Thoughts and Prayers

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I respect thoughtfulness. I respect prayer and I practice it often. But I admire most a phrase that I think I encountered in some Quaker literature – Love in Action.  Which simply restates the adage ‘Walk Your Talk’- but with the addendum of walk in love. In a week where there have been a lot of thoughts flying around the interwebs, and most surely a lot of prayer, I have crafted a spell. And since auld Samuel Beckett said “all poems are prayers” this is my weekly poem. Which is also a heartfelt spell working. There have been too many Parklands, Pulses, Sandy Hooks. And may the little children lead us. They certainly are demonstrating a raw fearlessness in the face of tragedy. May they be surrounded with Love as they take action.
Thoughts and Prayers

Enough of thoughts

Enough of prayers
Enough of tears

Banish the fear
May Love disarm you

Enough of being bought

Enough of anger

Enough conspiracy jeers

Banish the fear
May Love disarm you

Enough of siege and SWAT

Enough of all coming to naught

Enough of the primacy of crackpot

Enough of the always all too sure shot

Banish the fear
May Love disarm you

Enough of cowering in closets

Enough of bandoliered bigots

Enough of ideology driven budgets

Enough of guts and gore as year-round climate

Banish your fear
May Love disarm you
Copyright 2018 Bee Smith
Featured image is a painting from a photgraph of Samuel Beckett by Barry Hodgson,  owned by the author.

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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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This Week’s Poem

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In a flick of a couple calendar pages it will be NaPoWriMo2018  in April. Despite being focused on workshop delivery and still having some brain fag/flu hangover, I decided to get in training for NaPoWriMo2018 in earnest. My personal challenge is to post a weekly poem in the run up to NaPoWriMo2018. Sunday is my usual posting day, but this week I had other things to communicate. So consider this a bonus post.

Two images/ideas forged the poem. You might easily figure the principle one. Thank you, Martha, Terri and Helen for our online interaction that seeded this poem.

Paper Dolls

 

Little girls’

Flat and flimsy

Auditions

Of adult interaction

 

Cut out and colour

Personae

Dress designed

To order by whim

The whimsy of childhood

Ordering plot action and reaction

Doing all the dialogue

Being every character

In the costume box

Of an eight year old’s

Imagination

 

The first flutterings

That every story

Ultimately

Is about

The adventure of love

While still staying outside the lines

With our safety scissors

No teeth

Required to cut the cord

Holding up

The scenery flats and flys

 

© 2018 Bee Smith

Featured image found on http://www.topdownloadables.com

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

On the Threshold Hovering

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You heard of the Lost Weekend? Well, how about a mislaid month? We supposedly cross the threshold of the New Year on 1st January, but it feels like 2018 has been stalled from the start. Being post-flu, post-viral has sapped most of January of any juice; my concentration was blown and needing ten hours sleep a day can put a crimp in one’s productivity. Anything done this month feels an achievement. But it also contributes to the feeling that the threshold of 2018 has not been crossed. Anecdotal evidence collected from friends suggests I am not alone  in this observation. One friend said it felt like the old business 2017 hung over this January making it seem like a thirteen month year.

Fortunately, in Ireland we have the festival of incoming Springtime on 1st February, le Féile Bríd – Imbolc, St. Brigid’s Day, the old feast of the fertility goddess Brighid vanquishing her crone/Cailleach aspect and arising reborn as the youthful Maiden. Imbolc then is a liminal time, another threshold to cross and begin 2018 in earnest.

Also most fortunate, Brigid/Brighid, whether as saint or goddess, is matron to poets and other ‘makers’. So her feast is special to bards and poets, songwriters and artisans, craftspeople of every ilk or silk, and to healers. For in making and creating, we manifest cures, too.

But, back to thresholds. The cover boy for this blog is a wild cat that I have been taming this since autumn 2016 when he began to attach himself to our property. First, we gave him a kennel. Now he has a basket beside a radiator.  Building trust has been slow and painstaking – and I have the scabs from claw marks to prove it! Being formerly feral, he may never completely let go of fear. He may accept our food, love, comfort and care enough to come in from the cold. But will he be able to cast out fear enough to love us in return? That remains to be seen. In the meantime, he and The Old Dog have formed an alliance of aloofness. All they require of one another is that they share oxygen proximally. Another brick in Felix’ House of Belonging, as poet David Whyte styles it.

We all have fears, large and small, that hold us hand on door lintel, immobile. Fear separates us for love, connection and a sense of belonging. The message of St. Brigid and the Celtic goddess before her is in the English cognate within her name – a bridge. And bridges are very special liminal, threshold places. They can be windy places, vertigo inducing spaces. But they take us across to a shore, a beginning or new phase. Liminal places are ‘edgy’ in every sense of the word.

