Lost Worlds

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Fellow blogger, Traci York of  www.traciyork.com, spotted the anniversary even before WordPress sent me a notification. Four years ago, I started this WordPress blog on the back of an amazing opportunity to travel and learn and write at Lumb Bank, Yorkshire and in Manchester. I was travelling with a company of strangers cum creative colleagues and tutors; the whole travel package was courtesy of Cavan Arts Office and the Cavan Office for Social Inclusion through EU funding programmes. (If anyone bad mouths EU funding projects, I passionately defend them because this one certainly renewed the lease on my creative life and mental health. ) Living in a remote rural area I had had a few of my own creative wilderness years. That trip and blog changed everything. So was born Sojourning Smith, sometime tour guide, writer and creative writing tutor. Exploring the world one word at a time. For within a word, there is a whole world. And some are being lost.  You might think it odd then that the title for this anniversary issue is Lost Worlds, when what happened  for me personally was a world regained.

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Poetry as Sacrament

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There is a point to having one day being the Sabbath, a day of rest and contemplation. There is a point to taking a tip from Orthodox Jewish women who cook in advance and leave the dishes and clearing up for twenty-four hours once a week. Leave the quotidian grind behind and contemplate the larger reality in a pause. For some, worship fulfills that pause, but organised religion and ritual left me cold years ago. Secular concerns rarely nourish the soul; at least, that is my experience, but I was brought up in a religiously observant environment. I am not alone in having a hunger for the numimous. In the absence of collective ritual, poetry offers itself as a sacrament. Even the ritual “Take this and eat in memory of me” resonates not only the nourishment offered in the sacrament of Communion, but the mentioning of memory.  In the genealogy of St. Brigid, memory is the ultimate source of poetry.

This Sunday snow falls in a desultory dance  outside my window. I went to the poetry bookcase and pulled out an anthology at random. What does Spirit want to speak to me today?  Even though I have left the spiritual traditions of the Peoples of the Book, the Judeo-Christian attachment to books remains. I pulled Risking Everything: 110 Poems love and Revelation from the shelf. Then I opened it and what a pleasure to have a David Whyte poem before me.  

Moses appears on the first line of “Fire in the Earth.” I had to smile. So appropriate for a Sunday morning reading. Secondly, the title synchronously echoes some exercises in writing spiritual autobiography I have undertaken.

Like many writers, most of my income is earned from teaching. This is no hardship and I discovered that I had a vocation for encouraging people to use words to express themselves and find greater confidence in their inherant worth. It has been my privilege to work in prison and share in profound moments of communion and revelation .  I have witnessed  the exhileration  of  those with literacy challenges seeing the words from their lips crafted into a poem. Currently, I am a co-pilot on a Cavan Youth Arts Lab project with a dozen 12-14 year old girls; already I can sense we are moving into that communion space of affirmation.

On the last Saturday of this month 24th February, I will lead a half-day workshop Soul Journeys: Writing You Spiritual Autobiography. The workshop will take place in a appropriately liminal space. The Markethouse in Blacklion lies metres from the border with Northern Ireland where Cavan meets Fermanagh.  The workshop will run from 11am-3pm. Bring a notebook and a comfortable pen with a good ink flow. Bring some food tomshare at lunchtime.  Also, prepare to enter into the sacrament that is your own life.

To book a place or get more information leave a comment. There is a Facebook event page with full details Word Alchemy Event Writing Your Spiritual autobiography

I highly recmmend a listen to this podcast of David Whyte. He has some powerful words to say about the nature of poetry, the poet’s purpose, and how e can re-frame our life story and make meaning from our lif’s experience and soul’s destiny. David Whyte RTE 1 Podcast

As you journey through next week bear in mind my friend Pen’s words to me this past week 

In theory,  every encounter – even with the postman – is sacramental. 

It’s a Mystery!

