It’s a Wise Woman That Knows Omens

writer's life Ireland
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“Go forth and make poetry,” I proclaimed at the end of my creative writing workship at the 2017 Wise Woman Ireland Weekend.  This year’s gathering of wise women was at Newgrange where we were able to view both the Brú and Dowth from the field beside our accommodation.  The Boyne meandered on the opposite side of the road. The theme for this Bealtaine Wise Woman Weekend was Passion, Purpose and Purity. All very timely and seasonal for the Celtic wheel of the year.

On Sunday morning ten women from around Ireland joined me on a hunt for omens and auguries using symbol and metaphor.  By the end of the two and a half-hour workshop several women had completed their very first poem.

I set us the task of creating a Treble Elevenie  using the themes Passion, Purpose and Purity as either the beginning or concluding line of the elevenie.

Nightdress

Black lace

Starlight and moondust

With body I worship

Passion

***

Connect

The points

Let magic begin

Tricking around with words

Purpose

***

Being

An urn

Complete in itself

Scenes from a life

Purity

***

Over the course of the weekend I attended two other ‘word’ workshops. In one there was a collective poem created using the ‘cut up’ method.  In the other we looked at lines of poetry in a deeply spiritual context and how it resonated within.

And did I get an omen? Yes, of a sort. But I won’t say exactly what it was, but it is summed up in this quotation from Rumi

May the beauty of what you love be what you do.

I love this writing life. I love living in Ireland. I love the deep nurture of nature and living deep in the silence and solitude of wildish West Cavan. I love how the land speaks. It makes me a wise woman and a very grateful one, too.

Day 4 NaPoWriMo

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Today’s challenge; “write a poem with a secret – in other words, a poem with a word or idea or line that it isn’t expressing directly.” As usual, the titling was a bear!

Taking Tea in Liberty

 

Taking Tea in Liberty

 

 Let’s lay the tea things

On the tray, shall we?

Speak of this, but never that

Keep our cards tucked in Daddy’s drawer

 

Let’s talk of granny’s silver sugar prongs

But not the rise and fall

Of all our futures

Speak of this, but never that

 

How was your journey? Shall I be mother?

You still take sugar?

Speak of this, but never that

How was your weather?

 

See this hallmark stamped

On the saucer’s bottom?

A wedding gift from my Uncle Tom

Speak the speech, but just not yet

 

Leaving so soon? What a shame.

My dear, Your taxi’s here.

Speak soon. We’re on the phone

Safe journey. Safe home.

Day 3 NatPoWriMo

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Today’s set task is elegy, but with the added challenge of including some very personal tick or characteristic of that person.

My Mother’s Face

 

At her funeral

Much was said of

Her faith

Her frugality

 

Lesser known

Was her fierceness-

The Depression kid

With a Roman nose and overbite

 

Becoming a young lady

When the gloves, the hat

The heels and matching bag

Mattered oh so very much

 

Sealed your status

Was your Fate.

But without kismet

Best to be discreet

 

Another most ladylike

Attribute. Decked out

In concaving girdle

The metal garters

 

Carving into pale

Very slim flesh

Suspending her, engineering

her identity

 

But the teeth!

That was Mother Nature’s

Bad fairy godmother gift

Beyond any dental intervention

 

 

The world and women

Moved on.

The gloves came off

Somewhere around 1968

 

 

Only a very few women bothered

Wearing a hat to Mass

(In defiance of St. Paul)

Much beyond ‘72

 

Nuns raised their hemlines

Wimples were bygone

Sister Celestine dyed her fringe

Peeking from a postulant style veil

 

But that was all fashion

Not faith. For it was, after all

About the principle

Which is immortal, like the soul

 

 

Only in her sleep

Dozing on the couch during the 11 o’clock news

Would you notice it

Her jaw gone slack

 

So relaxed at day’s end

The reprieve from the practiced

Thrusting forward of her teeth

Into self-imposed alignment

 

A discipline, like daily mass

Grace and night prayers

A fierce sculpting that

Was her original face

 

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April 2017 NatProWriMo

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Day 1 saw me facilitating a poetry workshop at the Benwisken Centre in Sligo with a few other fools for poetry. Gathered by a fire we had some creative sparks, we fed the flames with shared techniques and thoughts.

