Monday, October 20, 2014

THE Market guide for poets

The 2015 Poet’s Market guide published by Writer’s Digest Books is THE book for poets who want their poems to be traditionally published. Like previous editions I’ve purchased over the years, the review copy that WD kindly sent me contains a wide range of articles in these key categories:

• Business of Poetry (getting organized, avoiding common mistakes, etc.)

• Promotion of Poetry (articles on platforms, blogs, readings, and more)

• Poet Interviews (with well-published poets offering insights into writing)

• Craft of Poetry (form, rhyme, meter, writing prompts, revision, and more)

• Poems (about poetry or being a poet)

• Markets (lists of magazines/journals, book/chapbook publishers, contests, awards, and grants)

• Resources (conferences, workshops, poetry festivals, poetry organizations, A to Z glossary of poetry terminology, and more)

• Indexes (subjects covered in poetry publications and a general A to Z index of publishers)

In the opening article “From The Editor,” Robert Lee Brewer assures us that this edition has even more listings of poetry publishers and contests than last year’s market guide. So, naturally, I had to flip ahead to the second half of this book where I immediately noticed new-to-me names of publishers of poetry books and chapbooks as well as journals I haven’t yet read. Such “finds” are worth the whole book!

Before drooling too long over those publishing contacts, however, reading the article “How To Use Poet’s Market” will prepare you and your poems for the submission process with these preliminary steps:

1. Be an avid reader.

2. Know what you like to write – and what you write best.

3. Learn the “business” of poetry publishing.

4. Research the markets.

5. Start slowly (as in, don’t rush into print!)

6. Be professional.

7. Keep track of your submissions.

8. Don’t fear rejection. Learn from it.

To give a glimpse of what they’ve learned, well-published poets and poetry instructors wrote informative articles for the book on everything from punctuating and formatting a poem to writing in form, working with editors, promoting a new book, and giving a poetry reading.

Not only does the book intersperse articles with interesting interviews, the guide includes a section of poems about reading poetry, writing poems, and “How To Break Up With A Poem” that just isn’t coming together!

Although I’ve been writing poems forever and getting published for quite a while, the front half of the book gave me refreshing perspectives on being a poet and a great refresher on poetry techniques.

Whenever I buy the book, however, I do so to expand my potential markets and see publishers’ updates and current needs. Occasionally “Tips” such as “We like how-to articles” are added, but mainly, the format includes each publisher’s name with the mail and e-mail addresses, the name of the editor to contact, a statement about the company’s practices, and immediate “Needs,” including preferences, length requirements, and topics to avoid.

Read and heed those needs!

If a periodical asks you not to stuff a #10 envelope with 10 or more poems, then stuffeth thou not!

If they say, “We like carefully crafted poems,” that means showing craft not a first draft!

But, even if you think you don’t know what a publisher’s preferences mean, you will if you simply look up unfamiliar terms in the A to Z glossary provided, then give yourself and your poems whatever time you need.

© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler has placed hundreds of poems and 27 traditionally published books in all genres. Her e-book, the Christian Poet’s Guide to Writing Poetry, is a revision of the poetry home study course she wrote and used for years with other poets and poetry students, and she continues to offer one-on-one feedback for a minimal fee through her website.

2015 Poet’s Market guide, paperback

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Practicing Silence and poetry

A busy, busy life of work and other activities or commitments seldom offer the quietness conducive to writing poetry. At least that’s what I discovered when, as a freelance and assignment writer, I just didn’t have the time or, rather, the silent spaces needed to write poetry.

Writing fiction, nonfiction, and school library resources involved research and a regular writing schedule, which I approached for years as most people approach their 9 to 5 jobs. But poetry happened only on vacation or long weekends of escaping the busy, busy-ness. If that’s true for you, too, you’ll welcome the poetic relief of Practicing Silence by Bonnie Thurston, which the publisher, Paraclete Press, kindly sent me to review.

As Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB (Order of Saint Benedict), tells us in the Foreword, “The first word of St. Benedict’s Rule for Monks is: ‘Listen!’ All the rest is anticipated and contained in this initial imperative. To listen, every moment, to whatever we encounter, to consider it a word of God, and to respond to that word, that is Benedictine obedience. It is indeed a poetic attitude, since God’s Word is not understood as command, instruction, or information, but as a song of praise sung by the Cosmic Christ at the core of every living thing.”

How does this translate into poetry? Many factors help, no doubt, but this book reminds me of the value of simply being aware, especially of those hard-to-hear-or-notice ordinary moments.

In “Suppliant,” for example, the poet contemplates a simple little note that says, “pick up your tray at the kitchen door,” which, “in history’s white light” helps her to “see myself as I am,/ loitering at heaven’s back door/ empty-handed and hungry,/ waiting with the multitudes….”

The next poem, “All Saints Convent,” develops the thought, saying:

We come from darkness,
Bring our hungers and thirst.
We join you, kneel at dawn
Under a single, amber light,
No more strangers,
But sisters in the Silence
Who speaks us all.

“Plainchant” gives us another quiet word that settles deep:

Something about chanting
the Psalms settles the heart
which, indeed, is restless
until it rests in praise….

With praise a choice of words and not of feelings, we hear the “howl of pain” beyond all words as felt by the biblical character “Job,” and we feel the shock of fractured silence in these perceptive lines:

You live in unremitting darkness,
surrounded by an unbearable silence
with which your friends cannot cope.
They fill the air with worthless words,
ugly flies buzzing around your sores.

Those of us who have had well-meaning people try to make things better with words that did not work know how Job felt! And, most likely, we, too, have wanted to warn, “Remember I Am Fragile,” as the poet does in a poem by that name, which says: “I am the brittle reed, the sputtering wick/ flickering in the dark….”

Toward the end of the book, a sequence of poems in “Hermit Lessons” lays out a mélange of morsels to feed on and consider, for example:

The ultimate lesson?
Live simply.
Simply live.
Rise from the dead.

Ending with the line, ”Then, trust the darkness,” the last poem “Little Rule for a Minor Hermitage” contributes to my assumption in requesting this book: that these quiet poems do not call attention to themselves but, like a series of exquisitely wrought meditations, are meant to be read again and again.

© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer, is poet-author of Outside Eden, published in 2014 by Kelsay Books, and Living in the Nature Poem, published in 2012 by Hiraeth Press. This summer, Kelsay also published Beach Songs & Wood Chimes, Mary's first book of poems for children.

Practicing Silence, paperback


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Writing Metrical Poetry

If you have studied poetry in school or taken my poetry course and/or read its e-book version, you have a sweeping view of poetry that has most likely helped you to improve your poems and enjoy the works of other poets on a richer level. You probably have an idea of scansion, too, and know that scanning a poem can help you to write metered poetry and better appreciate traditional, metrical forms.

But what if you want more? What if you want to teach a class or workshop on traditional English poets and poetry? Or, what if you want to study and learn from classical and contemporary poets whose poems continue to be welcomed by poetry students, poetry lovers, and poets like you and me? Or, what if you want to be able to identify the forms you find scattered in e-zines or journals, such as Measure, that feature traditional poems?

Reading Measure: A Review of Formal Poetry led me to discover their online book catalog where I saw Writing Metrical Poetry by William Baer, a professor at the University of Evansville in Indiana, a prize-winning poet in his own right, and former editor of the journal, The Formalist, which, unfortunately, is no longer being published. Obviously, Professor Baer knows his stuff! More importantly, he knows how to present what can seem like complicated information in a clear, highly readable way. With that in mind, I wrote the editor of Measure, Rob Griffith to request a review copy, which he kindly had sent to me.

As the Preface to Writing Metrical Poetry explains, “All poets… wish to be artists, but all art begins with craft, and this book is about the craft of writing poetry in the great tradition of English-language poetry, which extends from Geoffrey Chaucer to Larkin and Richard Wilbur.” That brings us, the readers, from the earliest poets who wrote in English, developing language along the way, to poets of our lifetimes. What we can easily see from either extreme is that poetry has a long history with a huge variety of poetic forms in usage for centuries – and now!

