Writing Inspiration 1

Standard

Where do poems come from? (This is about as loaded a question as where babies come from, but potentially less embarrassing.) I thought I would share where the inspiration can be sourced and then show you the poem that resulted from said source.  The example is the poem “Inish”  (Irish for island), which I wrote after a boat trip to an island off the Sligo coast back in August 2015.

Inspiration and writing both have allies in observation. Notice things. Look. See. Listen. Hear. Touch. Feel. Feast. Taste.  Every sense is quivering to offer you something to prime the writing pump.

So I am going to share some photos I took that windswept day, bundled up in my husband’s thickest sweater.

Inishmurray inlet

Inishmurray inlet. The boats go from Mullaghmore harbour. There is no jetty. You have to leap at the auspicious second onto a rocky promontory.  It is an object lesson in the leap of faith.

Inishmurray was a monastic site, but also had families living there until it was evaculated in the 1940s, when the population had dwindled to an unsustainable level.

063

Brady family members created this monument to their island lineage on what had been the family homeplace.

This is the poem published in Irish publication Skylight 45 in January 2016.

Inish

On an island you are always surrounded.

Not a bad thing – not necessarily, not always,

not even when lashed, cornered by southwesterlies,

the sea the colour of a gun, rock outcrop a citadel,

wind keeping you beyond reach.

 

From their front porch before their eyes

mainland’s Sleeping Giant becomes transgendered,

a paunchily pregnant Giantess,

drowsily sexy with the mountains ranging

to her north and south standing guard.

 

They have a bit of bog, a bit of grazing,

some seagull eggs, laver bread, grey mullet and pollack.

Also round stones, holy stones etched with art

for cursing, for blessing, doing the double;

a diet of dread and angelic awe.

 

How could they not come home again

forty years beyond their leaving, bringing back

the Brady nieces and nephews to show them

what was missed and missing.

On an island you are always be surrounded.

 

067

So get out and about in your world. Inspiration is the next seashell you see. Or a piece of litter you pick up. Flotsam and jetsam are inspiration’s buddies. It doesn’t need to cost any money at all. It does take time, attention and intention.

(M)other Sojourning

Standard

My mother taught me to tie my shoe laces, balance a cheque book, the correct way to pack a suitcase for a trip. In my latest jaunt I packed Mom, too. Back in the spring I wrote a stage 10 speech for Toastmasters titled “What My Mother Taught Me.” A Canadian professor friend noticed my Facebook post about this and promptly invited me to speak at the Motherlines conference at NUI Galway this weekend.

Because Mom was particular about her packing and preparation for trips  she is, in a sense, ever present for any and all my sojourns. This time, however, she got a starring role. Which probably would have taken her aback, since she was inherently shy, but  also secretly pleased. I fretted over my wardrobe, as she would have done, too, and was a critical part of the packing exercise. I inherited her blonde hair and was reminded that her High school art teacher had urged her to wear red to stand out more. So, here I was 80 years or  more later giving that teacher some satisfaction standing before an audience in my red suit and shoes, sharing how my Motherlines had informed my own life choices. In her wildest dreams she would never have imagined her life being celebrated at a conference of feminists.

It has been an extraordinary few days making the invisible visible and giving the marginalised a voice. The academic research papers were mostly quantitative, with many direct quotes from respondents (or co-researchers as one person termed them.)  These voices from and about mothers’ experiences and mothering were wide ranging: mothers who were also addicts, working mothers looking for child carers, mothers who died while giving birth to children, mothers naming the namelessness of pregnancy and child loss, mothers experiencing cancer, separation and divorce. Mother as spiritual archetype of Cailleach and Brigid was examined in Mary Condren’s keynote address. A mother preparing sons for bar mitzvah examined at how gender plays out in rites of passage. Clementine Morrigan’s paper on a Feminist Queer Witch’s Marian devotion had me shifting around some weighty mental furniture, as well as unpacking some old religious assumptions (back to baggage!) from my own Catholic upbringing.

Not all the papers were academic. In the ‘Writing Motherlines’ presentation we heard poetry from Canada’s Laurie Kruk; (Favourite Takeaway Conference Quote: the best revenge is writing poetry.)

