The Poetry 2 module of the MA in Creative Writing concentrates on the relationship between poetry and mythology. It involves a field trip to the Beara Peninsula to visit sites associated with local lore with poet Leanne O’Sullivan. Here students of the class of 2016/17 share the experience.
An elemental connection
Of my two semesters in the UCC Creative Writing MA programme, Poetry I and Poetry II unexpectedly turned out to be the most satisfying and enjoyable, not to mention the most challenging. I have always loved poetry and studied it for years in secondary school and college. But until Leanne O’Sullivan and UCC, I had never been asked to write original poetry. I can’t say I aspire to become a poet, but I believe I turned in some good work, especially during second semester and Poetry II. The experience will help me become a better prose stylist and novelist, which is my aspiration. The broad theme of Poetry II was the intimate relationship between poetry and mythology. The trip to Beara brought home the intimate relationship between mythology and place, teaching us to ground our poems not in abstractions but in a vivid, concrete setting. On Beara perhaps more than anywhere else in Ireland I felt a connection with something elemental, timeless, spiritual. Standing before an chailleach I understood in the deepest sense and for the first time Patrick Pearse’s famous lines, ‘I am Ireland. I am older than the Old Woman of Beara.’ The entire poetry experience at UCC was life-changing. The two days on Beara were the highlight.
Imbued with magic
As an American who had never been anywhere in Europe before, our explorations of ancient sites and their stories was incredibly moving. I’d never seen so many places and monuments that were so imbued with magic. I feel as if I learned more about Ireland in that one weekend than I had all year. I’d visited places on my own, or with friends or family, but it was a unique experience to have Leanne as our guide, with her seemingly limitless knowledge of Beara and its legends. There is something very powerful about exploring a place with a person so directly connected to it, and Leanne did an amazing job showing us stone circles, ruined castles and churches, abandoned mines, legendary stones, and even a lovely waterside pub. This trip has given me images and stories that I know will be popping up in my writing for years to come!
Space for fresh thinking
We stood beside our Lady of Beara and looked out across the water to see where she first perched and then leapt to land, now frozen in one attitude. There on her back and face are small talismans and entreaties for luck, for safety, for peace. In wishful thinking and hopeful gesture, people make invaluable offerings. A rose withered on a mouldy stem at the Cailleach’s feet. This weekend was set aside for us to ponder and perceive the natural world and to learn how to incorporate her into our work. The stay at Anam Cara was restful and revitalizing, and our hosts were the kindest folks. The weekend on Beara created the space for fresh thinking and poetic invention and influence. I can’t express precisely how it helped me, but I felt that this time in the wilderness of west Cork was paramount in providing us the encouragement necessary to clamber through the last dregs of the semester. I believe that the course is successful in part because the students get to take a tour of the country and stretch their legs and minds. My work would not be the same without the Beara weekend.
The Power of Story
The trip to Beara was a hugely enjoyable experience on many levels. It’s a beautiful part of the country which was lovely to see. On a social level, it was also very pleasant to spend time with classmates at the end of a very busy academic year. Most importantly though, to end the module with a trip to Beara, where we visited a number of mythological and historical sites, was a wonderfully inspiring way to bring my readings into a physical space which ultimately filtered back to a more imaginative centre for me. Seeing the Hag of Beara, for example, was a moving experience which has led to some early drafting of a poem exploring her relationships with men, the joy and poignancy of living seven lives and the impact of her dealings with the well-intentioned, but, for her, ultimately fateful rise of Christianity. On this trip we also got to visit the grave site of the Children of Lir. For me it was wonderfully evocative to think of people marking this magical tale with a monument – a monument to tradition and imagination. This physical manifestation, a sort of land-marking of mythology, showed a beautiful respect for tradition and a sense of homage to the power of story in people’s lives.