ROOTINGS by Virginia Gillespie

My story is part of the If Women Were Rooted project by Sharon Blackie in Donegal.


November Dawn

November Dawn

It is rare that I can wake up and see the colours of dawn in late November from my bedroom window. Normally cloud cover and trees diffuse light and mute the early mornings in a bland sameness that does not inspire getting out of bed. The colours were so enticing that not only did I leap out of bed to check the time, but also went outside to take this photo. The trees arched to reveal this gentle, playful sky.

“You are everything you feel beside the river…”

Another river theme. This is an excerpt from a piece by Paul Simon about Seamus Heaney. I don’t necessarily agree with Simon about the distant cousin aspect of poetry to song and labouring under a different set of rules. I suppose that would depend on the style of the writer. For me, I started out as a song writer and later a poet. The source of inspiration is the same. It is not so much about rhyming, but about cadence and imagery….and of course performance.

Recently I have been reading about the importance of poets or Filid as they were called in ancient Irish culture, in a pre-literate time. It makes sense that rhythm and rhyme and repeated phrases could help them remember the long epic poems for family lineage, recounting of battles and wondrous tales that could be passed along from teller to teller. I wonder if they were sung? In the following we glimpse this wonderful Irish treasure Heaney who was able to captivate audiences in ways that seem both personal and universal at the same time. Remember, Simon heard him. Different than reading the words, which also is an amazing experience. But the hearing bridges the gap that may once have been unified in earlier times – where song and poetry were more intimately related.

“Popular culture likes to house songwriters and poets under the same roof, but we are not the close family that some imagine. Poets are distant cousins at most, and labor under a distinctly different set of rules. Songwriters have melody, instrumentation and rhythm to color their work and give it power; poets accomplish it all with words.

Seamus, though, was one of those rare poets whose writing evokes music: the fiddles, pipes and penny-whistles of his Northern Irish culture and upbringing. You can hear it in “Casting and Gathering”:

Years and years ago, these sounds took sides:

On the left bank, a green silk tapered cast
Went whispering through the air, saying
And lush, entirely free, no matter whether
It swished above the hayfield or the river.

And later in the poem:

One sound is saying, ‘You are not worth tuppence,
But neither is anybody. Watch it! Be severe.’
The other says, ‘Go with it! Give and swerve.
You are everything you feel beside the river.’

I love this poem and return to it from time to time to hear the “hush” and “lush” of the fishermen casting their rods from opposite banks, like politicians across the Senate aisle. And I like the friendly pep talk Seamus gives himself when self-criticism is about to get the best of him.”