It will be sometime before I process all the rich offerings from this weekend –

img_5371

Elma Whealton Russell as a child

img_5368

Elma with her sisters Mary and Betty is a studio shot by their father

The new information, insights, ponderings for future mental sojourning. To sample the banquet on offer you can see more about Motherlines: Mothering, Motherhood, and Mothers in and thepugh the Generations: Theory, Narrative, Representation, Practice, and Experience at The Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement.

Feeling profoundly grateful to Andrea O’Reilly of York University, Toronto, for the invitation to speak, listen, learn and be enriched by so much story.

img_5464

Frack Off!

Standard

AgitProp: it’s an old term I first heard back in the 1980s. It’s shorthand for Agitation and Propaganda. Which is what Resist and Persist comes down to. This week, the Republic of Ireland banned on-shore fracking. In a time where many feel oppressed by darkness and powerlessness, let me tell you a story to put some hope in your reservoir. Because people from a small county in a small country have put a ban on fracking into law this week.

In a time when people doubt the veracity of many stories, let me tell you what I witnessed these past seven years living here as I do in a village half in Cavan and half in Leitrim. I attended the very first meetings organised to resist fracking in what we felt was a profoundly toxic threat to a pristine environment, with a lot of areas of special scientific interest. You don’t put a geopark in a region that does not have 4star environmental credentials. Moreover, most of the economy was reliant on agriculture and tourism. Life and livelihoods were at stake here.

In 2010, the Leitrim Observer ran a story about how the Lough Allen Gas Basin was ripe for exploitation by international companies prospecting for natural gas using this new-fangled  hydraulic fracturing. Leitrim is rural and the most sparsely populated in the Republic; in the past it has been not wealthy and its land considered poor quality, except for raising cattle. Land was cheap, which is why it had attracted a number of ‘blow-ins’ from around the globe, many artists amongst them.

Leitrim has a proud political past, with Séan mac Diarmuda, one of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation of Indepence, being it’s most famous son. So when the Frackers came to town these were no ordinary hayseeds. They were politically savvy, well-educated, and, with the recession, many under-employed with time on their hands. Leitrim was also a national centre for organic horticuture and agriculture training. So there were plenty environmentally aware land lovers in the demographic.

By June 2010 the first meetings were held to investigate what this might mean to our rural idyll. While I have a friend who jokes that Irish politics runs on schism, I won’t say it was all smooth sailing at the beginning. But what came about was a unified resolve to resist and each individual came to play to their strengths. Some researched legislation in Ireland and the EU. Some scoured the internet for scientific research. Some looked at planning laws. Musicians wrote songs, cut CDs and sold them to fundraise. Artists designed t-shirts and sold them to raise awareness and fundraise. Sculptors, poets, singers, Irish dancers, photographers, film makers – all used their talents to raise awareness and spread the word. School children drew pictures that were posted in local libraries. My local GP joined the fray and concerned medical practitioners also got on side. People raised petitions and wrote to TDs and just about any media outlet to get it on the national agenda. Newletters colated information and were disseminated by email.

Social media linked us and spread information on research and international developments. Social media was important in keeping us connected. North American speakers came to Ireland to share their experiences in public meetings.

But what brought a lump to my throat was seeing the Tahany Dance Academy presentation set to The Lord of the Dance at The Upset Art Exhibtion, June 2012, in Drumshambo. Irish dancers from age four right up to teenage danced a story of farmers seeing off the frackers, not falling for the lure of big cheques, and retaining solidarity with their cattle and the land. You can see a video of it on You Tube at https://youtu.be/lpzjmEZK31w?list=RDlpzjmEZK31w

When you have kids telling a story in a traditional art, you just know you are on to a winner. How could we fail these kids? But there was plenty graft ahead.

And then the Frackers didn’t come to Leitrim. They decided to try their luck out first in Fermanagh, over the border in Northern Ireland, which comes under UK jurisdiction.  Bear in mind that there was a hard border with a military presence up until 2002 in Belcoo, where Tamboran wanted to do their test drill.