Like a well-made antique, traditional literary forms seldom go out of style. And, as with furniture, you can mix these vintage literary forms with your contemporary interests and timeless, universal needs, arranging lively, eclectic lines that include your readers yet express the true you.

But here’s the real beauty! By becoming familiar with time-tested patterns, we can experiment with new usages, say, for writing a screenplay in blank verse or writing a book-length series of sonnets to address controversial issues, presenting both sides intelligently and poetically before drawing conclusions in the final couplets or quatrains.

In case you fear you’ve forgotten everything you knew about forms and meter, don’t worry! Professor Baer leads readers through, beginning with the Introduction, which not only refreshes memory but helps us to understand the effects meter can bring to our poems.

For example, the subtitle “What Distinguishes Poetry From Prose?” lists and clearly describes these three important differences:

• Emphasis on the line
• Emphasis on rhythm
• Emphasis on compression

The chapter on “Meter” lists and defines the primary feet (iamb, trochee, etc.) used to measure metered poetry, but, more, it opens with causatives that help us to understand the thinking behind the poetic measurements established by each country. As the text explains:

“The fundamental nature of every language determines its meter (the underlying rhythmic structure of its poetry) and the study of meter is called prosody. Different languages use different methods to create their sonic patterns; for example, accent is used in German, duration in Latin, and syllable-counting in Japanese.”

As soon as we can call on the basics of meter, we’re ready to follow the poet-author’s lead into studying patterns based on line count – quatrain (4), couplet (2), tercet (3) – and/or based on line length (meter) and rhyme schemes (sonnet, villanelle) and/or type of foot used (iambic, trochaic, anapestic, etc.)

It sounds like a lot! But the truth is, you mainly need to become familiar with only five foot-measurements (the iamb, trochee, anapest, dactyl, and spondee) and the rest is as easy as 1, 2, 3! Honest! It’s like cooking. Just learn the difference between a tablespoon (T) and teaspoon (tsp.) and the rest is in the recipe book.

While I highly recommend that every poet who wants to write traditional poems reads this book straight through, doing assignments along the way or after, I also want to emphasize that you do not need to know or remember these forms and patterns! Professor Baer knows them, presents them well, and provides you with a well-indexed book where you can look up a rondeau or clerihew or triolet when you’re ready to write one and need a trusted recipe.

What a difference this makes in the outcome! What new doors open! For, when your traditional poems are done, you’ll have delicious results much easier to predict than when you freely throw together ingredients and hope everything turns out to your liking and the tastes of your readers.

© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer, is also the poet-author of Outside Eden and Living in the Nature Poem in print and in an e-book on Kindle.

Writing Metrical Poetry, Writer’s Digest Books

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Unquiet Vigil: New and Selected Poems speak of a quiet life

This new offering of poetry appealed to me enough to request a review copy (which Paraclete Press kindly sent) because of the unique perspective I expected to find in the Unquiet Vigil of a Trappist monk, Brother Paul Quenon, OCSO, who once studied under Thomas Merton.

Let’s face it. We live in troubled times. And, even in our every-daily-ness, most of us have hurried, often harried, lives, not at all conducive to writing or reading poems. As I’ve found in my own writing life, poetry seldom screams to be heard.

In the “Author’s Note,” Br. Paul gives us a glimpse into his environment of peace and unrest through these words: “To keep vigil is literally to watch. ‘Watch’ is that one-word command given us by Jesus, much like the one word that opens the Holy Rule of St. Benedict: ‘Listen.’ The monastic life is a lifelong practice of both watching and listening.” And so, these poems circle “around silence to see and watch what is heard, a use of words to fix in hearing what is not quite seen.”

Unexpectedly, however, the opening poem shows us that we need to be on watch for the poet’s self-effacing humor. As “Gone Missing” says:

Kindly reader, I am a poem without a poet.
He has gone missing for weeks
and my house is empty. Suffer me awhile,
or go, and if you meet him –
he with a distant look and shambling gait –
tell him the hearth is cooling down.

Most poets can identify with that verse – an amusing yet sad reminder that poetry does not happen when we’re missing from our poems or evading our own lives.

