Friday, August 21, 2015

Resources for poets and writers


A couple of years ago, I posted a list of poetry resources on this page, so this time, I’ll add hotlinks that weren’t included.

If other resources have helped you with your research, writing, revising, marketing, or publishing, feel free to add those in the Comments section below, preferably with the full URL included.

Also, please save this page as a Fav, so you'll be able to find it again as each hotlink will whisk you away from this site.


Online Poetry and Writing Resources


B-rhymes give you word pairs that almost rhyme, but not quite.

Beginner’s Guide to Successful Blogging shows you how to start a blog to post poems, writings, reviews, or discussions about poetry.

Christian Poet’s Guide to Writing Poetry is the e-book version of the poetry course I wrote and used for years with poets from diverse age groups, backgrounds, and levels of skill.

Dictionary search and reverse dictionary site on OneLook.com helps you search for phrases that begin with key words of interest.

English Grammar website gives you grammar rules, online exercises, and writing tips. Similar sites can be found, but I found this one to be especially clear and easy to navigate.

EServer Poetry Collection provides poems by well-known poets writing in English.

New Pages site guides you to literary markets to read, study, and send your batch of poems.

Open Culture has over 1,000 free online courses, including literature.

Poetry 180, sponsored by the Library of Congress, offers a poem for each day of the school year but to be read anytime too.

Poetry and Literature page, also sponsored by the Library of Congress, gives histories of poetry, interviews with poets, archives of poetry, upcoming events, Poet Laureate bio's, and more.

Poetry development of your poems or a poetry critique with my one-on-one feedback is available for a minimal fee. Having done this for 30 years, I assure you, I'll be encouraging but honest and helpful.

Poetry Dictionary For Children and For Fun e-book covers poetry forms and terminology, from A to Z, in what may be the only poetry dictionary for children. I recommend it for classrooms and poets of all ages because it’s a fun way to learn and because I wrote it.

Project Gutenberg brings you the full texts of over 49,000 classical books, including poetry, online at no charge.

Rhyme Zone helps you find definitions of words as well as true rhymes, slant rhymes, and synonyms.

Writing Resources on my website include those mentioned here and in the previous post. If you know of others, I’m eager to find out what helped you to improve your work or what might help other poets to learn about poetry. Thanks.


©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, writer and reviewer, has 3 books of poems in print: Living in the Nature Poem published by Hiraeth Press and Beach Songs & Wood Chimes (for children) and Outside Eden, published by Kelsay Books.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Multitudinous Heart: Selected Poems by Carlos Drummond de Andrade


In his home country of Brazil, Carlos Drummond de Andrade was considered a great poet in his own lifetime (1902-1987) with his poems going beyond borders, thanks first to John Nist then such well-known American poets as Elizabeth Bishop and, later, Mark Strand, who translated his work from Portuguese into English. Now, Richard Zenith has translated poems in a new bilingual edition Multitudinous Heart, published by Farrar Straus Giroux, who kindly sent me a copy to review for which I’m grateful. Without this highly recommended book, I might never have discovered a new-for-me poet whose work I look forward to experiencing and reading again.

Zenith’s Introduction presents a brief biography of this fascinating poet, who, as a child of 10 or so, begged his father for a 24-volume set of Western literature to study, “beginning with Homer, as well as many selections from nineteenth-century British and American authors now more or less forgotten. This hodgepodge of poetry, essays, fiction, and theater became the literary foundation for the little boy,” whose readings as an adult “would continue to be a mixed bag of irreproachable classics and recent literature of uneven quality.”

Reading those words from the Introduction made me wonder if a poet’s academic study of literature today has been impoverished by a lack of poorly written poems and stories! Conversely, a self-taught poet, such as Carlos who initiated his own studies at an early age, might be apt to come up with an eclectic mix of writings, whose inconsistencies could help a poet discern the characteristics of well-written works on one hand and provide a list of “Things Not To Do” on the other.

No doubt Carlos’ background as a lifelong lover of literature and his adult employment as a government bureaucrat helped to shape his view of himself and the world as revealed, for example, in the opening piece entitled “Seven-Sided Poem.”

“When I was born, one of those twisted
angels who live in the shadows said:
‘Carlos, get ready to be a misfit in life!’”