10380289_10204012537942375_2742591169168361053_n

There were meetings and demonstrations in Enniskillen. There was plenty of cross-border information sharing and support. When Farmers Against Fracking held a slow-mo tractor rally from Fermanagh to Stormont, farmers in potentially affected border counties joined the ranks.

A Protection Camp was formed outside the Belcoo quarry where Tamboran were planning to do the first test drill in Northern Ireland. And the Wednesday night session at Frank Eddies pub just moved up to the camp to entertain the campers. Since it was school holidays, many children were resident. Police presence was softly, softly. Indeed, when I was up at the Protection Camp I recognised a woman police officer I had spoken to at length about the experience of fracking in my home state of Pennsylvania. Friends knew police officers who had family connections with farming, too, and felt personally conflicted about having to ‘protect’ the frackers from the Protectors.

It looked very bleak. And then there was a Ten Minutes to Midnight Miracle.

Two weeks before the deadline (Tamboran had obtained a six month extention to test drill that was just about to expire) some brilliant, tenacious voluntary researcher hit gold. The quarry had never received official planning permission. Hasty court hearings determined that a full planning hearing would have to take place. It went up to the Environment Minister for Nothern Ireland, Mark Durkin. The drill pads were on the move to start at 6pm. Tweets reported photos of the drill pads on huge lorries at the roundabout in Manorhamilton, Leitrim at 5:30pm.

And then Durkin ruled that they could not drill! Tamboran had run out of time. They had had their extention and now time was up. The lorries had to turn around at that roundabout twenty miles from their target destination.

A region that had known sectarian paramilitary tension and action a decade earlier found a unity of purpose in saying ‘Frack Off Fermanagh.’ When a Service of Thanksgiving was held at the Protection Camp, there were Roman Catholic and Anglican priests officiating and the Letterbreen Silver Flute Band made the music! To have imagined something like that happening prior to the Good Friday Agreement in 1997 would have felt sheer fantasy bordering on lunacy. But here everyone was, being respectful of all traditions, united in a love of the land.

So that felt like the second miracle.

Northern Ireland isn’t included in this ban. The frackers did a test drill in Woodburn Forest in Antrim that could not be fended off, but hit water soon enough. Which was a bit of a no-brainer since the drill site was about 500 metres from the North Belfast City Reservoir. (Yes! Let’s drill for gas right next to where drinking water is reserved. How smart is that?!) Ireland is really unsuitable for the process. The land is so soggy you can trampolene on it!

What the frackers had not taken into account were the rural communities they proposed to invade who had plenty of savvy, wit, grit and sheer graft to offer to head them off. There were also lots of people here who are very skilled at getting ‘hard at the prayin’.

It’s taken seven years to get this ban.

It’s not perfect and it’s not completely over. We don’t know what might happen ‘up North’ especially now that Arlene Foster’s DUP is propping up the Tory administration in the UK; Foster’s husband is alleged to have some prime acreage ripe and ready for frackers. There are off-shore concerns not covered in the bill, which was the first private member’s bill to pass in the Dáil.  Yet, against many odds, it has happened. It has been no mean feat.

This is a story of resist and persist that I want to share. We need to know these proud stories of people not being mowed down or cowed by those who assume they are more powerful and more entitled to have their way over our say.

Ben Okri says of story  in A Way of Being Free

In a fractured age, when cynicism is god, here is a possible heresy: we live by stories, we also live in them…We live stories that either give our lives meaning or negate it with meaninglessness. If we change the stories we live by, quite possibly we change our lives.

The story we had inside of us was a love of the land. The story we had inside us was that it was worth protecting. The story we made was that everyone had a talent to give in some way to help make it happen.

And it happened. And that gives me hope.

 

Art in the Geopark

Standard

Over this summer I am participating in a project initiated by various Cavan County officers – the Arts officer, Catriona O’Reilly, Heritage officer Anne Marie Ward, and the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark Cavan link officer, Grainne O’Connor.  The project brings artists from all mediums to various Geopark sites where the built and natural heritage will be wellsprings of inspiration. So it was that a dozen or so artists and writers gathered on Summer Solstice.

