy inspiration’s divine spark.
I write so I might fully understand.
It’s so still. I love to write in the dark.
I like my little nightime writing ark.
I sail in it, ride tides, beach on strands
in silence, before those up with the larks
when all is phosphorescent,  with few sharks
to trouble my inner  night hinterland.
It’s so still. I love to write in the dark
 in silence, before those up with the larks.

Copyright 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

This Ruined House

As I was easing into poetry practice this morning I was minded of what the late Dermot Healey said in a poetry masterclass I attended many years ago. “Reading is also writing.” We go to other writers for inspiration and reflection. (Maria Popova’s blog “Brain Pickings” is a little oasis to visit.) That is what I did this morning. I picked up the anthology “The Poetry Pharmacy” (ed. William Sieghart, Particular Books) and dipped into it at random. I read two short poems, one by J.R.R. Tolkien, which has a killer final line, “Deep roots are not reached by the frost.” (All that is Gold Does Not Glitter). But the one that captured my imagination was a short poem (Although the Wind) by Izumi Shikibu, translated by a poet I much admire, Jane Hirshfield, together with Mariko Aratami. The title of today’s poetry practice is taken from the final line of that five line, tanka. Living in the Irish countryside this had a particular resonance.

Of  This Ruined House

Ivy is a strangler.
Once let into mortar
it's the last in a series
of assaults.
Once there was passion
here, and thunder.
Then duty went derelict.
The roof caved in,
though the chimney
still stands.

Stone flagging and slates
long ago did
a midnight flit.
They whisper family secrets
still in some suburban
patio floor.
They've planted ivy
in some plastic tubs,
training it to climb
up the back gable wall.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Patience

A stray tweet drew my eye, which then led me to the wonderful Terri Windling blog, Myth and Moor.  Her midterm blog was on Hope and Faith. (I recommend that you read in in full here.) She quotes another favourite writer, Rebecca Solnit. She writes about writing as being a lonely occupation, although I would style it as solitary rather than lonesome.

(Writing) is an intimate talk with the dead,with the unborn, with the absent, with strangers, with readers who may never come to be and who, even if they do read you, will do so weeks, years and decades later.”

Which brings me to today’s focus for gratitude. I am grateful for patience. I am grateful that my mother cultivated it in me. So today’s poetry practice in on patience. But I am also grateful that there are wonderful women writers out there like Terri Windling and Rebecca Solnit.

And I am grateful for readers no matter how few, far between, or late in the day. Thank you, dear readers!

I am also grateful to know so many good, honest criminals who open my eyes to so much about everything that is really pertinent to living.

 

Patience

 

Prison teaches you patience, Michael said.

Writing is a patient art. Also one

that requires daily acts of devotion.

It becomes an article of faith, too.

A musician or visual artist

may get audience real time reception.

Applause in the present. The Wow! is now.

Like a garden, writing starts as seedbed.

What crop will show ultimately depends

upon climate and the weather. And faith

something will come of it all in the future.

Patience is what makes you keep turning up-

pruning, watering, mulching, feeding the soil.

My good, honest criminals and I are

much the same. In so many ways we know

all permutations of patience, not as

saints, or even as sinners. We know how

to do time. We’ve even elevated

it to art. It’s ineradicable

in our hearts. Like writing is for a start.

 

Copyright © Bee Smith 2018