Finding Your Purpose

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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.

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Day 8 NaPoWriMo2017

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Week 2’s theme begins with repetition.

Repetitions

 

I am old, grown upon

Massacres in far flung fields

Where napalm and Agent Orange

Rained onto the jungle

 

I am old, grown upon

Massacres in far flung fields

The rubble and demolition

Of refugee camps in The Lebanon

 

I am old, grown upon

Mourning the cruelty in calculating

Famine in far flung fields

In Sudan, Eritrea, Darfur …

 

I am old, grown up to

Know a few things.

Lamentation is to care

To hunger and thirst for justice

 

I am old, grown enough

To see the waste of fear

The terrible retribution

How anger eats the soul

 

I am old, grown perishable

I know it in my fragile bones

Weep at the careless men’s perverse

Pleasure in their death machines

 

I am old. Our love needs

To be greater than our fear

For this is the only legacy

I would wish upon the world

 

I am old, Earth and I

Together with our anguish

Thrill at crop cycles, wet and dry seasons

The inevitability of creation

 

I am old, the Earth more ancient still

Stalwart as standing stones

We survivors

Of stupidity, hubris and greed

Day 7 NatPoWriMo2017

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felix headshot

Today’s challenge asked us to list three random objects, three random locations, two items lost and two found AND THEN to choose from the lists and find a link. Just as I settled down to write there was a growl in the corridor outside. Well, that was random! Upon investigation, the rear view of the somewhat feral feline who is auditioning to be third housecat. We call him Felix. Because he looks like the fellow on the tin.

Wildcat

One somewhat feral cat

Found prowling the corridor

Definitely not the blue lane

Head House Cat growls, Passport!

You are not in the correct zone!

The customs of this home require

Certain decorum, but

Who can resist a wildish kind of guy

Without papers

Looking for something more

Than a dinner dole

A scratch on the head

He wants to cross the frontier of love

To sing his song

To belong despite his fears

The dogs, the other cats

The two-legged with the beard

Incarceration

But the naturalisation

Process has begun

We are, so to speak,

Affianced. At least

I have pledged my troth

The family will come around

Eventually

Meanwhile he camps outside our door

We agreed upon this experiment

In mutual trust

Finding refuge

In my heart

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

 

natpowrimo2017

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.”

 

Primer

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.

Disembarking

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Travelling back is wearying. It’s not just hauling luggage, the stairs that seem to be everywhere, the cramped quarters on mini-buses and planes. It is also about the virtual luggage- the ideas, the projects in progress, the images and triggers for creativity. I woke up in the B&B this morning and had another character development occur.  (And as I may have mentioned before, I am not a morning person!)

 

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Yesterday before heading to the airport Kay Carmichael and I took a long and leisurely look at all the galleries at the Manchester Art Gallery. We had visited earlier in the week with the group to use art as creative writing triggers. As we saw in the Pre-Raphaelite galleries especially, I noticed that the prompts work as a two way street. Many painters took their inspiration from text-poems, The Bible, Shakespeare and classical myths.

These Chinese statues felt particularly apt for our two week writing sojourn. Creativity thrives on contemplation and inspiration. The statue behind inspiration shows the figure peeling back his mask-like skin to his original face. This is a Buddhist concept akin to our original blessing of creativity.

When I left Cavan I had had a winter where I wasn’t sure if I would ever write much other than blogs ever again. My creative well felt dry. These last two weeks have really topped up that well. For this I am incredibly grateful to the Cavan Arts and Social Inclusion offices and the EU. They funded this trip to fire creativity in people living in Cavan.  I return to Cavan and the daffodils are out in the garden. I feel like a creative writer reborn.

Ireland often frets about the state of its economy. But if you nurture your creative artists something magical happens to the wider society. NYC was on its knees in the 1970s. But the likes of Lou Reed and Andy Warhol squatted old warehouse lofts and just got with the business of being creatives. Today those neighbourhoods they gatecrashed are some of the most valuable bits of real estate on the planet. Similar has happened in London where grotty Hackney of the 1980s is now BritArt Central.

We just have to believe we can do it here as well and trust in the process.

Bee Smith has been sojourning in Yorkshire and Manchester with eleven other Cavan Residents as part of the EU funded Leonardo da Vinci Life Long Learning programme. This trip was coordinated by Catriona at Cavan Arts office and Emer in the Social Inclusion Unit.

Thanks to my Cavan Creative Colleagues of the past fortnight: Kate (who kept us on course throughout), Amanda Jane, Carina, Dearbhla,Ita, Kay, Tricia, Brian, Gerry, Joe and Kelan. We are all amazing writers.