Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Paraclete Poetry Anthology

Paraclete Press kindly sent me a complimentary copy of The Paraclete Poetry Anthology to review, and what a treasure it is! As the Foreword by former editor-publisher Jon M. Sweeney reminds us:

“Poems help us to quell doubts as well as raise questions. Poems help us explore our emotions and spark our imaginations. And they slow us down. To read a poem well is to go slowly, and every good poems resists what’s easy.”

An “easy” poem often tells us what a poet wants to say, instead of showing us. Often, too, the poet gets locked into a rhyme pattern that makes the easy poem a medley of sounds at the expense of sense, insight, or visual accompaniment.

By contrast, Mark S. Burrows, the editor of the anthology, discusses “A Sense of Presence” in his Introduction to “Poetry and the Education of the Soul.” He calls on poems to “animate our soul, that part of the self beyond the reach of worldly ambition and outward achievement. They hold before us the dimension of spiritual experience…..” and “initiate us into mystery.”

As the Introduction goes on to say: Poems “offer us language lifted into song, even if we must often learn to listen patiently for this music in the startlements of metaphor and unexpected syntax. In such ways poems turn aside from the didactic and speak primarily through innuendo and allurement, preferring indirection to more frontal modes of speech and leading us through and beyond the facts along often meandering paths of the imagination.”

Poetry helps us to notice, ponder, and pay attention. “For what matters is not that we grasp the poem, but it grasps us.”

If you’re a poet, the Introduction alone provides remarkable tutelage in writing. Then both poetry writers and readers can go on to enjoy the collection of poems that poet, professor, and editor Burrows chose according to his highly informed standards.

Take, for example, the first lines of the first poem in the book:

“On the threshold of the poem shake off the dust
the powder of hate from your soul
set aside passion
so as not to defile words.”

In the poem “Heavenly City,” Scott Cairns writes:

“…The world remains a puzzle,

no matter how many weeks one stands
apart from it, no matter how one tries

to see its troubled surfaces, or hopes
to dip beneath them for a glimpse of what it is

that makes this all appear to tremble so.”

In “Morning Lament” by the late Phyllis Tickle, to whom this anthology is dedicated, we catch another glimpse of poetry:

“In their awakened morning life,
They limply lie – my lilting lines –
Too labored now to fly,
And loosely hold in languid grasp
The half-remembered chants
Of lyrics lost in melody.”

Fr. John-Julian takes us on an insightful journey in “Long Wanderings” where:

“One chooses
and the other roads are gone,
into foothills which
will always be horizon now
and never home –“

Thankfully editor-poet Mark S. Burrows translated a few poems by the Iranian poet SAID with lines such as these:

“look o lord
I don’t sing your praises
but I seek you
with my limbs
which I’ve tamed just for you
for I want to keep watch over your word
so that love may be found anew
and we win back our wildness.”

Toward the end of this highly recommended anthology, Editor Burrows also translates poems by Rilke, but in between his skilled translations you’ll find contemporary poets whose work you won’t want to miss.

Mary Harwell Sayler, poet-writer reviewer, ©2016

The Paraclete Poetry Anthology, paperback

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Best American Poetry, 2016

Edited by Edward Hirsch, this year’s edition of The Best American Poetry, 2016, astronomically abounds with rising stars and a constellation of such brilliant poets as David Bottoms, Lynn Emanuel, Dana Gioia, Jorie Graham, Tony Hoagland, Garrett Hongo, Yusef Komunyakaa, Li-Young Lee, Larry Levis, David St. John, James Tate, and C.K. Williams, whom I mention only because I know for sure I’ve read, appreciated, and re-read their work. Yet others in this collection are every bit as dazzling or insightful.

Published annually by Simon & Schuster, who kindly sent me a complimentary copy to review, this year’s edition offers poets and poetry lovers an anthological wonder usually found only in thick volumes. As a bonus, the “Contributors’ Notes and Comments” in the back matter let us know what gave the poets the impetus for many of the poems.

Equally helpful, the book includes the names of journals in which each poem originally appeared. This information expands our possibilities for publication as we visit the websites for those journals and e-zines, study their publications, adhere to their writing guidelines, and submit our own best work.

With poet-professor David Lehman the series editor each year, these “best” books also give us a glimpse of the variety of poetic forms and content shaping American literature.

In the opening “Foreword,” David Lehman sets a high standard for our “apocalyptic” age by referring us to the “chilling statement of our condition” as revealed in the hauntingly beautiful poem “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats, which begins:

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold,
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

…an intensity which increases in the poem's remaining lines.

