Saturday, June 25, 2016

What’s new? Aahcoo! | Mary Harwell Sayler

Christian poets have asked for a poetry form devoted exclusively to God, but I couldn’t find one, so I just invented the aahcoo – a versatile syllabic form for your God-centered praise, devotional, or epiphany. May your Christian writing life be filled with #aahcoo!

What’s new? Aahcoo! | Mary Harwell Sayler

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Micropoetry and minipoems

Thanks to Twitter and mobile phone users, poets have developed micropoetry as a poetic form with no particular rules except brevity.

To be precise, a micropoem has a maximum of 160 characters to fit a mobile phone, but the more common length maxes out at 140 characters since that’s the limit on Twitter.

Does it matter? Well, yes. Chances are, you might send a micropoem on your cell phone only to a friend, whereas a poem you tweet could potentially be seen by thousands, especially if you use a hashtag such as #micropoem or #micropoetry.

Those hashtags will also help you to find samples of micropoems with countless possibilities for subjects, tone, purpose, or style.

Other examples can be found on my previous post “Micropoetry and More” and also on The Micropoets Society website where you’ll find me under Christianpoet.

While all haiku can be classified as micropoetry, not all micropoems are traditional haiku – nature poems of three lines with a reference to a particular season and syllabic count of 5/ 7/ 5.

Many micropoems have no known form, whereas others might be classified as a traditional English couplet (two lines of metered verse with end-line rhyme) or a quatrain (four metered lines with rhyme.) Sometimes poets simply devise a poem with short lines or a set number of words that stay within the 140-character limit for tweeting.

Similar to and sometimes synonymous with micropoetry, minipoems have become increasingly popular too. These poems might go over the lines drawn by Twitter but, nevertheless, remain concise. For example, nursery rhymes, short psalms, and quatrains with no rhyme or meter might be too long to tweet but still fall into the minipoem or short poem category.

Mini or micro, the idea is to focus on brevity, beauty, and insight as you experiment, invent, or commemorate an event worth taking note and passing along to others.

Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2016

Friday, June 3, 2016

A literary journey of faith and poems

The poems in True, False, None of the Above by Marjorie Maddox take us on a unique journey of reading, writing, and encouraging literature, which the poet-author believes “is not an escape from, but rather a confrontation with reality, a reality that includes the overarching struggles of the soul.”

Anyone who has felt the influence of literature in their formative years and beyond surely appreciates the power of the written word, whether approached as teacher, writer, or reader. We enter worlds unlike our own and people unlike ourselves, who overcome conditions we’ve never experienced, yet we identify with their humanness and expand our way of viewing life from perspectives we most likely would not have seen on our own.

By broadening our experiences and engaging us in thought, literature helps us to develop empathy and understanding of others. If we also happen to be poets or writers, literature enlarges our understanding of what works well in our writings and what does not. As Maddox said in a recent interview, “I am a firm believer that writers first need to read good literature,” which, as an English professor, she certainly has -- as her own work exemplifies.

In her Preface to True, False, None of the Above, which Cascade Books kindly sent me to review, the poet-author tells us, “This is a book on the intersection of words and belief, on what it means to be a poet of faith, on how books mark and mirror our lives, and how sometimes the journey we experience on the page leads us to faith.

For most of us, that’s a slow process of growth. As the opening poem “On Defining Education” describes in its last verse:

Please, feel free to confront.
I’m not talking about who you should be
but are. Let’s start with the essence of seed
and see what sprouts from there.

Some writers might have gone on to sermonize about mustard seeds and their strong biblical connection to the growth of faith, but Maddox seems to be searching for more subtle marks of faith as we see in “Bookmark.”

Let the lines and Spirit speak for themselves without
sounding brass or tinkling cymbals.

The poems discover and demonstrate that lighter, quieter touch as shown, for example, in “Fishing for Sestinas.”

At first, there is only paper
as plain as sleep without the dream,
as flat as the sea without its waves,
no sound, no ripple, no fish
slipping in and out so
suspiciously. Ah, now write

that, not worrying about wrong or right
but only what floats up to your paper,
what your fishing pole of a pencil tugs so
deliciously toward your eyes.