There are many types of visual artist represented – film, installation, ceramics, painting in various media. There is a musician, as well as poets and storyteller. By early autumn there will be a large body of work that has the landscape of Fermanagh and Cavan as both cornerstone and touchstone.

What is a geopark? Well, it’s a UNESCO designation and recognition of a region’s outstanding international significance for both the built and natural heritage that makes it a global treasure worth conserving and preserving. The Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark was the first international, cross border geopark in the world. It straddles much of south Fermnagh in Northern Ireland and a swathe of central and west Cavan in the Republic of Ireland.

The limestone geology defines much of the geopark. The dozen artists and writers visited Templeport’s St. Mogue’s Island, Cavan Burren Forest Park and Claddagh Glen on summer solstice. And more inspiration will follow in August.

Walking down leafy, calm Claddagh Glen I overheard two artists’ conversation. “I just love what you do with blues!” “Oh, but you have such mossy greens.” It made me wonder that artists are a kind and complimentary species of maker. I can’t imagine poets complimenting enjambement or elegant line endings!

This is an old poem of mine, but it is straight up versification inspired by a turlough in Cavan Burren, now known as Tullygubban Lough. There is a legend of a fairy horse associated with it. This is my telling.

Cautionary (Fairy) Tale

Young women, beware handsome men

with slicked back watery hair, ken

their fetching grins that show a lot of teeth.

For once in your ever young lives

defer to those older and more wise

who can read the reality beneath.

Handsome men that go wandering lough side,

all snake hipped swagger in full lust cry,

need heeding . Fleet foot yourself away!

For once in your ever young lives

defer to those older and more wise.

Head for home without further delay!

Handsome men wandering lough side

often lure with kisses and love sighs,

tempting young women to get carried away.

Yet at least once in your young lives

defer to those older and more wise.

Don’t yield and be led well astray.

Handsome men with their slicked back, watery hair

have a habit of making young women care.

Don’t be fooled – he’ll have you at his call and his beck.

Please for once in your ever young lives

defer to those older and more wise.

That devill’ll shake your life clear off its track.

That handsome man will turn to faerie beast.

That stallion will seek you for his own mortal feast.

He’ll love you. He’ll lave you but never’ll leave you.

So for  Heaven’s sake of your ever young lives

would you not defer to those older and more wise

who’d save you from riding to your doom.

For the skin turned water horse has only one true enclave.

Tullygubban Lough will always be his current consort’s grave.

© Bee Smith 2011

Salvador Dali’s Stop Watch

Standard

300px-The_Persistence_of_Memory

The Persistance of Memory, Salvador Dali, 1931, owned by MOMA NYC

There is a long tradition of writers being inspired by visual art and vice versa. I am intrigued by the theme of memory and I really like this piece of Dali’s surrealist art. The original oil lives in the New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. I have seen the original and owned a print that travelled with me for many years as I sojourned from the USA to England and then Ireland.

I wrote a poem today and afterwards I realised that it fit with this, my favourite Dali. (The other is the dream sequence he created for Alfred Hitchcock’s film Spellbound.) Today’s meditation on time and timelessness. This is the kind of stuff we talk about in our house…or on car journeys to collect parcels.

Savador Dali’s Stopwatch

 

when they say

pastpresentfuture

collide

or that

time stops

memory

moment

and hope

are all one

the ticking stops

the clockwork

mechanism

is not broken

just

irrelevant

 

they do not lie

Wild Roses

Standard

The nights are long now. Twilight lingers until 11:30pm or so it seems, even with the moon waning and winding down. The hedgerows around us are  filled with an abundance of wild flowers species,  including wild roses and honeysuckle. The air I breathe ourside my door is heady with sweet scents, with a top note of wild rose on the breeze.

Yet, the upcoming Summer Solstice also marks the turn towards shortening daylight until we plunge into darkness around Samhain. Yet it is in May and June we notice the brightness most as everything in nature burgeons.

This time last year as the wild roses bloomed I was taking part in a 30 day e-course by Joanna Powell Colbert. She is also the author of the Gaian tarot deck. This morning I was pondering the Major arcana Death card, which also imcludes wild roses in the illustration.

Wild Roses

Here we are at the height of daylight.

