Ha’penny Bridge

hapenny-bridge

Lore has it that more than 25,000 people cross the Ha’penny Bridge daily. Dublin’s bustling pace does not make me doubt this number. I think about the crowds I crossed with and how little attention I paid to my fellow pedestrians perhaps due to the weather, rush, or crush of the crowd.

But late at night, the bridge was nearly empty, practically glowing, and ready for strolling despite the cold.  Its luminescence made me think about what we miss when we are on our rushing way to the next place.

Shel Silverstein’s “Masks” (below, from Every Thing On It)  makes me think of Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/resources/learning/core-poems/detail/44272) and how we intentionally and unintentionally carve our way through the woods.

She had blue skin.
And so did he.
He kept it hid
And so did she.
They searched for blue
Their whole life through,
Then passed right by—
And never knew.

http://thewhynot100.blogspot.com/2014/05/46-short-and-sweet-shel-silverstein.html

  • What mask is your character wearing? Why? How does it affect her way as she wends through woods?

Dublin Castle at Christmas

It is week ten of the semester, and we are on the brink of spring. This is the point in the term where the speed picks up, and what felt like racewalking suddenly turns into a jog to Spring Break and then a frantic sprint to the end.

This weekend I am scanning photos of Christmas as though the length of time is as vast as the distance from here to Dublin. I am grateful for having timed my visit to encounter a castle elaborately decorated for Christmas, for the generous sun shining on the labyrinth and gardens, for the the luxury of history and the venue of a gallery to learn more of Ireland’s bombings and terrorism. I am grateful for the joy and safety I enjoy even at the end of a long winter.

Indeed it has been a long winter full of hard lessons and interesting work. I just have to  pause to remember where I am going and where I have been. Speaking of week ten, the creative writing students are blogging.

Daily Bread 400: https://dailybread400.wordpress.com/

Blissful Binge: https://blissfulbinge.wordpress.com/

Passions of 8: https://passionsof8.wordpress.com/

World of Actions & Reactions: https://creativeblogforclass.wordpress.com/

All Things Dreamy: https://allthingsdreamyblog.wordpress.com/

Please follow them, like them, and tell your friends about these diligent and creative writers.

Looking for writing inspiration, take a look at: http://awesomewritingprompts.tumblr.com/

 

 

Book of Kells

Visit the Kells online at: http://digitalcollections.tcd.ie/home/index.php?DRIS_ID=MS58_003v

We were grateful it is not high tourist season as we headed to the Trinity College Library  to see the illuminated New Testament gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John that are known as the Book of Kells.

We learned about the venerated manuscript’s ink and the colors (lilac, pink, verdigris, indigo, and red and yellow ochre) and the collaboration between writer and artist, what symbols we were seeing in the leaves of vellum, that vellum is calfskin, that the book faced several rounds of warfare and survived.

I looked and looked for a piece of writing to capture the sense of this adventure. I finally found “Scriptorium” by Melissa Range:

Before the stepwork and the fretwork,
before the first wet spiral leaves the brush,
before the plucking of the geese’s quills,
before the breaking of a thousand leads…

(Read more at: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/scriptorium)

We leaned over the glass case, wishing we had retained more training in Latin, wishing we had brought a magnifying glass, remembering there was a line of people patiently (or not-so-patiently) waiting behind us. We hastily admired the shine of the colors; we tersely studied the Celtic knots; we speedily marveled at how the pagan and religious interconnect on these pages. I could not resist hurriedly scanning for peacocks (symbols of Christ), fish (symbols of Christ), snakes (symbols of Christ’s rebirth), and eagles (symbols of John and Christ’s ascension to heaven) in the intricate pages displayed.

The next thing we knew we were headed out of the gallery and upstairs into a library reminiscent of Hogwarts’s on the floor above the sacred texts. We felt as if we’d just taken in a museum of information; we were as exhausted as we were acutely aware there is much more to learn.

  • The Book of Kells reminded me of Visual Journaling and the power of drafting using visual art as well as words. Here is an example: http://improving-slowly.tumblr.com/post/150287161654/some-of-my-favourite-pages-from-the-summer, and, of course Frida Kahlo’s journal: https://sketchesandjottings.wordpress.com/2011/11/29/fridas-diary-her-tortured-art-journal/.

“Time as Memory as Story”

sheep

On the drive from Dublin to Belfast, from the passenger’s seat, I drift into a deep sleep; I fail to distinguish this landscape from California’s rolling hills. I could be nearly anywhere.  The rain, the radio, my jet lag, and the driving monotony of kilometers of sheep fill me, drag me to dreams of lands radiant with sunshine and warmth.

I do not discern that I have arrived in Belfast until the car abruptly stops. Instantly I understand why people suggest counting sheep to summon sleep. In fact, I do not know where I am or that I am on a pilgrimage to learn where M’s father grew up, where his gran used to live, until M brings me into the cold afternoon to pose with him before a narrow door with the number 193.

It is as if I’ve been snoozing in a time machine; M’s eight again, visiting Ireland on summer break, heading to the candy store around the corner, searching for the spot in the alley where his father carved his name. Though I’m shivering and disoriented in his immense ocean of memories, I want to dive deeper with him into this past and startling tales he has hauled within him his whole life.

However, we must drive, because as Simon J. Ortiz reminds, in his poem “Time as Memory as Story,” “Time has no mercy. It’s there. It stays still or it moves./And you’re there with it. Staying still or moving with it./I think it moves. And we move with it. And keep moving.” We also keep moving because it is Christmas Eve and we are expected in Newry, the countryside, to meet M’s cousins for supper, to settle with them in their cozy home surrounded by a Mary Kay convention of sheep.