My own thoughts were echoed by Poetry Ireland’s logo that arrived in an email on 31st March – Poetry Connects. The older I get the more I find that connection is a kind of cure all for what ails the world. More, poetry has a way of being both. It weds what Eavan Boland calls the ‘I’ and the ‘We.’ Or, another way, the personal and universal.

So after three hours and a shared lunch we set off for landscape, some of which fed W. B. Yeats’ own poetry. Some, which we hoped, would inspire our own poems.  We walked the glen around the mill ruins of Gleniff. We drove passed Diarmuid and Grainne’s Cave on the Horseshoe Drive; the fairy door was open.  The poets went to the ocean at Streedagh as the tide went out and we picked up fossils and held eons in our hands. We stopped for tea and coffee at Glencar and then walked up to the waterfall that figures in the imaginings of Yeat’s poem Stolen Child.

I found that ‘the line’, the hook, eluded me yesterday. I did write a verse, completely off workshop topic.

There is no shame

in imperfection

Even when the tutor blames herself

for lack of application.

 

For it is not for want

of inspiration.

Perhaps the brain’s gone lame?

Or am I just a poet dilletante

 

dabbling in literary shallows.

For many may toil, but

few may be hallowed

scribbling across this blank page floor.

Day 2 NatProWriMo

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The theme today is recipe…

Cooking on Gas

To love

and be loved in return.

Not always easy.

But worth it.

Indubitably.

 

First, let go of control.

Let go of perfection.

Not always easy

I know,

but they will flatten

a cake faster than

an intemperate oven.

 

While you’re at it,

cast out fear.

It plays no part here.

Whisk it out

of the laboratory of love

because this kitchen is

one of everyday

and earthly delight.

 

Inevitably,

you will scorch.

you will drop items.

You will break,

possibly even injure yourself

and the beloved in the process

(amateurs that you are),

substitute ingredients,

twitch your nose and

magic up a meal in a twinkle

(improvisers that you are.)

 

When you are down

to your last pot

you still have the fire.

For nothing is lost

until that last

whoosh of air

is expelled.

And even then

there is still the savour

on the tongue of memory

speaking all the ways

we made it new,

still do,

even after we thought

the pot was empty.

 

Cake from top

 

After the Writing, the Reading

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Life after Lumb Bank has felt chaotic with competing commitments, complicated by the fact that every single one of my pack of Irish girlfriends has an April birthday and there have been or will be four family birthdays, two significant landmark ones.  Then there are the house guests arriving next Tuesday and the fact that writing women tend not to prioritize Spring cleaning until the prospect of visitors looms large.  All this springtime activity is severely cut into my reading time.

 

When  I returned from England I was confronted with a stack of Saturday Guardians  from the three weekends I was gone that I have only managed skimming. I study the Saturday Review section for new titles that I want to put on reserve at the library.  I also felt hungry for fiction reading when I got back but now I am reading more critically, noticing how different authors elide the narrative voices.  Mostly, I’m noticing that many novels just have too many words in them. It costs a pound to reserve a book in Enniskillen Library; although living in Cavan I’m also eligible to have membership in Northern Ireland, which opens every single library in six counties! (I also have membership in counties Cavan and Leitrim; eight counties worth of literature SHOULD be enough to quench any woman’s thirst for reading matter one would think.) For someone with a prodigious reading appetite and small budget  the reserve system is ideal so long as you are prepared to be patient.  Some people idealise nurses as angels.  My angels always are librarians!

