Thursday, December 18, 2014

You, me, and Wallace Stevens

This week before Christmas, I received a surprise gift from poet-peer Glynn Young, author of the book Poetry at Work, which we've previously discussed and which I wish I’d remembered sooner to suggest as a great Christmas gift for everyone in the office.

In my Christian Poets & Writers group on Facebook, Glynn had posted a hotlink to his blog post on Wallace Stevens, another poet whose work I admire. Naturally, I clicked the link and surprise! It took me a moment to realize that the article begins with my poem, “Landscape Loved by Wallace Stevens.”

Glynn acknowledged me as author, of course, and also my poetry book, Living in the Nature Poem, which includes that poem, but then he went beyond that. He provided a hotlink to the book on Amazon and another to my website. Nice!

Oh, if we would all be so nice to one another, think of the interest we might generate in poetry!

Think of the poets we would encourage.

Think of the poetry network we could build with poems we like and poetry books we recommend if we simply let others know we recommend them.

Think of the publishers who might retweet our tweets about our poetry book reviews.

Think of the way poetry can counteract the terrorism of hurtful words.

Think of the joy we can bring to one another as Glynn did me.

May your Christmas be blessed and your New Year a blessing to your readers, poetry editors, and other poets too.

© 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.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Early Poetry of Charles Wright

By the time I discovered the poetry of Charles Wright, his work had received prestigious awards, but not the Pulitzer, which I thoroughly expected him to win, and he did. Since then, I’ve continued to follow but not study his poems beyond my own ponderings. So when I learned of The Early Poetry of Charles Wright: A Companion, 1960-1990 written by English professor Robert D. Denham, I eagerly requested a review copy, which the publisher, McFarland, kindly sent.

As the author said in the Introduction, “Each of Wright’s poems can be read as a discrete work, but each is also part of an expansive quest.”

Sometimes this quest focuses on the poet’s life, sometimes on a fitting form, sometimes on spiritual questioning. In lesser hands, such aims might make for self-absorbed writing that doesn’t connect well with readers, but Wright’s acute powers of observation and fresh phraseology connect with us on an artistic, spiritual, and intellectual level. At times, though, the poet’s subject matter can be elusive and exclusive, so I welcomed Denham’s knowledge of poems I’d enjoyed, admired, but not necessarily understood!

Again in the Introduction, the author explained: “In the present book the notes that accompany most of the poems follow the usual conventions of annotation. They identify Wright’s sources (he is a comparatively allusive poet), along with people, places, things, and events that might not be immediately obvious. They also point to perceived influences, parallels to other poets, biographical details, historical explanation, and other kinds of supplementary and expository information, and they translate the occasional foreign word and phrase, ordinarily Italian.” Yeah!

To take full advantage of Professor Denham’s explications of the poems, you do well to have a copy of Wright’s two trilogies alongside, so you can see what’s going on that you might have missed (as I did) when reading Country Music: Selected Early Poems and The World of the Ten Thousand Things: Poems 1980-1990.

In summarizing Country Music, for example, the author provides a chart to point out the “Condensed form; process of squeezing down; the pilgrimage moves upward.” Also on the chart, we see that Hard Freight deals with the past in a “book of disparate individual lyrics” with “...narrative structure,” while Bloodlines focuses on the present in a “book of sequences” with both imagistic and narrative tone and structure. Addressing the future, China Trace has “movement toward a spiritual hope” in a “forty-six part poem beginning in childhood and ending in the constellation of fixed stars.

The World of the Ten Thousand Things follows a past, present, and future timeline, too, in each of the books with The Southern Cross focusing on large concepts in the past. The Other Side of the River brings narrative-based poems into today, while Zone Journals and Xionia are concerned with what’s to come.

To give us further grounding, Professor Denham includes quotes from Wright himself. For example, in discussing “The New Poem” from the first trilogy, Wright defined that poem as “a reaction… to the idea that everything in the sixties was going to be different and make our lives different and was going to change everything.”

In “Spider Crystal Ascension,” Wright wanted to “compress the language and the thought to such a point that it stops being small and starts to enlarge…. Which is to say, rather than writing a lot to get larger and larger, you write less and less.”

References to poets, painters, and even post cards occur in the second trilogy. For example, in “Composition in Grey and Pink,” Denham says, “The instruction that Wright gave himself for this poem was to produce a watercolor in words.” How did that go?

"The souls of the day’s dead fly up like birds, big sister,
The sky shutters and casts loose.
And faster than stars the body goes to the earth.

Heat hangs like a mist from the trees.
Butterflies pump through the banked fires of late afternoon.
The rose continues its sure rise to the self."