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Some people might call it inspiration. The actual process of writing can be a bit of a mystery.  Personally, I think writers are magpies. We collect shiny things – like ideas- and take them back to our lair and then we rearrange all the shiny found objects and re-purpose them. So the poem I wrote this week has been constructed out of just such found objects: a question someone posed on Facebook, a memory from grade school, a deep conversation with a good friend, a personal musing on the nature of trauma and survival.

Inspiration for writing can be that random. But also, perhaps, it is best to just give the brain a rest. And I ‘parked my head’ yesterday and tried some art in a workshop led by a friend, Morag Donald, of Crafting Your Soul.

I cannot draw. But I love visual art. I love colour. In my next lifetime, if I can actually put in a bid, I would like to be a visual artist. But we did this thing called Touch Drawing, which is really just letting your hand play with shape and space. I have not felt so relaxed in months! And the flu last month felt a bit like a brain fever, with my mental concentration gone walkabout.

 

Touch Trio

 

And this week’s poem.

The Unsolved Mysteries of the Multiverse

 

Escapee socks, uncoupled

Like train wagons

Those orphans in lonely sidings

 

One is a found object

Location known

Yet aimless and unpurposed

 

Its other is off

In some alternate space

Living an alternative story

 

Squirreled down a plughole

Or a portal, off to elsewhere

Steaming down the narrow gauge

 

But what of the remaining single sock

Discovered in the tumble drier?

Limp and lifeless

 

Who now populates the crowded compartments

Of the train

Still clattering down the line?

 

The unfound

The man that got away

The woman someone gave away

 

Somehow

The story has been interrupted

By a very important announcement…

 

Those left behind the line stories

Assemble like dusty manuscripts

Cliff hanging off the top shelf of a closet

 

The door is shut

It’s dark

But nothing is quite closed

 

The gnawing unknowing

Somewhere someone elsewhere is living

At this moment your story’s dénouement

 

Stung by the rude interruption, denied

Wondering if there will come a day

For having the courage

 

Or foolishness

Or intellectual curiosity

To do the necessary

 

Reach up, lift down

Sneeze at the dust,

Turn the pages, revisiting

 

Your story

The one that got away

Reappraise the theme

 

Snip the loose ends off the plot

Wrestle the angels of resolution to the floor

With, or without, a plan

 

Take it all back

The characters, places, problems

That disappeared like Houdini

 

Into some crack in the multiverse

But, unlike Harry, had not the trick

To come back from the fathomless

 

Having probed this mystery

Which turns out to be

Much like God

 

As the nuns once said

When evading explanation

It’s a mystery!

 

Call it your personal myth

Make us cry. Make us laugh. Make us clap.

You are the wonder of this tale

 

©Bee Smith 2018

Weaving

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Writers and others in ‘creative’ careers are probably the original people with ‘portfolio careers.’ Which does not necessarily mean they have a career in the traditional sense of the word. To me that implies things such as benefits- like pension pots. While we do enjoy many benefits from pursuing our creative career path, material return is a bit like chasing the proverbial pot of gold at times.  Material gain can be both a duck shoot and an exercise in weaving known as ‘duck and dive.’ When things are proceeding smoothly, I prefer to think of this writing life as weaving a tapestry, with differant strands of colour representing those other paths that intersect and make up the life of a creative.

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National Poetry Days

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The UK usually celebrates a National Poetry Day the first Thursday in October. So I was caught off guard and the September 28th festivities completely passed me by.  Ireland used to join in with that but this year did a break away to April, which coincides with the USA’s National Poetry Month. At least World Poetry Day is set in stone on 21st March each year. But maybe even UNESCO will wobble on that date.

This basically makes me feel like a grumpy, grumbly old person. We like our routines, our schedules to rely upon and heaven help  you if you move the tinned baked beans to another aisle in the supermarket!

But I digress…

Belatedly, I note that the UK theme for Poetry Day is Freedom. Which is a big theme. So two poems,one based on Biblical story inspired by the plight of refugees. The other is practically a manifesto for social introversion.