This year’s editor Edward Hirsch then gives us a sweeping assessment of American poetry in the “Introduction,” before summarizing his response to “reading hundreds of literary magazines.” As he candidly tells us:

“What was I looking for? – I wasn’t always sure. What I found myself responding to, what continued to compel me, was precision and surprise. Memorable lines, craft deployed. Poems I could not shake, texts that arrested me. Poems that demonstrated a certain kind of thinking, imagistic or metaphorical thinking, poetry inquiry. Literary investigations, obsessions, intelligence. Emotional accuracy. Poems written under pressure, poems in which something dramatic is at stake, at risk, for the speaker, who would not be deterred. A kind of ruthless authenticity.”

A fresh slant or insight is an integral part of this as shown in “The Sadness of Clothes” written by Emily Fragos and initially published in Poem-A-Day.

”You tell the worn raincoat that if you talk about it,
you will finally let grief out. The ancients etched the words
for battle and victory onto their shields and then they went out

and fought to the last breath. Words have that kind of power
you remind the clothes that remain in the drawer, arms stubbornly
folded across the chest, or slung across the backs of chairs….”

Tony Hoagland also presents a fresh, highly visual perspective in “Bible Study,” originally published in Poetry magazine:

“I was on the road for so long by myself,
I took to reading motel Bibles just for company.
Lying on the chintz bedspread before going to sleep,
still feeling the motion of the car inside my body,
I thought some wrongness in my self had left me that alone.

And God said,
You are worth more to me
than one hundred sparrows.
And when I read that, I wept.
And God said,
Whom have I blessed more than I have blessed you?

And I looked at the minibar
and the bad abstract hotel art on the wall
and the dark TV set watching like a deacon.
And God said,
Survive. And carry my perfume among the perishing.”

These spiritual instants often appear in down-to-earth moments such as “I Got Heaven…” by Garrett Hongo, whose “I” of the Miramar published poem walks “among penitents at the Festival of the Dead” and gives us these imagistic lines:

“I swear that, in Gardena, on a moonlit suburban street,
There are souls that twirl like kites lashed to the wrists of the living
And spirits who tumble in a solemn limbo between 164th
And the long river of stars to Amida’s Paradise in the West.”

In free verse, sonnets, villanelles, and prose poetry, the poems in this collection address life, death, disappointments, loneliness, and spiritual meanderings. For example, the poem from The Southern Review, “If He Came & Diminished Me & Mapped My Way,” by the late Larry Levis asks:

“Who was present in the pattern of the snake fading
Into the pattern of the leaves again?

And who presided over the empty clarity of water falling,
Water spreading into a thin, white veil
Glimpsed just once in a moment clear & empty as a heaven –

Once heaven has been swept clean of any meaning?”

In “Psalm for the Lost” published in Image, Paul Mariani investigates the dark “Because it is the nature/ of the restless mind which knows too well/ that nothing is ever really known, no matter/ how much one tells oneself it is.” The poem then draws some relief from the hope flicking through this conclusion:

“Dark, dark, oh dark. And nothing for it
but to let the wind rebuild it, bit by bit, and lift it as it will.”

In “Late Aubade” James Richardson confesses:

“I get that the coffee, the sunlight on glassware, the Sunday paper
and our studious lightness, not hearing the phone, are iconic
of living regretless in the Now. A Cool that’s beyond me:
I’m having some trouble acting suitably poised and ironic.”

In the widening gap between generations past and those to come, the above poem from The Yale Review ends by asking, “Life, are we exclusive, are we forever?”

That’s the kind of question one might ask a lover. But then, that’s what this highly recommended book presents: a love affair with life, words, and the intimate details of that-which-has-been-noticed and intricately received.

Mary Harwell Sayler, poet-writer, reviewer, ©2016

The Best American Poetry, 2016, paperback

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

WE: the poets

Cladach Publishing kindly sent me a copy of the new book POEMS to review, but most likely, the poet-author James Troy Turner will not see this. According to the book’s Preface, his poems “were written on napkins, on the pages of notebooks, journals, and legal pads, to name a few – whatever paper Troy had handy when inspiration came.” With no laptop or computer on this list, he’s most likely to be hanging out with his dog Pedro than on the Internet.

Reading POEMS, you can’t help but notice the honesty, faith, and immediacy expressed in the rhythmic, often rhyming lines. In the first poem, “God,” for example, the “I” of the poem candidly states:

“You cleansed my soul and healed me up
with tender love and care.
I only wish that I had known
that You were always there.”

Other poems, such as “Wedge of Satan,” offer fresh, unpretentious insight –

“Misunderstanding is the pulpit of evil.
It eats through your soul as the grain with the wind.”

– or they offer observation, as shown in “Lonely is the Man” –

“Lonely is the man with his face in his hands.”

– or humor, as in “All the Really Good Poems Never Get Written”

– or vulnerability and an active mind, as in “Thought:”

“I’m really not a poet;
If you read this, then you’ll know it.
But I have fun trying –
To stop would be like dying”

– which is truly spoken like a true poet.