The poem “Elegy 1938” gives us another glimpse of that ongoing push-pull between a literary life and the everydayness of the working world, beginning with “You work without joy for a worn-out world/ whose forms and actions set no example.”

Then midway in the poem, these sad but insightful lines appear:

“You love the night for its power to annihilate
and you know, when you sleep, the problems stop requiring you to die.
But you fatally wake up to the Great Machine existing,
and once more you stand, minuscule, next to inscrutable palms.

“You walk among dead people and with them you talk
about things of the future and matters of the spirit.
Literature has ruined your best hours of love.”


The intrusion of literary arts goes “Hand In Hand” with the resolutions put forth in these lines:

“I won’t be the singer of some woman, some tale.
I won’t evoke the sighs at dusk, the scene outside the window.
I won’t distribute drugs or suicide letters.
I won’t flee to the islands or be carried off by seraphim.
Time is my matter, present time, present people,
the present life.”


That life spent “In Search Of Poetry” finds what works in poems and what does not. For example:

“Don’t write poems about what happened.
Birth and death don’t exist for poetry.”


Also, “In Search Of Poetry”

“Don’t sing about your city, leave it in peace.
Poetry’s song is not the clacking of machines or the secrets of houses.
It’s not music heard in passing, nor the rumble of ocean on streets
near the breaking foam.
Its song is not nature
or humans in society.
Rain and night, fatigue and hope, mean nothing to it.
Poetry (don’t extract poetry from things)
elides subject and object.”


Despite the negatives "In Search Of Poetry," the poem "I'm Making A Song" acknowledges that...

“My life, our lives,
form a single diamond.
I’ve learned new words
and made others more beautiful.”


The title poem “Multitudinous Heart” also reflects the connections poetry brings to us through other people or places, for instance, where

“The sea was beating in my chest, no longer against the wharf.
The street ended, where did the trees go? the city is me
the city is me
I am the city
my love.”

Connecting the self with the city hints at the “Truth” found in the poem by that name:

“The door of truth was open
but would only let in half
a person at a time.

And so it wasn’t possible to have the whole truth,
since the half person who entered
returned with the picture of a half truth.
And the person’s other half
likewise brought back a half picture.
And the two halves didn’t line up.”

We need our full selves and one another to see a whole truth, which, like any subject for poetry, often eludes us. Therefore, “Truth” tells:

“.... And so each person chose
according to his whim, his illusion, his myopia.”


The truth in that statement gives us a subtle truth about poetry in general as we search for ways to encounter new experiences through the written word while connecting our own experiences with ones richly provided in insightful poems such as these.


©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, writer and reviewer, has 3 books of poems in print: Living in the Nature Poem published by Hiraeth Press and Beach Songs & Wood Chimes (for children) and Outside Eden, published by Kelsay Books.


Multitudinous Heart: Selected Poems, hardcover



Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Christian Poet Scott Cairns


Scott Cairns collected his poems in a new book entitled Slow Pilgrim, which recollects his pilgrimage as a Christian in many of the poems.

Using the concept he refers to as “sacramental poetics,” Cairns brings together theology and poetry as did poets of the past, who saw this connectedness in the “Logos.” Indeed, as the Introduction to the book reminds us, “The Greek word for ‘word’ is logos, familiar to us from the opening of the Gospel of St. John. But Cairns believes that in modern Western thought logos has too often reduced ‘word’ to disembodied abstraction. He prefers the Hebrew word davar, which means both word and thing – and even, as he notes, a power.”

And “yet one of the key milestones along his pilgrimage has been his embrace of the Orthodox tradition of ‘apophatic’ theology, which is an expression of humility before the inadequacy of language.” This apophatic theology helps us to know God by stating Who or What God is not, rather than Who or What God is. For example, when we say God is immortal, we’re saying God does not die. Or if we call God a Spirit, we’re saying God isn't confined to a physical form as we are. Or if we say God is truth, we’re saying God does not lie.

Often Christian poets and writers rely on metaphor or analogy to equate God with this or that. Or perhaps we present a particular point-of-view or communicate an experience. Conversely, Cairns’ pilgrimage is more inclined to take us from communication into communion, slowing us down, so we can listen between the lines and hear the silence that arises into worship or poetry.

This is not, however, a devotional book, nor collection of inspirational writings. As the Introduction tells us, these “poems address us in our quotidian experience of life: they are best experienced in an armchair, not in church.”