“Lark Ascending” informs our poetry writing too, speaking of and for those poems that call to us from our deeper yet higher selves:

Not how high he goes it is
but from where he ascended,

where he hid, and when
he followed his music when
it escaped, and had to catch up with it
just to stay alive.

Conversely, the lowliness of a “Sad Possum” or “Sleepy Serpent,” keeps us as grounded as the prose poem, “Groundhog Extraordinaire,“ which begins with a confession that might well speak for us too: “In my prime I was a groundhog with attitude.”

Watching, listening to the quietness of nature often connects the poet – and us – to much more than what’s seen or heard. For example, in “1 July,” we’re given this insightful sight and persistent sound:

With its single note, single note
a common sparrow cleanses space
for meditation.

Not only animals cause us to pause as, in a “Cricket’s Reverie,” we see this Autumn scene:

Trees stand like harps,
strings bare just to the top
where golden notes hang caught
as song departs.

The section of the book entitled “Monkswear” might not sound as though we’ll connect to a monastic life so unlike our own, but then, amusingly, we discover a “Monk’s Cassock” has “Pockets deep enough/ to smuggle two wine bottles/ right through the cloister.”

Levity, loneliness, and worries speak – in various times and places – for almost everyone, but ultimately Br. Paul finds “My Silence Is The Lord.”

My silence is the Lord,
I listen, his silence speaks at all times.
When I listen not, my hearing is filled with words
and my tongue takes to rambling.

In the waiting silence, the poet and those who listen will hopefully hear a voiceless voice, saying:

I seek a heart that is simple.
With the peaceful I spread my tent.
I will wash your feet and dry them,
my silence will be their perfume.

© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer, is also the poet-author of Outside Eden with poems that speak to and for Bible people and Living in the Nature Poem in print and in an e-book on Kindle that speaks to and for nature – from wildlife to human nature to our spiritual nature too.

Unquiet Vigil: New and Selected Poems, paperback

Thursday, September 4, 2014

All Broken Up & other line breaks

One advantage of traditional forms of poetry hinges on the swing of a line. Instead of having to decide where and when to break each line of a poem, the pattern of your chosen form makes that decision for you.

For example, a sonnet written in iambic pentameter will be measured (meter) as five feet with iambs predominating. At the end of those five, the line breaks, and the next line of iambic pentameter begins with the same pattern repeated for 14 rhyming lines.

If you want to know more about the sonnet form, save this page and click the link below to an earlier post on the Poetry Editor blog. If you don't care, skip through the pink stuff!

Sonnets traditionally require poets to use rhythmic rhymes and argue nicely in fourteen lines

If you’re not sure what iambs and other poetic feet consist of but want to know, visit these discussions where I aimed to make the explanations as easy as possible.

Scan A Poem. Get The Picture.

Scan a poem. Catch the beat. Change the rhythm as you revise.

Accentual syllabic or metered verse

Unlike traditional forms of poetry with their consistent patterns, free verse is free of meter and free of other requirements, such as line length.

That sounds airy-light and, yeah, freeing, but this means you have to make a decision with every line. Sometimes that’s a hard call; sometimes not. Either way, line breaks can make or break a free verse poem.

Is this something to fret about as you write? No! Worry is more confining than any poetry pattern, so let poems flow. Then go back later to revise, breaking lines here or there or wherever your eyes and ears desire.

As you read each poem and revision aloud, keep your ear attuned to its musicality.

As you read each poem by sight, see if you find any evidence of a unique pattern to emphasize and make the poem pop.

In the following poem, for example, I played with line breaks on the word “break.” Then, during the revision process, I experimented with variations of “break” and “broke” and, mainly, had fun.

Play with words. Play around with line breaks. Try something new, and have a good time with your poems and your readers.

All Broken Up!
by Mary Harwell Sayler

Hey! What’s going on tonight?
My fingernail broke.
A bird broke into flight,
and, oh! The mirror broke!
Will it be all right?
Then someone breaks
the silence.