Those lines illustrate beautifully what we hope to experience as we write in any genre. The last poem, “Belief and Blackboards,” does this too and, more, as it presents a classroom setting where the poet sees “flakes of manna in the unexpected snap/ of chalk” and brings the essence of reading, writing, and experiencing literature into these closing lines:

And this is all we need:
the real, the spiritual, the Real;
the thin laughter in the background;
the crescendo of the poem rising, covering each desk,
each tile: floor and ceiling.

Book review by Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2016

True, False, None of the Above, paperback

Friday, April 22, 2016

Picking poems for Earth Day

For Earth Day, I wanted to select a poem from my book Living in the Nature Poem published by Hiraeth Press to celebrate the occasion and also speak for year-round concerns, but that just didn’t happen! It took at least that whole book to speak and celebrate, but, eventually, I picked four poems with four perspectives, reminding me somewhat of the four corners of our round Earth.

As a Christian who believes in one Creator and Creative God, Who can do anything in any amount of time yet likes to include Creation in Creating, this poem honors that perspective.

Having the First Word

Into first being God uttered water,
broke open the night,
spilled light and water everywhere.

The earth took God’s Word
to heart,
pumping great cardiovascular
veins of rivers, oceans,

Air performed lively aerations,
breathing into plants,
boosting inhalation, waiting
to lift us, buoyed, out of the water –
wailing and gasping for breath.

by Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2012

In addition to including the poems above and below in Living in the Nature Poem, the next lines originally appeared in the April, 2012 issue of vox poetica.

The Recipe

I am made of stars, sand, rain.
My fingers flicker
my feet fins,
my head
an acorn.

If stars implode,
a black hole sucks me.
If rains wash sand,
I am moved.

This earth,
this universe
does not shelter me
a building but like
skin, bones, blood,
a single cell.

by Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2012

The above two poems come from theological and biological perspectives intended to show our oneness with one another and nature, whereas the following poem talks about the physical concerns of our present-day society and the neighborhood where I lived at the time this true incident occurred.

Also from Living in the Nature Poem, the piece first appeared in the November 2010 issue of Creekwalker – a lovely online journal that, unfortunately, ceased publication.

Pause in a Hard Week, Working

Even the early oranges were not in, nor
ripe blackberries in their thorny vines.

The loquat had dropped its oval fruit,
and, already, the wild plums’ white
blooms had gone.

The tomatoes green, the squash
in yellow blossoms, and beans
still the dream of green leaves

as the small black bear wandered in
and up an oak without one drop
of water nearby or one brown acorn....

To the hope of wild plums, he clung.

On the other side from where I stood
succumbing to his charming presence,
our neighbors animated their alarms,
and dogs barked,
and a helicopter
from television news
circled and circled
a noise of war

as I ducked beneath a shelter of still
leaves and whispered,
please wait until the dark.

by Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2010 & 2012

So, what do we do with these perspectives and the concerns we have about situations that threaten our environment – and our lives? That’s the fretful view of a tragedy in the true sense of the word since that refers to something that started out beautifully, but ended badly.

Conversely, a genuine “comedy” in literature and life has nothing to do with the jollies of a sit-com or stand-up comedian but, literarily refers to something that’s awful yet has a happy-ending or upbeat purpose in the overall scheme of things. And so, I’ll end with:

The Marvelous Comedy

Something’s wrong with me.
I cannot seem to stop myself
from seeing something good.
Everywhere you look – poverty,
despair, wars, and the stealth
of a cat burglar, stalking floods
of saltwater pearls. Can you see
how to free me from this wealth
of wonder? Even if I should
be aware of the jail-striped bee
blundering around me or the
arsonist ant’s fire-lit breath,
my thoughts drip not with death
but honey, and I cannot help
but see the choreographed crawl
of the ant or sprawling pattern of
bees in the beautiful buzz.

by Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2012

Living in the Nature Poem, paperback

Living in the Nature Poem, e-book

Monday, April 18, 2016

Charles of the Desert: A Life in Verse

In Charles of the Desert: A Life in Verse, award-winning poet and college professor William Woolfitt takes us into the life of Charles de Foucauld (1858-1916)– a Christian saint and martyr I might never have heard about were it not for the review copy Paraclete Press kindly sent me. And, if it were not for my welcoming almost any book of poems produced by Paraclete, I might never have become familiar with the exquisite work of William Woolfitt.