For example, “Taking Off Our Clothes” strips us down to our real selves where:

“We’d talk about real things, casually
and easily taking off our clothes. We would be
naked and would hold onto each other a long time,
saying things that would make us
grin. We’d laugh off and on, all the time
unconcerned with things like breath, or salty
skin, or the way our gums show when we really
smile big. After a while, I’d get you a glass of water.”


This use of the visible, the tangible rather than the abstract, calls us to recognizable truths, such as how getting real with ourselves and each other makes us feel naked. In these times of vulnerability, we might do nothing more God-like than bringing each other a cup of cool water in Christ’s name.

Since the poem just quoted in part comes at the beginning of the book, readers will know upfront not to expect anything sentimental or puritanical. Having squirmed through too many of the latter types of poems or flat statements of belief or long-winded diatribes, a subtle invitation to find God among real people in real life can, itself, be as refreshing as that glass of water.

This time I knew to expect such an approach as the publisher, Paraclete Press, who kindly sent me a review copy, had done the same last year for Cairns’ book, Idiot Psalms. However, to claim familiarity with the work of this respected poet would be misleading as I suspect I’ll never fully catch what’s compressed into each poem.

Sometimes this slowness to comprehend occurs because of differences in male and female perspectives but also because of the poet’s artistry in drawing negative spaces that may or may not be filled with God’s invisible presence. That said, Cairns can use metaphor well when he wants to as shown in the poem “4. Mortal Dream” where “It is not a very clean city, even the air has fingerprints.”

For the most part, though, I found the poems accessible and occasionally amusing. For example, “5. My Imitation” begins:

“I sold my possessions, even the colorful pencils.
I gave all my money to the dull. I gave my poverty
to the president. I became a child again, naked
and relatively innocent. I let the president have my guilt.”


But what seems to be humorous turns into a common union with Christ as the poem continues:

“I found a virgin and asked her to be my mother.
She held me very sweetly.”

And ends:

“I rose again, bloodless and feeling pretty good.

I forgave everything.”

Unlike the sweet greeting card verses that assure us all is well even when it isn’t, I’m more attuned to the hope we have in Christ when reading such lines as: “And still I have suffered/ an acute lack of despair.” Yes! How true!

Besides our lack of despair, aren’t we all archaeologists? As shown in “Archaeology: A Subsequent Lecture,” we see:

“…the pleasure lies

in fingering loose ends toward likely shape,
actually making something of these bits
of persons, places, things one finds once one

commences late interrogation
of undervalued, overlooked terrain –
what we in the business like to call
the dig.”

In addition to digging through our collective or individual past, these poems give us a new take on familiar Bible stories such as told in the poem “The Entrance of Sin.” In its departure from the Genesis 3 story, the second paragraph of this prose poem offers a prior scenario:

“For sin had made its entrance long before the serpent spoke, long before the woman and the man had set their teeth to the pale, stringy flesh, which was, it turns out, also quite without flavor. Rather, sin had come in the midst of an evening stroll, when the woman had reached to take the man’s hand and he withheld it.”


I love that a man wrote those lines! And I welcomed the insight into relationships today. I also enjoyed the dry humor, as in “Possible Answers To Prayer,” where:

“Your petitions – though they continue to bear
just the one signature – have been duly recorded.”


Then these exquisite lines in “I. Nativity” give us a glimpse of that biblical scene as told from the perspective of a man gazing on a woman beloved:

“As you lean in, you’ll surely apprehend
the tiny God is wrapped
in something more than swaddle. The God

is tightly bound within
His blessed mother’s gaze….”


The poem continues:

“…Overhead,

the famous star is all
but out of sight by now; yet, even so,
it aims a single ray

directing our slow pilgrims to the core
where all the journeys meet,
appalling crux and hallowed cave and womb,

where crouched among these other
lowing cattle at their trough, our travelers
receive that creatured air, and pray.”



©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, poet-writer in all genres and lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, and poetry


Slow Pilgrim, quality paperback




Thursday, June 25, 2015

Reviewing Heaven


In the book, Heaven, written by award-winning poet Rowan Ricardo Phillips and published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, who kindly sent me a copy for review, the poems in this particular “heaven” lean not toward the baptismal but the mythological. So, if you’re expecting a biblical view of heaven, as I was, you might miss the search, as I first did, into heavenly realms that began with light, music, and flights of literary allusions.