I went to bed closing
my eyes to these sights –
hoping and praying the breaks
might not last,
then morning broke
into dawn-light,
and I happily hopped down to break-

©2014, Mary Harwell Sayler. All rights reserved. The poem “All Broken Up!” originally appeared in Mary’s Kindle e-book for kids, the Poetry Dictionary For Children & For Fun and has been included, too, in her book of children’s poems, Beach Songs & Wood Chimes, to be published mid-September by Kelsay Books, who also published Outside Eden. In addition, Mary released the Kindle e-book the Christian Poet’s Guide to Writing Poetry as a revision of the poetry home study course she wrote and used for many years with other poets and poetry students. She continues to help poets, one-on-one, through her website.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Seashell Anthology of Great Poetry

When I requested a review copy of The Seashell Anthology of Great Poetry, which Seashell Press kindly sent to me, I thought the company had published a collection of poems by well-known and not-so-known poets. Come to find out though, this 2011 anthology, which originally saw publication in 1996, has now gone into its fourth printing. Oh, for my books of poems to do the same!

Since my bookshelves at home contain many fine poetry anthologies, the success of this edition intrigued me. Let’s face it: No matter how famous a memorable poem has become, publishers can put them together only so many times before poetry book-buyers like me start to catch on to little more than repackaging. Not so with this book!

As the editor, Christopher Burns, says in the introduction, “Great poetry is personal.” Ironically, this does not mean self-centered expressionism but, more likely, the opposite, for “It is in poetry, not on the Senate floor, that we debate the issues of honor, loyalty, love and respect for nature that are the foundations of our society. Poetry is a truth toward which our reason turns and we measure its strength by the way we feel.”

Although most poets and writers identify with “the contours of life, the loneliness of the artist, the uses of war, the role of nature, the constancy of love and the coming on of death” as individuals, we also recognize universal themes that say, “This is the singing of our tribe, called out across the noisy business of daily life.” Nevertheless, we’re to “Take it personally” as we feel, care, reach out, and swap stories.

The interweaving of poetry from centuries ago and the present day add to the call-and-response effect this anthology often gives as the poems interact with one another and with us as readers.

For example, that wonderful poem “The Creation” by James Weldon Johnson (1919) which opens the book, calls out where “Darkness covered everything,/ Blacker than a hundred midnights/ Down in a cypress swamp” until, eventually, “This Great God,/ Like a mammy bending over her baby,/ Kneeled down in the dust/ Toiling over a lump of clay/ Till He shaped it in His own image;/ Then into it He blew the breath of life,/ And man became a living soul.”

These lines help us to recall the beginnings we have in common to the core, and then Anne Sexton gives her 1975 version of “The Earth,” where God “does not envy the soul so much./ He is all soul/ but He would like to house it in a body/ and come down/ and give it a bath/ now and then.” In “Yet Do I Marvel,” Countee Cullen (1923) wanted to know why God would “make a poet black, and bid him sing.”

In the section entitled “For My People,” Walt Whitman (1855) sings his “Song of Myself” while Emma Lazarus (1886) focuses on “The New Colossus” in the Statue of Liberty who cries “With silent lips. ‘Give me your tired, your poor,/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,/ The wretched refuse of your teeming shore./ Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,/ I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’”

And then, a poet unknown-to-me, Charles Reznikoff (1936) insists, “I will write songs against you,/ enemies of my people,” before admitting, ”I will pelt you/ with the winged seeds of the dandelion./ I will marshal against you/ the fireflies of the dusk.”

Focused on the natural and the unnatural, love and war, life and death, the anthology gathers poems from the 16th century to the present day with an enormous range of voices from the melodious to the discordant, but each with something to say and a unique perspective or intriguing story from which to speak.

Besides the pleasure of seeing these universal themes approached from many directions, I appreciated “discovering” poets whose work I have not previously read mingled with old favorites, some of whom have fallen out of favor in recent years and anthologies. Realizing this, however, helped me to see that many anthologies aim to preserve the popular poetic works of a particular time, whereas this anthology concentrates on well-written poems, yes, but on poems that speak clearly and passionately to and for the people.

© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer is the poet-author of Outside Eden that speaks to and for Bible people and Living in the Nature Poem in print and in an e-book on Kindle with poems that speak to and for nature – from wildlife to human nature to our spiritual nature too.