At breakfast Christmas morning, I am nearly lulled back to bed by a window full of livestock until I realize one of the conventioneers is stuck in dense brambles. I’m captivated by her efforts to break free, how another gets caught, and then how the others (sheep and people) join me in counting sheep.

What This Year Will Be Like

Photos from March in Sacramento, January 21, 2017

I have a poem-a-day book; it is named 365 Poems for Every Occasion. When I am looking for a fortune or a horoscope—some forecast—I search for meaning in the poem for the day. Yesterday’s poem was William Stafford’s “Once in the 40s.” Before reading the piece, I wonder whether 40s refers to temperature, the 1940s, or middle age. After reading, I know it aptly fits all of these possibilities.

We were alone one night on a long road in Montana.

This was in winter, a big night, far to the stars.

We had hitched, my wife and I, and left our ride at

a crossing to go on. Tired and cold—but

brave—we trudged along. This, we said,

was our life, watched over, allowed to go

where we wanted. We said we’d come back some time

when we got rich. We’d leave the others and find

a night like this, whatever we had to give,

and no matter how far, to be so happy again.

https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/once-40s

I mosey through the book as if it is a bustling farmers’ market, noticing what is in season. I meet each page as a tourist rapt in her adventure. January’s themes center on new starts and cold and dreams and hard-won joy. I quietly wonder how the editors could have known what this month would be like.

When I receive a calendar, I look first for the emblem depicting July, my birth month. My 2017 calendar: Goats in Trees features three goats and the legs of two others in stick of a tree. The part of me craving prescience, some prediction for what to expect for the month makes me compare my month’s ungenerous number of goats to, for example, January’s single specimen or June’s ample display of a tree appointed with more than nine billies and nannies and a herd of nearly twenty (eighteen) below. But who’s counting? And does their color matter?

My jealous heart still weighing my fortunes, I note that the July chapter of my poem-a-day collection is equally relevant to this January’s presidential inauguration and the Women’s March (on Washington, on Sacramento, and more). Independence Day yields half dozen poems with America in their titles.

My travels in Europe over winter break, in the looming shadow of a Trump presidency, yielded more questions, comments, and criticism about America than other travels have. I have no answers. I look to tomorrow’s poem: Edgar Allan Poe’s “Dream within a Dream.”

There is little as unpredictable as being a tourist. Poe ends the poem with the relevant question: Is all that we see or seem/But a dream within a dream?

Rushing into the Music

belfast-castle

In Belfast, we took the Hop On and Hop Off sightseeing bus to get a cursory glimpse of the city still decorated for Christmas, on the verge of the New Year. From the Titanic museum, to the Belfast Peace Wall, to Belfast Castle (photo above), we were immersed in the setting of huge history lessons, including our own family’s history, including news of how one of the cousins was married in a ceremony at the sprawling Castle.

When I was a high school student, my history teacher once criticized me for reading history too fancifully, of thinking of castles as having dragons, of conflating fact and fiction. I don’t know how my teacher recognized it, but it was a keen assessment. He did not prescribe it at the time, but I have found travel to be an excellent antidote to irreverence and ignorance.

The tour guide was well-educated, thoughtful, and engaging. Even better, he brought a friend along for the ride. And the friend brought a guitar to entertain on stretches of motorway where there wasn’t much narration to be done.

One of the tunes, “Big Strong Man (My Brother Sylveste),” required audience participation.

Stanza two goes: That was my brother Sylvest’ (What’s he got?)
A row of forty medals on his chest (big chest!)
He killed fifty bad men in the west; he knows no rest.
Think of a man, hells’ fire, don’t push, just shove,
Plenty of room for you and me.
He’s got an arm like a leg (a ladies’ leg!)
And a punch that would sink a battleship (big ship!)
It takes all of the Army and the Navy to put the wind up Sylvest’.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7yiUxCmqrI

The words in parenthesis, we quickly learned, needed to be hooted out when cued by the first part of the line. Each run-through of the song picked up speed; thus, by the end, a busload of strangers were breathlessly laughing, smiling, singing together.

Traveling always reminds me of what I am missing in my day-to-day life. More music is essential.

Speaking of music, I am sincerely grateful to have a poem, “Rushing into the Music, published by Postcard Poems and Prose: https://postcardpoemsandprose.wordpress.com/2017/01/20/rushing-into-the-music-by-heather-hutcheson/

  • Listen to a type of music you don’t usually listen to, like “Big Strong Man,” and see where it takes you.

(Photo from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belfast_Castle)

2016 Watershed Changes

Definition of watershed – https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/watershed

1a:  divide

b:  a region or area bounded peripherally by a divide and draining ultimately to a particular watercourse or body of water

2:  a crucial dividing point, line, or factor: Turning Point

No matter where I travel, from the classroom to the Home Depot language exchange to family in Northern Ireland for Christmas, people ask what a Trump presidency will mean for our nation and the rest of the world. I have no answers, no hypotheses. I just know, as the rest of us, this feels like a watershed moment.

The following exquisite lines from Simon Armitage’s frightening 1963 poem “Gooseberry Season” capture an alarming sense of landmark change.

Where does the hand become the wrist?
Where does the neck become the shoulder? The watershed
and then the weight, whatever turns up and tips us over that
razor’s edge
between something and nothing, between
one and the other.

(Read more of the poem at: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/gooseberry-season)

Speaking of watersheds, I have three poems appearing in the Fall 2016 issue of Watershed Review http://www.csuchico.edu/watershed: “Recipe for Peach Salsa,” Dancing a Little, and “Jesús Wants to learn to use the internet.” (http://www.csuchico.edu/watershed/2016-fall/poetry/hutcheson-heather.shtml)

Many thanks to the editors for including my work in this knockout publication.

  • Armitage’s poem is a mini horror story. Confide an equally sinister confession.