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


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Annual Writing Contest for Poets and Writers

Last day to enter this well-run writing contest! It's been around for over 30 years, and I've been one of the judges for much of that time. Since it's a blind contest, I won't know who won what until finalists have been announced along with the reasons their work was chosen, but I hope you mail your best poems and manuscripts before the p.o. closes today, or email through the online site before midnight.

Monday, February 29, 2016

The new release of Observations by Marianne Moore

In the new release of Observations, which publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux kindly sent me to review, the poems of Marianne Moore have been restored to their original appearance.

After the book first came out in 1924, the poems were so well received that Moore became the second recipient to receive the highly prized Dial Award, won previously by T.S. Eliot. Nevertheless, Moore later omitted at least a dozen of the poems in subsequent collections of her work and radically revised some of the poems that remained.

As the “Introduction by Linda Leavell” reminds us, Marianne Moore “was the first major poet to appropriate for poetry the language of textbooks and commerce.” Occasionally, her poems even included quotations from ads or from comments she had overheard!

Equally innovative were the syllabic patterns Moore set for herself, which, as Linda Leavell tells us, “are most easily seen in ‘The Fish,’ where each stanza contains six lines of 1-3-8-1-6-9 syllables each, and the rhyme scheme is aaxbbx. The title, as is often the case with Moore, serves as first line.”

Such titles as “Bowls,” “Novices,” and “The Octopus” also act as the opening lines to their respective poems, but, unexpectedly, that octopus consists “of ice. Deceptively reserved and flat” and lying “beneath a sea of shifting snow dunes” in a long poem whose lines sprawl and retract like their namesake.

Other titles bear note, too, not for their brevity or line placement but their quirkiness, for example: “Is Your Town Nineveh?” “An Egyptian Pulled Glass Bottle in the Shape of a Fish,” “To a Steam Roller,” “Diligence Is to Magic as Progress Is to Flight,” or “Nothing Will Cure the Sick Lion but to Eat an Ape.”

Notable, too, among the poet’s many experiments and innovations are the Moore-made patterns she set for herself in writing syllabic verse with such odd line breaks that readers might miss the sound echoes and rhymes unless they read the poems aloud.

Anyone who has read Moore’s poetry has likely noticed her experiments in forms and free verse, but the contents of the unusual lines bring to light a poet who challenges the status quo, for instance, in “Roses Only” when the poet tells the flower often memorialized in poetry, “You do not seem to realize that beauty is a liability….”

Or, when the poet writes about “Poetry,” the 1924 version begins, “I too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle./ Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one/ discovers that there is in/ it after all, a place for the genuine.” Moore aimed to show that genuine while disdaining the obtuse poetry in and out of vogue during her lifetime. In 1925, her heavily revised version of “Poetry” tells us:

“I too, dislike it:
there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle.
The bat, upside down; the elephant pushing,
a tireless wolf under a tree,
the base-ball fan, the statistician –
'business documents and schoolbooks' _
these phenomena are pleasing,
but when they have been fashioned
into that which is unknowable,
we are not entertained.
It may be said of all of us
the we do not admire what we cannot understand;
enigmas are not poetry.”

Those of us who remember Ms. Moore sweeping onstage in her floppy hats and outgoing personality know how entertaining she could be, chatting with Jack Parr on The Tonight Show, but apparently that image of her as poet lingered too. Years later, at my high school reunion, a friend asked if I'm still writing, and when I answered, "Yes, poetry," he said, "Then, why don't you dress like a poet?" Why, indeed.

Review by poet-author Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2016

Marianne Moore Observations, Poems, paperback

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Poetry and The Word

After a few years of trying to maintain several blogs with regular posts on Blogger, I saw a need to simplify! So a new umbrella blog has been set up for The Word Center on WordPress.

Lord willing, the blog will include Bible prayers, Bible poetry, devotionals, poems, writing tips, articles on writing, biblical principles of Christian healing, and reviews of new editions or translations of the Bible.

If you're a worker of words or a minister of The Word, I pray you will Follow the blog and find what you need. If not, please leave a question, helpful comment, or suggestion for future posts.

Thanks and blessings.

Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2016