Throughout this biography in verse, the “I” of each poem comes to life in Woolfitt, the poems, and us as though we’re inside Charles’ head, experiencing, observing, sensing, enduring.

In the opening poem, for example, Woolfitt envisions the very young Charles as seeing “My Father as Weather Formation” – a man who adversely affects those around him, and “Then his whims enslave him. He stuffs his valise/ with jars and papers, flees to the city….” Nevertheless, memories of the absent parent linger in a “Man of fidgets/ and glances, soon to appear in the clouds as beasts/ for me to name, and fall on his woods like snow.

Subsequently, in “My Mother as Harp Seal, as Sacristan,” we learn that young Charles and his mother “had knelt that morning/ to give daisies and asters, to kiss the feet/ of the pale, poor eggshell man who hung/ on the church wall, his weight webbing/ cracks through the plaster….”

Orphaned by school age, the boy arrived in “The House of Bones,” where “Grandfather filled in as my father./ We lived in a repository of Roman coins,/ pinned beetles, leather-bound books/ that crumbled if touched” and where an assortment of visiting “officers, scholars, priests” admired the grandfather’s “cases of animal skulls.”

Within those first few insightful poems, Woolfitt gives us a clear picture of an other-than-normal childhood, which, the “Chronology” in the back of the book tells us eventually led to “a reputation for gluttony, drunkenness, and seducing women.”

Before his thirtieth birthday, however, the well-to-do Charles became aware of “The Pangs of Wanting” where he longed to “explore unmapped lands; meditate on deep truths;/ argue with shrewd, brilliant men; make love to a woman/ versed in the pieties of faith and the pleasures of the earth;/ try celibacy; father able sons….” However, Charles gave his soldier’s uniform and other costumes to his nephews to “serve as their playthings.” Then, “I deliver my body to the church….

Adventures and hardships continuing, Charles served as the gardener of a convent in Nazareth where, according to the “Chronology,” in 1897, “The mother superior encourages him to become a priest….

In another beautiful biographical poem, “Dust and Oil,” Woolfitt gives us a glimpse of that ordination, which occurred in 1901 in Viviers, France:

Like a spruce hit by wind and lightning,
the bishop sways, crackles before me.
He charges me with the volts of his hands

clamped on my head, the singe of peace
he kisses to my brow…

Discarding a hermit’s life that lives “as dust that drifts into corners, cracks,/ ditches and ruts,” the young priest then began to wear a robe with a “crimson heart over my breast./ May I take the sacraments to the heart/ of the Sahara, the unknown, the uttermost;/ where there are no priests, may I offer/ fraternal love to the soldiers of France,/ may I prepare a feast for peasants,// nomads, and slaves.”

In 1902 Algeria, “For Three Hundred Francs,” the poem by that title tells us, “I bought a slave boy this morning,” while the next poem “We Hide Our Faces from the Wind” clarifies that, as soon as some hoped-for funds arrived, “I will ransom more slaves.”

Moving among the nomadic Tuareg in Hoggar, Algeria, Charles began to learn the language, write a Tuareg dictionary, and live as the Tuareg people did. In “Consider the Ant,” for example, he would “sometimes find miracles/ of food: acacia pods I can pound into edible meal,” and “once, a snarl of bees/ flitting from the mouth of a dead jackal,// and inside the carcass’s dark cave, enough honey,/ sweet and glistening, to fill the bowl of my hands.”

In one highly visual narrative after another, Woolfitt presents his totally credible persona of Charles through diverse conditions until finally, during a 1916 uprising, “Someone Knocks” and “my neighbors" – raiders – "slam me against/ the wall ransack my little fort unbind/ and fling/ my Tuareg dictionary/ my sheaves of Tuareg poetry/” and “tear the cross the heart from my robe….” To end those final moments and this highly recommended book, William Woolfitt enables us to “feel the breath and the burn/ as my lips form the word I choose/ and my pages scatter in the wind.”

