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.

Writing Inspiration 1

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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.

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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.

 

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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

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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 –

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Elma Whealton Russell as a child

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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.

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Art in the Geopark

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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