Two ways to be free…in poetry

The Zamzam Well

Hagar, did you flee?

Or were you cast out,

left for dead in the desert

with your infant son Ismail

wailing and kicking in his swaddle clothes?

 

In a place where his mother’s milk

would soon dry, withering

like the thorn tree berries,

your inconvenient son Ismael

keening and kicking

 

at sand and stone, kicking, howling,

kicking, hollering until –

miracle of miracles! –

in answer to his mother’s prayers

her son, or some angel

 

directing his little heels

unearthing

the spring

the Zamzam

the well open to all.

 

They lived and made no one strange

where all were strangers.

 

They were blessed and praised

Hagar and her son Ismael.

They came like pilgrims

supplicants

making the Zamzam  holy

 

until even Abram came,

acknowledging his seed.

 

Hagar, did you flee the wife’s envy?

Did you fear the power to harm?

Were you cast out by weakness, or fear?

Were you left for dead for some

inconvenient truth?

 

Your son

the spring of surprise and salvation

a blessing

even as his mother was cursed

cast out, forced to flee

 

to make a new tribe

those who wander but are no strangers.


A Way to Be Free

 

getting the top deck

of a London bus, front seat, all to oneself,

soothed by intermittent ding-dings,

conveyed in stops and starts,

looking out the front window,

sulphur street light freckled with rain…

 

immersing

into the womb  of cheap stalls

a rainy Saturday afternoon

mesmerised by the actress singing

all for me down in the matinee dark

the sound of

the fourth wall falling…

 

browsing

an art gallery

especially those with portraits

with whom I can play talking heads

making imaginary friends with Francis Bacon

or  Gwen John’s

implacably impassive face

 

the bliss

of never ever to be at the beck and call

of flower arranging rotas

or deciding a room’s colour scheme

or the hell of formulating a policy

by committee

 

finding

a way to be free

to go about unmolested,

undeterred

uninterrupted

invisible

subversively

solitary

Silences and Writer’s Voice

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A series of unfortunate technical lapses has imposed a digital silence these past three weeks. Which is not to say I was not writing, just not giving public voice to the thoughts that manifested onto the pages. My laptop and iPad and mobile phone all had ‘charging’ issues. Which led me to explore the metaphor of my becoming incommunicado. Now that I have at least one reliably working device I am not hurrying to reach for the cure for the others.

Once successfully charged, I topped up my iFone with credit; it then immediately showed ‘No Service’. I do live in a bit of a mobile signal dead zone, but even in populous areas where Vodaphone gets a good signal it still is in Refusnik status.  Allegedly a new Apple brand charger will be the solution to my original Apple brand charger that now only logs a draining of charge. I love the iPad mini for taking photos, but again, I find I am not hurrying to buy one online. I know that at some point I need to address the mobile phone issue, because how else do you get to reset my husband’s Twitter account if we don’t have one they can text the new password?!

These are first world problems and ones that are boring me already. I’ve never been one to embrace cutting edge technology or go to see blockbusters or buy touted bestsellers.  I want something that works for me and my life rather than what some corporation feels will plump up their bottom line.

While the internet offers a great deal that is positive – companionship with the like-minded, cheap communication flow across international borders, crossword puzzle cheats, quick checking of references that a nearly 61 year old memory has lost its instant recall groove – it can become a bit like an ultra-demanding toddler gobbling up all your attention.

The digital world can also be a form of white noise. Not just a distraction, but an actual shield against the deep silence from which all creativity springs. The silence is what I am not willing to give up, at least not just yet. I am rationing my white noise.

Without the ‘publication’ access of the internet, where my thoughts and feelings are broadcast, I pondered the nature of ‘voice’. Writers consider this quite a bit – the authentic voice, one that is recognisably just one’s very own instead of a clone that can be fit into a convenient category or genre. What all publishers state they want – vaguely, mysteriously, sinisterly – is ‘a fresh voice.’ This strikes me as a bit of a grail quest, since most of us are rumpled, creased, slightly soiled, sweaty, anxious and generally not bandbox  fresh out of the store’s cellophane wrapper.