 

I once attended a Masterclass given by Dermot Healy, a Cavan born poet and writer. One of his most memorable quotes from the weekend was that “to read is to write.” So all the while I am hoovering up fiction, poetry and life writing I tell my Beloved that I am actually writing. Or perhaps looking for inspiration to lead a workshop, as sharing the inspiration of Lumb Bank and Manchester is on the horizon.

 

I was in Cavan Town earlier this week and saw some of my Creative Colleague Crew at an evaluation meeting with Catriona and Emer, who organised the trip to the UK through Cavan County Council.  The only negative comment on the project was a unanimous verdict on the dire ‘cuisine’ on offer in the hotel package in Manchester. Eating together was great for cohesion.  Uniting in disgust over frozen vegetables gently dehydrating under heat lamps was probably never intended as a team building exercise.  If there had been a dedicated vegetarian on the trip they would have suffered malnutrition.  What we are preparing for  now is the next phase where we will take our knowledge and the fruits of our writing activity into the wider community.

 

There will be a further phase where we will engage in public readings at the Johnston Library, or give workshops to various constituencies in Co. Cavan.  Creative self-expression should be listed as a human right.  The work of social inclusion often intersects with learning how to confidently flex one’s creative muscles. The means, or medium, for that creative self-expression can be in dance, making music, singing, painting, drawing, using fabric, beads, pen, ink.  To create we exert some muscle – the breath in the diaphragm when we sing, the joints flexing as I tap this blog on my laptop, the twist and turn of sinew as a dancer lifts their leg, the photographer lifting  shoulders and  wrists balancing the camera to frame what they see.  Making art is all about the body, even as I am reading the optic nerve and all the magic of light and shadow working the miracle of seeing and reading text on a screen, newspaper or paperback. In making art we are, in the words of poet David Whyte, “a body in full presence.”

 

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Thank you, Sister Donna Marie

for teaching me how to read,

for translating  the shapes

on the pretty frieze above the blackboard,

the curvature of vowels,

the ogham of consonants,

until the a for apple

became a whole world,

a globe spinning on the axis

of words, spilling

a swift course,

flooding the banks of the Nile

where I am Moses in the basket,

found and feted.

Thank you, Sister Donna Marie,

for giving me the power to hold back

oceans and for guiding me

to the very mouth

uttering the secret name of God.

 

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.

Researching & Scheduling

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Since returning to Ireland I’ve continued to write as well as picking up the other strands of my life and doing a lot of laundry in a very damp climate!

The family of characters born at Lumb Bank continue to populate and propagate in my imagination. They are interacting and behaving in unexpected ways. At the moment the next instalments are only hand written. I was laid up in bed with a monster virus for a few days which is a good place to hunker down with a pen and paper with one’s beloved bringing you toast and boiled eggs on a tray. Some guy let off a sonic sneeze in the Departures area of Manchester Airport.

Yesterday I sat down and read the first two instalments to a friend who one could say has expert knowledge and insight into the main plot line. This is research I keeping it real. Thanks, Joanne! And yes, she thinks that it is on it’s way to being a novel, too, and is eager to find out more about this family that leapt into life when Mark Iliss brought in a watch as part of a writing exercise.

It’s important to have sounding boards, maybe even more than line editors. What I want to create on the page are credible characters working their way out of their conflicts.

But I’m realising that I’m going to have to be less lax with time management. I have other writing commitments, life commitments, friends to keep up with, a dog that needs walking (although I’ve started to ventriloquise characters aloud as I walk down the lane- that’ll get around the village soon!), a house and a partner, not to mention a garden about to to erupt into weedy fertility.

So a schedule will have to be drawn up. Otherwise, these characters will be dreamed into life but not translated to paper. I’m good at typing and re-drafting in the afternoon. The first drafts will have to find a slot either first thing or early evening before I flake.

My brother once gave me a card with the Charles Schulz character Snoppy on it with the speech bubble saying

Remember every mighty oak was once a nut that stood it’s ground.

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