The Seashell Anthology of Great Poetry, paperback

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Praying with poetry

Regardless of your religious background, you’ve most likely heard of the famous trio: Poets, Prophets, and Saints, but after Wipf & Stock (Resource Publications) sent me a review copy of Digging for God: Praying with Poetry by Anne M. Higgins, I’d like to revise that big 3 to Poets, Prophets, and Pray-ers – the latter of whom can be almost anyone, saintly or not.

Line drawings by Maureen Beitman illustrate the four sections: Eden, Solomon, Gethsemane, and Revelation – each of which has the format of a poem followed by suggestions for prayer or meditation. For example, the opening “Tribute Poem” begins with “Praise for late sleeping day,/ waking up without alarm.” Then, as you turn the page, you’re asked to “Name five events, situations, or experiences that you appreciate” with special emphasis on “the ordinary and undramatic ones” and “write a poem of praise to God for them.” Since the rest of the page is blank, you immediately have a place to respond.

Most likely, though, you came here for some kind of discussion about poetry, so let’s talk about the poems in this book. A quick glimpse might supply such adjectives as “light and lovely” or “nice!” – especially since the lines actually look light and the layout nice. But consider the first few lines in the “Second Antiphon in the Style of Hildegard.”

O You who squeeze the wind
until she howls,
who wring the rain until
she gushes

Marvelous metaphors! Yes? So, what do you think comes next? Since this is a Daughter of Charity writing, would you expect this?

O You who squeeze the wind
until she howls,
who wring the rain until
she gushes,
send electric waves
rushing through the cord
to jolt the vacuum cleaner
to roaring life.
I pray your power
moving in the homeliest of things.

The poem goes on to list a few, and then the next page invites you to “List five objects in your everyday life that you would call ‘the homeliest things.’/ What gift does each of them have for you?”

Although I had no intentions of interacting right then as I’m busy trying to give you an objective review, I suddenly got subjective with my list:

• Footstool to up-put and rest my achy feet
• Cheese slicer to keep from having too much of a good thing
• Child’s step-stool to stretch and reach beyond the moment
• Fresh sheets that smell only of fresh air
• A lamp to read this and spotlight the stack of poetry books and Bibles close beside me, waiting for reading and review

Many of the poems by Anne Higgins deftly catalog what she sees. For instance, in “Wintering on St. Mary’s Mountain,” we join the poet in viewing a winter-browned mountain where “Owls and woodpeckers/ skim the gravestones –/ buttons on her broad brown coat.”

The poems do not rely on sightedness only, though, but call us to “Go Out to the Woods and Feel the Tree Bark,” joining the poet in experiencing a “Tree whose name I do not know,/ wearing your cable knit sweater,/ gnarled, snarling.”

In the section, “Solomon,” we experience sounds, too, or lack thereof, in “The Roofless Church, New Harmony, Indiana,” with “Silence, brown as earth,/ we describe/ by making walls around it/ and describing / the walls” as an artist might draw negative space, rather than the object. And, in “Gethsemane,” we become “The Rich Young Man,” who walks away from Jesus, saying “…to the disciple at the doorway,/ ‘Excuse me -/ I really must go’.”

The next section, “Golgotha,” opens with the title poem where the “I” of the poem wonders “How come the weeds are still green/ when the grass is brown with drought?” Conversely, the last poem in the last section, “Revelation,” gives us a “Gardner’s Magnificat” where “My heart shudders in God’s loamy breath,/ and I stand silent before my flourishing garden,/ for God has called his love for me/ through the sound of the Wood Thrush,/ through sunlight and shadow on Iris and Peony./ God shines in the leathery purple Ajuga leaves,/ startles me with feathery Astilbe/ I thought long lost to me.”

Whether the invasive Ajuga covers the ground or the Astilbe plant flowers like bright-colored feathers, nothing in this little book seems lost or wasted on readers apt to wonder, ponder, and dig.

© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, poetry book reviewer and poet-author of a book of Bible-based poems Outside Eden published by Kelsay Books and Living in the Nature Poem published in print by Hiraeth Press and released this month as an e-book on Kindle

Digging for God: Praying with Poetry, paperback