In my opinion, that watercolor in words went amazingly well.

For “October,” Wright just wanted to write a seasonal poem, and for “Driving through Tennessee,” we learn that “Wright’s instruction to himself was ‘to write a poem that was basically commentary’.”

"In the moonlight’s fall, and Jesus returning, and Stephen Martyr
and St. Paul of the Sword…

– I am their music"

Besides the mood music and gorgeous lines, what interests and surprises me is how Wright sets goals and guidelines for his frequent experiments with poetry! If the average poet were to say, "I'm gonna write a commentary in a poem," the lines would most likely come out as stiff as brocade with none of the beauty. Besides, who even thinks of writing a poem just to see if you can get a verb on every line as Wright does in “California Spring”?

Are you starting to think what I'm thinking? Not only is this a writer of absolutely beautiful poetry but a poet who lives in the poem.

His poem “Ars Poetica” says it well:

"I like it because I’m better here than I am there,

Surrounded by fetishes and figures of speech:
Dog’s tooth and whale’s tooth, my father’s shoe, the dead weight
Of winter, the inarticulation of joy . . .

The spirits are everywhere.

and once I have called them down from the sky, and spinning and
dancing in the palm of my hand,
What will it satisfy?
I’ll still have

The voices rising out of the ground,
The fallen star my blood feeds,
this business I waste my heart on.

And nothing stops that."

Oh, thank God, Charles. Thank God.

© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer, has authored 27 traditionally published books in all genres, including 3 books of poetry, Outside Eden, Beach Songs & Wood Chimes, and Living in the Nature Poem.

The Early Poems of Charles Wright, paperback

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The quiet, unassuming life of a poet

Usually, “unassuming” refers to an attitude of meekness and humility, which a poet might have – or not. Conversely, “assuming” typically indicates pretentiousness or a certain air of arrogance, and no, I’m not talking about that either.

What comes to mind is how a poet needs to avoid assuming anything and, therefore, be “un-assuming.”

To un-assume might mean an attitude of acceptance of whatever comes. Unlike people other than mystics or prophets, a poet needs to aim for and retain a sense of openness.

To un-assume might also mean recognizing the ongoing need to check out everything – from looking up words in the dictionary to verifying quotations and their sources to researching a subject of interest and getting facts straight – yes, in poetry!

To un-assume might mean acknowledging that other people and resources have legitimate perspectives that differ from our own – and then being curious about them and also fair.

A closed box, cement block, locked door, or heavy duty marker with permanent ink do not spell the receptivity I’m talking about, but instead illustrate the opposite.

An unassuming life allows for spontaneity, mystery, and those unexpected turns a poem might take before finishing what it has to say – to us and to our readers. Whatever allows the surprise and wonder we experienced in childhood is what will most likely work well in an honest, unassuming poem.

© 2014, Mary Sayler is poet-author of Outside Eden, Beach Songs & Wood Chimes, and Living in the Nature Poem in print and in an e-book on Kindle. Mary also works with other poets through the Contact & Critiques page on her website.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Micropoetry and more

Despite the above title, the only real “rule” for micropoetry is less, not more. In versions made popular on Twitter, a micro poem, Tweetku, or Twaiku has 140 characters or less as found by using a hashtag with those words or by typing #micropoetry.

In general, a micro poem might have ten words or less or, more likely, one to six lines.

Some writers of these mini poems prefer the structured form of haiku in its traditional form of the English equivalent of 5/ 7/ 5 syllables respectively on three lines, but contemporary versions of haiku often break with that tradition anyway, giving rise to new mini-forms. Unlike most haiku, though, a micro poem might include rhymes with no reference to nature or any particular season of the year.

A pioneer of micropoetic adventures is Editor-Publisher-Poet Frank Watson, who kindly accepted a couple of my poems last year for his first issue of Poetry Nook. Since he liked my poetry, I suspected I would enjoy his work, too, and so I welcomed the review copies he sent me of his books Seas to Mulberries and The Dollhouse Mirror, published by Plum White Press.

In both books, the poet presents tiny cameos, super-short stories, petite prose poems, or fleeting scenes in miniature. Since I've run out of adjectives to tell you about them, let’s look at some micro poems in the first book, Seas to Mulberries.

In a footnote to the poet’s translation of a poem by Li Yi (746-829), we learn that the title phrase “is an idiom reflecting how greatly things can change over time.” Interestingly, that translation from Chinese into four quatrains of English gives us one of the longest poems in the book with examples of change paradoxically showing their timelessness. For instance:

Inquiring on our family names,
Surprised, we begin to see;
We state our names
And reflect upon our changed appearances.