How might 1st February be a threshold place where you overcome some fear in favour of love?  Which,  it has to said, is a large part of the recipe for what Brené Brown calls ‘wholehearted living.’  How might wholehearted living feel or look in 2018? How might an early Christian abbess and proto-femininist and an ancient goddess lead you to have the courage to cross a threshold?

If you would like to learn more about some of the legends surrounding miraculous Brigid, Goddess and Saint, you can read my poems inspired by Her in my ebook  Brigid’s Way: Reflections on the Celtic Divine Feminine.

No matter how you spell her name, Brigid is the well of inspiration and the flame of purification. May it be so!

Brigit of Kildare

Here is one of my poems included in the collection, which also appears in the anthology edited by Patricia Monaghan and Michael McDermott., Brigit: Sun of Womanhood

Brigit’s Mantle

Lay me down upon your cloak –

Swaddle me. Sing to me

your secrets of always enough.

 

Lay me down upon your cloak –

Wrap me snug.  Tell me a story.

The miracle of always enough

 

Lay me down upon your cloak-

Rock me. Gently now lay me

down in the source of always enough

 

© Bee Smith, 2009. All rights reserved.

Woman Poets: Staying Alive Not Suicide

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Forty some years ago I sat in a Modern Poets of America class; I still have the text book. Of the thirty poets anthologised just five women poets were represented – Emily Dickinson, H.D., Marianne Moore, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Sylvia Plath. Sylvia Plath I was well acquainted with because in 1969 I sister was toiling away on one of the first Master’s theses on her poetry. Her novel The Bell Jar was published while I was still in high school and I read it during the humid summer holidays of 1973.

Plath was a classmate of Anne Sexton’s in summer school.  Like Plath, she committed suicide also, a little over a decade on from Plath’s own death. I first encountered Sexton’s poetry in the unlikely place of Catholic University’s Newman Bookstore sometime around 1976. As a neophyte woman poet, it was not heartening to find all these potential role models topping themselves.

“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?
The world would split open.”
― Muriel Rukeyser

 

Emily Dickinson was the first woman poet who taught me that poetry is the work of the subversive, the rank outsider, the desperado – even if you lived within the confines of a house and garden, the wild mind lived as untamed as bees. Plath lived in constant frustration with societal contraint and feminine stereotype. Sexton’s poetry is fearlessly truthful. Her poem on the joys of solitary masturbation can still shock as happened to a friend I recently recommended reading Sexton.  But such reckless bravery may also have been symptomatic of a lack of self-preservation.

Fortunately, during my college years I was exposed to other woman poets. I attended a Nikki Giovanni poetry reading. I found Adrienne Rich. I found Gwendolyn Brooks and May Sarton. I found Alice Walker. I found women who had complicated lives, who loved, sometimes lost, but were still in the game. My bookshelves began to fill with women poets who were survivors.  They did not crucify themselves with their art.  And they were busy telling their truth, even when that meant ‘wearing their ovaries on their sleeves’, as John Ciardi disparaged woman poets back in the 1960s.

Over the decades things changed. In 1973 I was seeking out the first anthologies of women poets, ones who didn’t make it into the syllabuses, but who worked, crafted and wrote and wrote and were published, too. And often forgotten. I now live in the 21st century where the English and Welsh poet laureates and Scottish makar are all women and jobbing poets. This would have been unthinkable when I was beginning to write poetry and wanting to read poems that more readily resembled my interior reality, which was also conditioned by my gender, my body, my hormones, and what society was projecting onto me.

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Anthologies can still be very gender unbalanced. So it was a real pleasure to go to the book launch of four Northern Irish women poets in Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh today.  Arlen House publishers brought out poetry volumes by Medbh McGuckian, Ruth Carr, Maria McManus and Maureen Boyle. The launch was at Enniskillen Castle this afternoon.  McGuckian was unable to read at the launch, but the genuine comaraderie amongst Carr, Boyle and McManus was so heartening to see – Sista’s really are doing it for themselves.

In Maria McManus’s reading of her poem Nightingale I had a sense of that feminine truth telling that splits open the world. The poem is dedicated to Marie Wilson, who died in the Enniskillen bombing on Remembrance Sunday 1987. Seamus Heaney had a famous refrain in one of his poems in North – the Ulster catchphrase ‘whatever ye say, say nothing.’ McManus’s reading acknowledged finally having ‘the conversation’ about the sectarian violence experienced over a generation, and I can tell you virtually everyone in the audience was choked up.

For those of you who want to read these contemporary Irish woman poets you can contact Alan Hayes, Arlen House, arlenhouse@gmail.com. They distribute internationally through Syracuse University Press.

Woman poets have managed to stay alive and sometimes even thrive. But still I do mourn the fierce imaginative flames of Plath and Sexton.  This is the poem I wrote about that Boston summer when they both attended Robert Lowell’s poetry workshop. It appeared in Magma poetry magazine back in 2003.

Cocktail Hour with Anne and Sylvia

 Of course, we would meet in a bar,

dark as our wombs,

the banquettes lined in wine Marquette.