In “About The Poet” at the end of the book, we learn that school was hard for Troy as his family “moved state to state following the harvest of various fruits.” Although an English teacher, Ethel Dean Bell, “instill(ed) in him the desire to write,” Troy did not study poetry or the fine arts but served in the Navy during the Vietnam War and later enrolled in the Denver Automotive and Diesel College.

What I’m trying to show is that poets like James Troy Turner are salt-of-the-earth people who can’t not write the poems that come to them.

I’m not sure how salty I am, but I strongly identify with Troy’s faith and the disability to stop writing.

At the other end of the spectrum of poets, we might find disbelief, cynicism, and infatuations with power, money, sex, intellectualism, and one’s own self. Having the educational advantages of language and literature at their highest, such poetry is often eloquent or, to use a favorite term, “gorgeous,” thus making beautiful the too-common contents of vulgarity, dishonesty, or despair.

Over the years, I’ve aspired to writing better and better poetry, eventually managing to line my office with seven shelves of poetry books, anthologies, and how-to’s on poetry forms, scansion, and revisions. Now, having read them at least once, my “techniques” have improved, and I’m grateful for what I’ve learned, but the pendulum has swung too far toward design, rather than content.

If WE: the poets want real readers, we need to speak to and for real people in our poems.

If WE: the poets switch our sights from prizes and publication to being more sincere, clear, and observant of what’s right in front of us, our poems will consistently be “winners.”

If WE: the poets need to return to our down-to-earth roots of honesty, truth, and genuine caring, POEMS will help.

Mary Harwell Sayler, poet-writer, reviewer, © 2016

POEMS, paperback

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Remembering Softly: a life in poems

In this age of slung mud and cynicism, what a joy to receive the refreshing book, Remembering Softly: a life in poems by Catherine Lawton, published by Cladach Publishing, who kindly sent me a copy for review.

The back of the softly colorful cover let me know that Catherine and I began writing poetry about the same age, which makes me suspect she also loves the play of sounds and words. More important, her poetry comes from the spirit with a heart for life and the Divine.

As her opening quote from Romans 12:1 suggests, she writes “With eyes wide open to the mercies of God.” Then, in the Introduction, the poet gives a glimpse of her writing process, which I recognize and highly recommend. She says:

“Admittedly, I am not a disciplined poet. I can compose meter and rhyme on demand; but mostly I wait for that elusive and mysterious inspiration. The important thing is to capture on paper the phrases, images, and insights as they come; to sit with them, savor them, polish them like agates; and if they pass the test of holding together and ringing true, to share them.”

…which reminds me to say that a major aspect of writing poetry is being hospitable! i.e., As a line, image, or musical phrase comes, the immediate task is to give that opening full attention. Then the rest of the poem will often follow.

That sense of hospitality and keen awareness of the present moment develops in reverse order, chronologically, as the book begins with current times and goes back to earlier poems. Even then, an appreciation of life apparently began in childhood as the last poem in the book nicely demonstrates.

In “It’s a Beautiful Day,” the child-poet wrote:

"The robins sing.
And the roosters crow.
The rising sun warms
The valley below.

With the same time of day and observant eye but greater complexity, the poet begins the book with “In the Cleft of a Cold, White Rock,” written earlier this year:

“As in the close space
between dawn and dusk
of a January day when
hoar-frosted trees
have their feet in snow
and their branches
raised against a white,
weighty sky, a crevice
of blue breaks and
frosted arms sparkle;
I find myself pressed between granite slabs….”

The press between the visual and the spiritual continues in “Snow on Good Friday” where flakes fall “like manna fallen from Heaven” while, in “God’s Anvil”…

“the church
to purity

Oh, what a blessing that would be!

The hopes and prayers of a life given to love come through strongly in this book, but fresh scenes also draw us back to the visual. In “Autumn Walk Along the Poudre River,” for example:

“I see kingfisher, yellow-legs, bright magpie;
hear squirrels chatter, red-tails scream,
and splashing fish in sparkling stream.”

Besides noting designs in nature, the poet included the light and lively artwork of her granddaughters Isabelle Lawton and Breanna Slike, bringing yet another lovely touch to this book.

Review by Mary Harwell Sayler, poet-writer reviewer, © 2016

Remembering Softly: a life in poems, paperback

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Micropoetry by Mary Sayler - The Micropoets Society

If you write haiku, senryu, aahcoo, or other minipoems, is a fun place to post your micropoetry in one place, and it's free. My page will show you what I mean.

Micropoetry by Mary Sayler - The Micropoets Society

Saturday, August 27, 2016

A poem is a poem is a poem

What is a poem? Answers will vary, depending on whom you ask, but basically, a poem is a poem because the poet calls it a poem or because someone recognizes some sort of poetic quality in it.