Coming and going, forever changing:
Seas to mulberries, mulberries to seas.
Our words cease
By the evening bell.

More typical, perhaps, is the use of brevity in poetic statements such as:

to feel vs. to know

does it matter
to the soul?


you sing
a discordant song
while I play along

Sound echoes of assonance and light rhyme appear in the following poem, too, which also gives us an example of a quickly sketched scene.

desert woman
of the sand

your shadow
an outstretched hand

With few lines to guide our reading of micropoetry, the more we look, the more and more we see story potential:

in history
there is little
but ruined towns

and clouds
that tell a story.

Ironically, perhaps, the first collection of mini-poems by Frank Watson takes up almost 280 pages, whereas the second book, The Dollhouse Mirror, is a slender volume of 58 pages, which I liked as its very slimness contributes to an appropriately slower pace in reading. I also connected more with the immense universality of his micro poems in such lines as these:

to the poet
there is a love of beauty
in all its
terrifying forms


the forest
curled up
into a story
of stranded souls
away from city lights

As you can see, micro poems may or may not contain punctuation, capitalization, and other markers of English, set often in incomplete sentences as in these lines:

seed planted
on the grave
of yesterday’s tears

But then, you might also find a micro poem completed in one small sentence that memorializes a humorous moment:

a doll stares out
the store window
at the little girl
of her dreams

Using this “form” without a form, a poet can dream or drop in almost anything – past memorabilia, present tensions, and future hopes – with philosophical whispers that linger in our thoughts and in this closing poem:

there is time
enough for weeping
as the dust settles
and all the books
remain closed

©2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, poet, writer, and poetry editor, invites you to Search this blog for previously discussed poetic forms, terminology, or techniques that interest you, then suggest poetry-related topics you would like to see addressed in future posts. Follow the blog, and you won't miss a thing!

Seas to Mulberries, paperback

The Dollhouse Mirror, paperback


Monday, November 17, 2014

Women on Poetry: Writing, Revising, Publishing and Teaching

If you would love to be in a crowd of poets where each literary artist gives you a woman's perspective on writing, revising, publishing, and teaching poetry, this is it!

This is the book I wish I’d had when I began sending my poems to potential publishers – the book I wish I’d had before leading my first writing workshop or teaching poetic forms to a class of third graders or doing poetry readings. This book might have eased my search for role models and lessened my remorse over having to learn to market myself. This is the book that might have given me a realistic view of publishing to offset the assumptions made when I earned $35 for a single poem the first time a publisher accepted my work for publication over 30 years ago! Since then I’ve received many writer’s copies but almost no cash, eventually learning the hard way many of the helpful experiences and information you'll find in this book.

Published by McFarland, who kindly gave me a copy to review, Women on Poetry: Writing, Revising, Publishing and Teaching presents 59 essays from an eclectic group of poets offering diverse approaches to poetry related to one of these general categories:

Part I
Our Writing Life – A Collective Voice

Part II
We Who Pass It On – Tips on Teaching

Part III
The Next Step – Publishing Our Poetry

Part IV
Just for Us – Essential Wisdom

To begin at the beginning, renowned poet Molly Peacock gives a word of advice in the Foreword that took me years of looking back to see! She said: “Noticing – the act of simple observation – lies at the foundation of lyric poetry. It is the precision of noticing that leads to the leaps of metaphor that thrill the readers of the art.”

Or, to say it another way: Neither a heightened imagination nor a high I.Q. mark a poet who writes with precision and freshness. However, the work of a poet who simply notices everything is apt to be brilliant!

For centuries though, the shine of a poet has typically spotlighted men who write, and so, as Editors Carol Smallwood, Collen S. Harris and Cynthia Brackett-Vincent explain in the Introduction, “It follows, then, that women poets may have a more difficult time thinking of themselves as ‘serious poets’ and have a more difficult time feeling comfortable promoting themselves as poets.”

That’s certainly been true for me. And yet, with the exception of my first-store-bought-book of poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, the work of women poets often discouraged me in my early years of writing more than poetry by men! With too few female artists being anthologized or discussed in literature classes, I saw women poet-peers as wordy workers of words apt to go on and on in confessionals, suicidal thoughts, or exploration of their own body parts. Since none of that interested me, I filled my bookshelves with poetry from Auden to Yates with a little Zen thrown in until I gleefully discovered Mary Oliver, Jane Kenyon, Pattianne Rogers, Jorie Graham, Anna Akhmatova, and Denise Levertov as other-centered poets with whom I enjoyed keeping company and learning about the world at large.