Mary Harwell Sayler, poet-author and reviewer

Charles of the Desert: A Life in Verse, French fold paperback

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Shaping memory into poetry | Mary Harwell Sayler

National Poetry Month (NaPoMo) reminds us to buy poetry books and journals, study poetry forms and techniques, and, perhaps, let our poems address memories or issues we need to work through and/or commemorate. This post gives an example of both:

Shaping memory into poetry | Mary Harwell Sayler

Saturday, April 9, 2016

5 kinds of poetry

In critiquing books and batches of poems, I often find some confusion about the type of poems a poet aims to write. That’s important to know, not as you write a poem, but as you revise since you need to keep a specific readership in mind – assuming you want your poems to be published in a journal, anthology, e-zine, or anywhere other than your own blog or website.

Even if you do self-publish, you’ll encounter far less disappointing responses from readers if you give them and your overall purpose some serious thought. For example, do you want to perform your poems on a stage, perhaps accompanied by music? Do you want your work included in a well-established poetry journal? Or do you hope your poems will uplift people spiritually or speak to them on an emotional level?

Your answers to the above questions should help you to narrow your focus on one of these common kinds of poems:

• Performance Poetry
• Greeting Card Verse
• Confessional Poems
• Contemporary Psalms
• Literary Poetry

Each of those types of poems has a different purpose and audience, but also a different style with differing techniques that make the poem work - or not! For example:

Performance Poetry – As the name suggests, this type of poetry is meant to be performed in front of a live audience, typically with music to accompany your recitation since success often rests on the rhythm. Such poems may be chanted or semi-sung as you would do in performing rap lyrics, though the beat might not be quite as strong.

Regardless, if you aspire to performing the poems you write, your subject matter must interest your intended audience. For a couple of extreme examples, a nightclub setting will require a totally different topic for each poem than, say, a Bible-based or liturgical poem performed in a church or synagogue.

In either case – or somewhere in-between – the poem can rhyme or not, but too much rhyme can be deafening while too little might not be heard without a strong beat to accentuate the rhyming words.

If you have someone to video tape your performance ahead of time, great! Without that feedback to learn from, however, you do well to grab your hairbrush and perform in front of a mirror until what you see and hear gives you a performance you’d welcome from someone else!

Greeting Card Verse – Short, rhyming poems with two to ten lines that acknowledge grief or celebrate a happy special occasion fall into this category. The key here is to be sincere in saying what you wish someone would say to you in similar circumstances. If the results speak to or for most people in a fresh way, you might approach the publisher of greeting cards with some samples of your work.

Confessional Poems – Because of the unique circumstances or people involved in this type of poem, a confessional poem nicely flows into conversational free verse but needs fresh insights or comparisons to lift the lines out of a diary and into a poem others will identify with and want to read. Honesty prevails as does language appropriate for your intended readers.

These poems can become psalms if they seek and speak to God instead of yourself or someone else.

Contemporary Psalms – Laments, praise poems, prayer-poems, cries, and thanksgiving to God form the heart, soul, and spirit of psalms written for readers today. These poems can be any length and work best in a sincere, conversational tone with little or no rhyme. In other words, the poem needs to be what you truly think and feel before closing on the remembrance that God is with you and aware of you and your concern.

Since I felt a need to count blessings and focus on the diverse causes of praise in my life, I’ve been writing and blogging Praise Poems, some of which began as laments or confessionals, but all of which end on an uplifting note – for me and, Lord willing, for you.

Literary Poetry – All of the above have the potential to be of literary quality! But how does that happen? One way is to use a traditional form of metered or syllabic verse, both of which you can search out in previous posts on this blog.

No matter what form you use, though, the inclusion of such traits as imagery, alliteration, internal rhyme, or other technique is vital to the success of a poem. Each of those factors and many other options are discussed in the Christian Poet’s Guide to Writing Poetry – the e-book version of the reader-friendly poetry home study course I revised with Christians in mind to assure you that the examples used to illustrate various poetic traits or forms will consistently be G-rated.

by Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2016