 

Three sexy Scorpios – one golden girl,

one sloe-eyed brunette and me

showing the ashes of middle age.

 

It would have to be August

in a limp Boston loosening

her corsets against vapidity

 

and the heat.  We would meet

at this watering hole,

cackling over very dry martinis

 

or maybe a couple vodka stingers instead.

We would watch the spills on the bar

Spread like Rohrshock blots.

 

We would all cheerfully wear our

Ovaries on our sleeves and make course

jokes about male poets and their pricks.

 

Flirting academically with the bartender

We would order more nostrums,

Crazy Women swivelling gaily on barstools.

 

You both would be happy.

You’d swear off crucifixion by art,

Decide to survive, become grandmas,

 

Grin and flash nicotine-stained teeth,

Wear cliché purple hats and scarlet lipstick

Living more potently than legend or myth

 

© Bee Smith 2003

Land of My Heart

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I live in an area of outstanding natural beauty and geological significance. Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark was a region stripped of much of its population through the vagaries of a century and more of famine, civil unrest and general economic penury. The Irish language clung on in the uplands, but eventually it, too, was virtually extinguished. But upland country breeds resilience. Those who stayed held firm. They were the keepers in more ways than one.

The Back Road

Each day they rise, living they may think

        small, isolated lives, dwarfed by this horizon.

        Each day they rise before this wide sky,

         watching the light rearrange the picture ,

         mountain recedes and lough is obscured.

         Each day they rise to read the sky, every shadow,

  each cloud a new line in a saga.

        

         You see it reflected in guileless eyes,

         in women who have ancient faces,

         features utterly unmodern, undisguised.

         Fingers, flesh, cheek bones hewn by

         thousands of years of family tracing their living

         in relentless, miraculous weather.

         The memory is in the peat they walk and burn,

         in the hedgerows, rowan trees, heather and fern.

 

         Each day they rise, living they may think

         small, isolated lives, dwarfed by this

         huge picture drawn across a canvas sky.

         They can read it still, alive to the shifting signs.

         The Burren stone is bred in their own bones.

         When they pass into the mist we will be left

         with wind, weather, a different cast of light.

         The skyline will be read in a language foundering

  in clefts of limestone, silent as the  fog bound bog.

© Bee Smith 2016

The Celtic Tiger attracted new people like us – ‘blow-ins’. Not indigenous to the land. Some might be the children or grandchildren returning to a homeplace from years of emigration in Britain, Canada or the USA. But Germans and Dutch fell in love with the pristine environment, the lakes that promised limitless fishing. Eastern Europeans arrived to build the houses the rode the Tiger’s back. This border country offered cheap land and rents, so artists from every kind of discipline found their way here.

Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark straddles Fermanagh, in Northern Ireland, and Cavan in the Republic. In the ancient kingdom of Ireland system, both counties were part of Ulster.  And it was from somewhere in Ulster that the paternal Smiths are alleged to have travelled to a new life in New York City sometime in the 19th century.

What my current dwelling place has in common with my migrant ancestors is that it has always hosted incomers. This place has always been a draw for those with itchy feet. In Irish myth from the Leitrim side of my village you can see Slieve Anieran (Iron Mountain) rise. It was here that the mythical race, the Tuatha dé Danaan, first landed in Erin.  After their defeat by the new incomers, the Milesians, they retreated to this homeplace before they went into the sídh, that placeless space beyond our finite three-dimensional world.

I am descended from migrants, just like the Tuatha dé Danaan and the Milesians were migrants to Ireland. The 17th century colonial Quakers and Dutch sailed in leaky wooden ships instead of boats the Tuatha burnt when they found themselves in Erin. My German ancestors sailed into Ellis Island from Franconia to set up a shoe shop in Queens. My Irish ancestors watched skyscrapers rise above the dusty grid of city streets and the Statue of Liberty would welcome Joe Smith’s future bride as she arrived as a little girl in the New World.

In a reverse journey, two centuries on, their descendent would find a sense of home in the land where the River Shannon finds its source. I live in the first village on the River Shannon. As you drive towards the village the promontory of Slievenakilla, known as The Playbank, hulks on the horizon. It is very like the sphinx and indeed, I do sometimes feel as if I live in nature’s own version of the Valley of the Kings.

Playbank poem

I feel full of gratitude that through a combination of serendipity, synchronicity, the poems of W.B. Yeats and Brighid of Ireland we were led to this place. It wasn’t our plan. But sometimes Spirit, and possibly, too, the Ancestors and the Land itself have other plans for us.

All of us who have ‘itchy feet’ – we migrants who get up and go, those walking the world from way back,  even to the eon-aged mists cloaking the ships of the Tuatha dé Danaan – the Land teaches us the same lesson. One day it will take our ashes or bones and then the Land will allow us to enter its narrative and we will become one body.

© Bee Smith 2017