Occasionally poets have called scrambled lines or incoherent phrases a poem without fear of having their poetic license revoked. However, if you want your poems to be appealing to you and other readers too, think of the characteristics that long-cherished poems often have in common:

EMOTION-APPEAL – Stirring poems address a topic or situation you care about – one with which most people can identify. In other words, your subject matter matters – not only to you but others as well.

MIND-APPEAL – A memorable poem clarifies a concept, often using a comparison to bring an abstract subject into clearer view or sharper focus. You make the unknown better known – to yourself and to your readers.

EAR-APPEAL – A well-tuned poem composes syllables and word plays to sound and resound with echoes and rhythmic beat. As maestro, you set the pace and call the tune to which many others sway.

EYE-APPEAL – A well-formed poem uses words, punctuates thoughts, and breaks lines to clarify a picture or to spotlight something you want to stress. With fine-tipped artistry, you show precisely what you intend to communicate or reveal.

SPIRIT-APPEAL – A lasting poem speaks truths that ring true and stay true. Your reception of love, justice, empathy, and forgiveness provide real wisdom and unbiased truths for you to compare, contrast, or re-present.

Memorable poems have timeless connections to the spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical natures people experience themselves or encounter in others. Such lines, drawn from common interests and concerns, bring fresh insights or conclusions you easily could have missed without the poem to coax you toward a longer, deeper, closer look.

• Poems are meant to be seen. They're meant to create mental pictures and re-create physical scenes.

• Poems are meant to be heard. They're meant to be read aloud – in public or in private.

• Poems are meant to be felt – to have a strong impact on emotions, mind, senses, and spirit.

Unfortunately, some feelings erupt from misunderstandings. Some sounds merely make noise. Some sights are not worth seeing. However, when you have a single theme and a clear purpose in mind as you edit or revise, your poem will be more apt to become a cohesive, artistic unit.

by Mary Harwell Sayler, (c)2016, 2012, 2005, 1983 from poetry course now as the Kindle e-book, the Christian Poet's Guide to Writing Poetry

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Haiku and Senryu: A Simple Guide for All

In the book, Haiku and Senryu: A Simple Guide for All, which was kindly sent to me to review, the poet-author-teacher Charlotte Digregorio conversationally discusses these two favored forms as one who avidly reads, writes, and teaches other poets and poetry students. One chapter even addresses “Teaching Haiku and Senryu” with practical suggestions and checklists non-teachers will also welcome.

While most of us might not be leading classes on syllabic verse, this book gives us a deeper appreciation of two minimalistic yet highly expressive and impressive forms. In the first chapter, for example, we learn:

“Haiku are from the heart, and they can touch the reader by evoking any type of emotion, from sadness to happiness. Effective haiku is thoughtful, insightful and intuitive, and it captures the moment.” To do this, “it must be written in the present tense.”

The present helps us to “show, not tell,” thereby engaging the senses as we write, so our readers can experience the moment with some of the wonder we felt or the beauty we noted in as few words as possible.

Traditionally, haiku has three lines with 5/7/5 syllables per line, respectively, which some poets and I still prefer as a unique challenge for combining imagery and musicality. However, many other American poets use a 4/6/4 syllabic count or 3/5/3, which “may yield more lightness and flow to the poem.”

Reading each draft of your poem will help you to hear which you prefer. Also, omitting “words that reveal too much of the meaning,” deleting adjectives, and cutting unnecessary articles such as “the” or “an” may reduce the size of your poem while compressing content.

The same principles work well for senyru too, which focuses on human nature rather than the seasonal elements and natural environments of haiku. Both forms can amuse, but “Senryu should always be light and playful humor – not insulting or offensive. It can even be satirical.” For example:

“Season’s Greetings” …
braggart’s annual letter
fuels the yule log

Charlotte Digregorio

Senryu and haiku rely on strong verbs and nouns with “a reason for each word that is used.” Nothing abstract or redundant works in poems where every character counts. This compression, along with an “understated element, which is typical of senryu and haiku, makes the poem powerful.”

If, though, you prefer more lines to express an insight or retain a fleeting moment, the chapter on “Haiku and Senryu Sequences” offers these tips:

“A haiku or senryu sequence is a series with a certain theme or tone. You can take a theme and look at it from various perspectives. While individual haiku and senryu have no titles, sequences do.”

The poems in a sequence can build on one another or follow “a chronology of moments that you have captured. The poem should, of course, move forward smoothly and effectively through its imagery” as do the examples presented throughout this highly recommended book.

Mary Harwell Sayler, poet, author, reviewer, © 2016

Haiku and Senryu: A Simple Guide for All, paperback