While these poems do not land in a particular place or spiritual environment, they explore a variety of routes people have taken to get there. For example, the opening poem, “The Mind After Everything Has Happened” begins with “Perpetual peace. Perpetual light./ From a distance it all seems graffiti” then ends:

“If Hell is a crater to a crater
To a crater to a crater, what then
Is Heaven, aside from its opposite,
Which was glorious, known, and obvious?”


But then there’s the question of whether that last line depicts Heaven or Hell.

The poem “Boys” seems more obvious as the guys cut class to hang out “to play/ Just about all the music we knew,” caught up in the heavenly tunes of their own making. Interestingly, that all-day endeavor ends in suffering:

“When the dark would come, we’d show each other
Our blisters, the painful white whorls peeling,
Our read palms upwards, outstretched and unread.”


After reading the search in those palms, we read “The Starry Night,” where “Night frees its collar from around its neck/ And walks slowly past the two bathing bears/ Wading in the black stellate subheaven.”

From celestial places and beautiful myths to the beauty in nature and love, the poet briefly descends into “News From the Muse Of Not Guilty” with these sensory and highly visual lines:

“He sits in a Hawaiian shirt over a bulletproof vest,
Slumped in a beach chair, its back to the ocean.
Even his red wine spritzer tastes like Skittles now.”


“An Excuse For Mayhem” starts with “The Kingdom of Heaven” as perceived through the Christian faith then ends with this word or, is it a warning?

“…the sublime blue hour
Of the voice, the mute light, mute church, mute choice.”

The final lines of the book, however, find rest in an earthy heaven and this confession:

“…all I want to do is lay my head/
Down, lay my head down on the naked slope
Of your chest and listen there for my heart.”



©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, writer and reviewer, has 3 books of poems in print, the first of which, Living in the Nature Poem, was published in 2012 by Hiraeth Press with an e-book version in 2014. That same year, Kelsay Books published Mary's book of nature poems for children and her book of Bible-based poems, Outside Eden.


Heaven: poems, hardback






Saturday, June 20, 2015

Prose poem for Father’s Day

Textiles. Textures. Materials. Cloth.
by Mary Harwell Sayler

Wearing this shirt worn by a stranger no longer wears down the edges of my fingernails. Eventually, all polish chips away. Once in a while of silk slippers and white chiffon, I had grown too accustomed. Denim did not come as effortlessly as imagining denim and then only on Saturdays with my father’s sturdy long-sleeved shirt loosely matching the dependable fabric of his arms. Some say his spirit gave me God, while connecting with people tangled in maternity, not material – text, not texture, but sometimes the way the weave is worn.

© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved. This prose poem was originally published in the poetry book, Outside Eden. For more about prose poems, see “Do real poets read and write prose poems?”



Friday, May 29, 2015

Favorite poets, poetry, and why


As a poetry lover, poet, freelance poetry editor, and competition judge, I’m often asked about my favorite poets, which puts me in a spin as I admire and enjoy the poems of so many. Then it occurred to me to focus on favorites whose work I’ve reviewed, mainly because their publishers sent review copies of recent books per my request! Unfortunately, others did not, or I just haven’t gotten around to asking. Nevertheless, I can almost guarantee you that studying the works of these highly acclaimed poets will increase your pleasure in reading poems – and improve your poetry writing too:

Poems of Jorie Graham flow through a stream of conscientiousness with beauty and fresh, often startling, imagery and statements that cause us to think, imagine, and reconsider what we thought we knew. As you read her poetry, let each experience wash over you, whether you understand everything that’s going on or not! I rarely do! Yet the poems are so exquisite, I keep returning to her work where each reading rewards me with something new or insightful.

I could say the same about the poetry of Charles Wright – another Pulitzer poet whose work includes allusions to experiences I don’t have or places unfamiliar to me, despite the fact that we were both born in Tennessee and have lived in California and Virginia. Again, like Graham, Wright’s poetry is lush with exquisite phrases and imagery, and each has a spiritual quest going that I share. I also like how both poets play with line lengths – an experiment worth studying.