I pray our peer base of female poets addressing universal subjects will widen as we read this highly recommended book and consider such topics as “The Fine Art of Revision,” “In Praise of the Chapbook,” “Writing Prompts,” and “Give ‘Em the Beat: Tips on Teaching Meter,” which also shows you how to revise a rhythmic poem to fit a metered form.

Also in the first two sections, one of my favorite chapters, “Fishing Lines, Dream Hieroglyphics: How to Begin a Poem,” provides “Twelve Ways to Jump Start a Poem,” with suggestions ranging from browsing a dictionary (which Billy Collins has reportedly done) to listening to music (which T.S. Eliot was known to do.) For me, observing nature (which Mary Oliver does) jumpstarted at least two book of poems and intense Bible study another.

To keep learning and improving our poetry, the works of other poets can continue to inform and inspire us, hopefully, throughout our long poetic lives. I also want to support poetry in the arts, but after buying hundreds of poetry books, chapbooks, and anthologies, I decided to support my habit by requesting review copies from traditional publishers whose work I already know I like. Studying those books and seeing what works and what does not cannot help but help my own poetry, and I like the idea of helping other poets as you’ll be encouraged to do in the essay on “How – and Why – to Write Book Reviews.”

I've merely highlighted a few of my Favs here, but in Women on Poetry, you can expect to find a wealth of preferences and practices by over 40 poets whose ideas on writing, revising, publishing, and teaching will guide you and your poetic writing life.

© 2014, Mary Sayler is poet-author of Outside Eden, Beach Songs & Wood Chimes, and Living in the Nature Poem in print and in an e-book on Kindle. Mary also works with other poets through the Contact & Critiques page on her website.

Women on Poetry: Writing, Revising, Publishing and Teaching, paperback

Or call the order line for McFarland – 800-253-2187.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Musicality, mystery, and poetry

When I opened the review copy Cider Press kindly sent of Joseph Fasano’s new book of poetry, Inheritance, I immediately felt the musicality of Charles Wright and Jorie Graham, both of whom have won Pulitzer prizes for their poetry, which, although exquisite, can be difficult to understand.

Knowing this, I purposely switched my poetry-reading process from brisk engagement to a quieter drift mode, letting the poems carry me along a medley of sights, sounds, and colors to float through stories or experiences in the poet’s stream of consciousness and beyond.

Often, mystery occurs through referents that might not be clear at first even in something as seemingly obvious as the wind that riffles these pages, beginning with the opening lines of the first poem, “The Figure.”

You sit at a window and listen to your father
crossing the dark grasses of the fields

toward you, a moon soaking through his shoes as he shuffles the wind
aside, the night in his hands like an empty bridle.

Beautiful imagery in those moon-soaked shoes! But what is the significance of that bridle (guidance, leading?) And what is the meaning of this wind? Air? Breath? Emptiness? A spirit? Ruah, The Holy Spirit? If the latter, a legacy of inheriting the wind takes on priceless value as the potential Inheritance.

That said, these interesting questions are not for me to answer but you to ask as you read. Or not! Despite what we learned in school, we do not have to know what a poem means. Sometimes the glory of poetry abides in our sensing, experiencing, feeling, and being swept (by the wind?) off our feet!

In “The Dead,” we see “The wind lies open beside them/ like the pages of a gospel they can’t follow,” and in the presence of these deceased persons, who evoke living memories, we discover “the waking/ is wilder, the wind/ is the melody of disaster/ playing itself to completion.”

Then, in the title poem “Inheritance,”

The wind tonight is a mere
savant in the throes

of his deep prayer again and you are here, still,
when I drift in,

a small bowl
in your hands like the nest

of some unfledged darkness….

Even when the wind doesn’t stir the lines of a poem, you can hear the “ooooh” of it, running through such lines as these from “Nachtmusik.”

...he knows

where she goes, how when she walks she holds
the long branches of her garden up to her lost sons’


Besides waves of assonance and incantatory repetition, the poem includes consonance with all three of those aspects of musicality (along with a little mystery) heard in these lines from “Wolves.”

…I have had to ruin the most beautiful
things first. I have had to wrap a small piece of my own torn

arm in the fustian sleeves of a greatcoat and leave it first
on the fences I was fond of, first in near fields then far

ones, in honor of the twin sons of chaos, who reigned, who
reign, who will reign there.

As such lines wrap exquisitely around life, death, and poems of parents, I remember that Joseph Fasano is young but already highly acclaimed. And, so, I wonder if I should change my 5-star review on Amazon to four to keep one star burning as a goal, to keep from discouraging the poet from growing toward his mature poetic self with dazzling surprises that include and bewilder us all.

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

Inheritance, paperback

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