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

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