Wallace Stevens wrote a jar onto a hill in Tennessee and shared my love for my home state of Florida, but he’s more apt to envision a world under construction by poets and poetry. His award-winning work offers fresh imagery and musicality to notice and study, but I especially enjoyed responding to some of his poems with poems and experimenting with titles after reading the interesting and often lengthy ones he created.

Czeslaw Milosz mentored many poets and spotlighted Polish poets in particular, but his poetry enlarges our world view with references and insights born of war, exile, and the loss of loved ones. Somehow this struggle evoked hope, perhaps based on his attachment to the church and his sense that things are not to be dissected but contemplated and appreciated for what they are. Although God remains in mystery, Milosz remained open to the search as do most of the poets on this list.

Wendell Berry most assuredly seeks the spiritual side of things, and yet his poetry is accessible, down-to-earth, and wise with insight based on experience and ardent observation. I say “ardent” because of his passion for life and his obvious love for God and creation and “observation” because his poetry calls us to pay attention, appreciate, and interact with all that’s around us.

The poems of Pattiann Rogers, however, would win the prize for interaction. Her work embraces almost every aspect of life and life sciences – from the make-up of the cosmos to the break-down of garbage! On a deeper level, the precise details and possibilities demonstrated in her poems cause us to pause and enter into such diversities as the suffering of God and the vulnerability of a turtle.

The poems of Gary Snyder also make us aware of nature and natural surroundings but, in addition, call attention to social and human inadequacies. While I certainly wouldn’t call Snyder a romantic poet, his insights on relationships clarify what’s honest, loving, and true in a Zen-like way, but I especially appreciate his astounding brevity. Poets who struggle with wordiness will find his poems excellent examples of saying a lot while being concise and, often, amusing.

Amusement definitely distinguishes the poems of Billy Collins. What’s especially funny is that this highly cerebral poet connects with a huge reading audience because of his comedic timing, unexpected twists, and good calls. i.e., He calls it like it is, but we did not think about it that way until he said so with accuracy and good humor.

As you delve into the work of these favored poets, notice how they sound uniquely like themselves yet find ways to be fresh, insightful, observant, concise, and wise. Therefore, we would be wise to read, study, and enjoy their poems – their exquisite, prize-winning poems filled with musicality, imagery, and the quests of their lives.

...

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, writer and reviewer, has 3 books of poems in print: Living in the Nature Poem published by Hiraeth Press and Beach Songs & Wood Chimes (for children) and Outside Eden, published by Kelsay Books. Mary also chairs the poetry division of the annual writing competition sponsored by Writers-Editors.com and provides reasons why each title stood out over other entries.

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Read, write, breathe poetry


With National Poetry Month (NaPoMo) rapidly coming to an end, I thought it might be a good time to select past posts that can help you better enjoy the poems you read and also effectively improve your own poems as you revise. During this search, however, I unhappily discovered that my blog host does not provide easy access to posts written before 2012!

Fortunately, basic information on poetry stays the same! So I found hotlinks that still work, as listed below, to give you a broad overview of poetry and the joys and challenges of becoming a published poet.

Since those early days of posting, I changed my website to my name, which means you might find links within an article that no longer work. Also, when Poetry Of Course went out of print with my book publisher, I retained rights to upload an updated version as the Kindle e-book, a Christian Poet’s Guide to Writing Poetry.

Hopefully, these helps will give your poetry writing a boost, but you’re welcome to suggest new topics in the Comments section below.

How to Read a Poem

Scan A Poem. Get The Picture.

Going Postal with Poetry

Rhyme, rhythm, and reality: traditional English verse

Start your New Year with new tools for writing & revising poems

What kinds of poems fit you?

How do you know a poem is ready?

Do real poets read and write prose poems?

Breaking line with free verse

Line breaks can make or break your poem

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

Poetry forms help re-form a poem as you revise

National Poetry Month and the 3 Rs

Poets and poems to celebrate during National Poetry Month

Poets who shaped poetry - good reading for NaPoMo & beyond

How to write haiku

Revising your poetry can be a smooth move.

Poetry Revision: Less can bring more to a poem

Three techniques for revising your poems

Unlocking clockwork rhyme

Villanelles need something worth repeating

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

That Punctual Punctuation (Anyway) How

Resolutions for sober poets in the New Year


©2015 Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved. For more poetry resources or a one-on-one critique of your poetry book, chapbook, or batch of poems for a minimal fee, visit Mary’s website.