Prose crisp as just picked salad. Poetry that still has compost clinging to its roots.  No artificial additives. Completely organic.

My salad days are long past. I cannot be perky enough to harvest while the morning dew is still on the leaves; damp is bad for my knees.  I am more like a hardy perennial that needs periods of mulch, comfrey feed (which stinks incidentally for the uninitiated), and periods of dormancy.

Silence is like the winter for the writer in me. Technical glitches have been my equivalent of fresh manure feed. I have no pretentions or ambitions towards being all winsomely green and succulent; I am going for evergreen. Age gives you a spikeyness that redefines what ‘fresh’ can mean for a writer’s voice.

When I was young I was a mezzo-soprano with a three octave range. I still have that range, but it has shifted right down towards tenor. Age has given my voice depth and timbre, as well as a lot more soul.

Silence is also a member of the orchestra. No composer has ever managed to notate it’s part in the arrangement, but nonetheless silence plays a crucial role in any composition’s timing and rhythm.

 

Writer Displacement Activity

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Into every writer’s life comes the siren call of distraction and diversion from the page or screen, from crappy first draft to the editting of Version7.docx.  Suddenly, there is a pressing need to groom the cat, to separate out the recycling bin under the sink.  Don’t talk to me about social media either, it is both friendly diversion and foe-like distraction in the digital age. It’s called displacement activity and it is all about not wanting to face imperfection, failure, one’s own un-original face.

Actors have a (probably underserved) reputation as being the divas of The Arts. But I will tell you, the Pity Party that I can throw in my head makes them look like Am-Dram Night. It all goes on in my busy brain and my husband is wise to it.  Duly noted, it disrupts the brutal, flagellistic pleasure of the Pity Party. Witnessing becomes a form of diversion, but in a healthy way.

It’s at these creative/artistic self-loathing times that I turn to Anne Lamott, she whose father told her brother to take it ‘bird by bird.’ In other words, when you are overwhelmed by the big picture of a project just take it one digestable task at a time.

Her TED talk pep talk can be found at:

Sometimes you need the Pity Party, to vent your Poor Pitiful Pearl (a doll that my aunt owned, but my mother used to conjure up when cajoling me out of a sulk.), to confront your ugly. This, too, is a displacement activity. While Pity Partying and Poor Pitiful Pearling there is no writing happening. Because it is all no use! Pointless! No one loves my words!

In the same video Lamott gives us several pearls of her own wisdom now she is 61. I am approaching my 61st birthday in three months and I would add just one of my own to the pot.

You can be guilty of really heinous acts, imperfect behaviour, distrastrous decisions and be good right at your core and it can still shine through. That the last one to forgive anyone of those actions is the one who perpetrates them. That what Lamott calls radical self-care is compassion for oneself and is forgiving what feels unforgiveable.

Sometimes this compassion requires a change of scenery. Sometimes it comes in absolute silence. Sometimes it arrives with a really hearty laugh at one’s foibles, posturings, the ego-driven folly of it all.

Then I can come back to the page, the pen or the screen. It is smooth and virginally blank of words.  It has the requisite line spacing that soothes my faint heart. My special pen (writers are also deeply superstitious, not just actors) is to hand. Then it doesn’t matter if I am sitting at home with the dogs all around me, or in a cafe, or even in a bus shelter jotting down some lines before I forget them. It is time to let the words flow out onto the page, my particular or peculiar, imperfect way of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling about this, that and the other thing.

That latter is often the distraction, the diversion and can turn out to be compassion, too. Compassion that is for all of us who are both guilty and good in large and infinitesimal ways.

Creation relies on womb-like darkness and dark places can be scary. But there is light at the end of the birth canal. There is light at the source, too, that navigates the darkness.

Even displacement activity eventually finds its way back home in darkness and light.