When I Am Not Writing I Am Writing

Samhain season is here. The clocks have fallen back in Europe and North America. This is the season of the Cailleach (sounds like call-yuck). She is the Old ‘Un, considered the creatrix of the island of Ireland. The myth says that this Mother Winter piled stone upon stone to create this island in the North Atlantic. While autumn temperatures are still nmild here, and the Virginia creeper was slow to turn crimson, the darkness has crept in. I want to be a bear and sleep in my den. Maybe that has to do with solar flares, or the clock time shifting around, or the darkness that requires artificial light in at least some corners of the house all day. How did they cope before electrification? Most any time of the day requires some extra light for reading or writing or any close work…

While not ascribing to writer’s block, I do believe there are creative lulls. Sometimes it just needs to be pen down. Meanwhile, I have hoked out bag after bag of comfrey root before dibbing in many kilos of narcissus bulbs to naturalise. I also felt an urge to make an effigy of the Cailleach. Tis her season after all! And then I still had some wool and made her a Wyrd Little Sister. Or Maid. Or Assistant in the creation of the world. While the Wyrd Sister has the button face that many folk Bridéogs have had, I really felt that the Cailleach needed a blank face…sort of like Original Face, since she is Origin. I also found a piece of felled tree branch that works as a stick for her to lean on and into the winter gales. She is a giantess and the Wryd Little Sister is considerably smaller even with her bending into the wind. They have stones in their aprons in accordance with some legends and stones at their feet as they empty load upon load. Creation begins…over and over.

Which really does prove that putting tools down and getting away from the screen or the page can fuel your creativity. Sometimes, some other creative activity will fill your well. I play with wool, collage, cook, bake; I specialise in garden demolition work! The words will come eventually, but first I need to shush the mind chatter and emotional whirlwinds. I need the silence. Perhaps silence is the writer’s equivalent tool to an artist using chiaroscuro in a painting. Silence helps delineate the light and shadow.

Onward to the Weekly Poem in its infant form… It arises from a interrogating myself on what do I want and need to myself at this Samhain time.

Silence and Juice

I want more...
silence to quell the deep uncertainty out there beyond
our small sanctuary of green beginning to sleep,
beds caped against frost, for the frost will come,
it will bite, it will bleed the juice from the comfrey
that will wilt and blacken and lie flat
down on the ground, macerating.

I want
some of that juice. Let it flow.
Let it allow something new to grow.
Let it be strong and useful and somehow
even a little bit beautiful.

I need some of that juice from the get go.
Also
deep sleep, like some bear in its winter lair.
I need this darkness
though some may feel despair...

There is the soft heart beat
of seeds waiting for more light, 
for more warmth,
for some water and some wind,
some thing...

I need to just put my ear to the ground
counting earth's twenty-three beats per minute
even in the winter,
even in the dark,
even in the cold.

I want silence for myself, but I need the beat.
I want the beat for myself in the silence.
I need the silence to hear the beat.
I need the beat to soften the silence.

I need to trust the unexpected.
I want to pay the price of all with my all.

If you need a little light in the season of darkness I am going to be conducting some Sunday Zoom reflective writing sessions from the first night of the Festival of Light, Hanukah, until Winter Solstice on 21st December. Because this is a spendy time of year I am only requesting a donation, pay what you are able. Sometimes you just need to have a lighthouse in your living/dining room and beam it out so others don’t run aground. Message me if you are interested in joining.

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