Along the hedges roses grow wild-

White, girlish pink, and a darker hue,

Too. Five-petalled perfection.

With thorns. Wear protection.

Sting of love. Sting of death.

Grief amidst sweet fragrance

On the late afternoon breeze.
Love is never simple, running

As straight and narrow as a Roman road.

It grows in tangles like the wild rose

All  the bounty a salad tossed up with 

Honeysuckle, holly, elder and bindweed.

Even now at the sun’s height it’s dying

Perhaps seeding something else bright.

Finding Your Purpose

Standard

When I began to write this blog back in 2014, the purpose was to document the progress of a creative writing program sponsered by Cavan Arts office with EU funding. A group of us spent a week at the Arvon Foundation’s Centre at Lumb Bank in Yorkshire, and a week in Manchester. Once back in Cavan it was time to give back to the community. (Thank you, taxpayers!)  Cavan’s Office of Social Inclusion asked if I would be willing to give a workshop in the nearby Open Prison, Loughan House. I said yes. And that has made all the differance.

Purpose, at least for me, is linked to a sense of vocation. After facilitating two workshops at Loughan House,  I realised I had a passion for working with beginner creative writers. They are inspiring examples of ‘first thought, best thought.’ I had facilitated a few workshops in a past lifetime when I lived in England. But I was still too uncertain of myself then. My boat was pretty rocky and the sea rolled beneath me.  Cavan living has been good ballast to my boat.

What is such a privelage in working with beginners, whether they are living ‘inside’ or out, is communing with virtual strangers on a soul level.So my passion and purpose unite when I lead these workshops. They may be called ‘poetry workshops’ or ‘creative writing’, but really they are held spaces where the participant can listen to that still, small voice inside and begin to record what their soul wishes to speak.  I have worked with women only, men only, young people, literacy challenged, Travellers, the settled and everything in between. They all shine on the page as they (metaphorically speaking) clear their throat and tell the story of their soul journey.

I recently posted about a workshop I facilitated at the Wise Woman Ireland Weekend last month.  Last week the feedback sheet comments popped up in my email Inbox. Here’s a sampling:

  • A wonderful workshop given by an amazing women. Got over my anxieties and learned some great tools Thank You Bee.
  • Bee is very patient and caring,her workshop inspiring. I can write a poem.
  • Fabulous got so much out of it.
  • I actually ended up in the wrong workshop, but it was the right one for me. I got a lot from the writing exercise and finding my omen Thank You Bee.
  • I wrote 3 poems fantastic energy!
  • Really lovely! A lot of thought and energy had gone in to creating it. Facilitator very responsive and able to handle what came up with gentleness and attentiveness.
  • Nice structure for us newbies.
  • I really needed this workshop it was the reason I came I know this now. Thank you so much.

In 2015 I was accepted on to the Irish Arts Council’s Writers in Prison panel. Prison work isn’t for everyone, but I have witnessed a great deal of soul getting a buffing up in a workshop. I love these guys even though I am aware that they have done harm. They are often vulnerable in their writing, so doubly brave given their circumstances.

This poem appears in my collection “Brigid’s Way: Reflections on the Celtic Divine Feminine.” (The Celtic goddess Brigid presided over justice.)

For the Lads at Loughan House

The poems always start outside.

The lough is a wind rippled plain,

Open expanse with nowhere to hide.

 

Matt blue sky forms another side,

Slant of October’s light a golden vein.

The poems always start outside.

 

Starlings scythe the sky then abruptly divide.

Loneliness could drive a soul insane.

Open expanse with nowhere to hide.

 

A way to be free. A place to abide.

The dock stops here. With that I have no complaint.

The poems always start outside.

 

Freedom is a grace, just as the swan pair glides.

Time well spent is eternity’s gain.

Open expanse with nowhere to hide.

 

Behind and beyond no escaping  inside;

A way to be free, the words are that golden vein.

The poems always start outside.

Open expanse with nowhere to hide.

 

© Bee Smith 2015

Writing isn’t about fame or fortune. It’s about these precious moments of being. Also, those precious moments of being shared with others as they break through into that state of excitement when the words and emotions meet on a page, the elation of finding voice.