Friday, September 8, 2017

Long to Love and Memory: Poetry by John B. Tabb

The lovely, rhythmic poetry of Rev. John B. Tabb may have been written in the 19th century, but with timeless beauty and refreshing brevity, it transports us now into a keener awareness of God, nature, and ourselves.

For instance, in the very first poem of the new collection Long to Love and Memory, which Editor E.L. Core and Ex Fontibus kindly sent me to review, the poet writes “To a Songster,” thereby crooning the criteria for his own poetic voice:

“O little bird, I’d be
A Poet like to thee,
Singing my native song –
Brief to the ear, but long
To Love and Memory.”

Often writing in quatrains with an a/b/a/b or a/b/b/a (appropriately "Abba") pattern of rhymes, the poet did not refrain from looking at human nature and himself in all honesty. For example, consider “The Stranger.”

“He entered; but the mask he wore
Concealed his face from me.
Still, something I had seen before
He brought to memory.

“'Who art thou? What thy rank, thy name?’
I questioned with surprise;
‘Thyself,' the laughing answer came,
‘As seen of others’ eyes’.”

And take a look at “An Influence.”

“I see thee – heaven’s unclouded face
A vacancy around thee made,
Its sunshine a subservient grace
Thy lovelier light to shade.

I feel thee, as the billows feel
A river freshening the brine;
A life’s libation poured to heal
The bitterness of mine.”

God’s creation has a healing effect on the poet, and, therefore, on us, the readers.

Again and again, Fr. Tabb’s insightful verses give us an accurate picture of how human nature inhabits (but, hopefully, does not inhibit!) both the natural and spiritual worlds. Mostly, though, the poems encourage us to see through the poet’s lenses of faith.

Ironically, Rev. Tabb lost his physical eyesight before his death, but in my studies of the works of Christian poets, I’ve found none more capable of seeing himself and God’s hand so clearly. Look, for instance, at this “Song.”

“Fade not yet, O summer day,
For my love hath answered yea;
Keep us from the coming night,
Lest our blossom suffer blight.

Fear thou not; if love be true,
Closer will it cleave to you.
‘Tis the darkened hours that prove
Faith or faithlessness in love.”

Since I’m writing this while taking a break from the intensive preparations needed before a Cat 5 hurricane arrives in Florida, this exquisitely wrought collection has given me the opportunity to refresh myself again with Rev. Tabb’s poems and wait out the storm with a timely boost in faith.

As countless other people also experience storms, floods, earthquakes, and their aftermaths, Fr. Tabb’s poem “Evolution” will surely bring comfort and relief.

“Out of the dusk a shadow,
Then, a spark;
Out of the cloud a silence,
Then, a lark;
Out of the heart a rapture,
Then, a pain;
Out of the dead, cold ashes,
Life again.”

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017, placed 30 books in all genres with Christian and educational publishers before self-publishing her new book, What the Bible Says About Love, which she hopes and prays will be her first in a series of topical Bible research and prayer-a-phrases.

Long to Love and Memory, paperback

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Keeping records makes it easy to do a poetry book

This week I’ve been going through my Word files, gathering poems for my next book, which I hope to send off soon to a poetry publisher. Trying to decide which poems to include can be a daunting task with hundreds of poems from which to choose, but record-keeping has made the job much easier.

As I wrote each poem, I typed every new piece on its own page in my Word file of “Poems.” Since I often “tweak” or revise my poems (sometimes even after they’ve been published!) I space down from the last line then simultaneously press “Ctrl” and “Enter” to start a new page. That way each page will stay put, enabling me to add or delete lines without disrupting the entire file. For instance, I might later need to add “Revised” and the date of that revision.

Other additions to the top of the page came about when it occurred to me to type key search words for each poem. For example, as I write poems of “Faith,” “Nature,” “Family,” I type those words beside the date of writing. Then I can go back and find all the poems I’ve written on a particular subject. Or I can find poems in a particular form.

Recently, for example, I’ve been writing a lot of haiku and other minipoems, so I type “Haiku,” “Aahcoo,” “Senryu,” or “Micropoem” at the top of the page and, occasionally, traditional form names such as “Sonnet,” “Villanelle,” or “Prose Poem.” If I decide to collect my haiku together for a book or chapbook, the search for those poems will be made easy by simultaneously pressing “Ctrl” and the “F” key. Immediately a “Navigation” column comes up for typing the key word in the “Search Document” space. And presto! All of my haiku that I’ve labeled as “Haiku” will automatically pop onto the list.

Without that seemingly small step, I might not have any poetry books! Instead, I was able to compile poems quickly for my book, Living in the Nature Poem, when my editor/publisher expressed interest. All I had to do was search for "Nature," and relevant poems came up. Similarly, "Praise" poems came together for my book PRAISE!

Another aspect of record-keeping has to do with each poem’s whereabouts. It might be best to type the date and publication to which I’ve submitted a poem at the top of the poem’s page too. However, I didn’t think of that until long after the fact. So I have a “Poetry Submission List” file with poems listed alphabetically by title followed by the date and place sent. If the poem is declined, I put “No” and the date of that response in the file, then send the poem to the next publishing possibility, noting that info too.

When the editor of a journal, e-zine, or anthology accepts a poem, hallelujah! I note that in the poetry file and also add the title (again, alphabetically) beneath the “Poetry” heading in my “Bio” file where I keep a record of every publishing credit, big or small.

Keeping a Bio record of those credits gives me a quick place to search for info to include in the “Acknowledgements” page for each new poetry book or chapbook, so I can appropriately thank previous publishers and acknowledge the publications which included my work.

Mary Harwell Sayler
, ©2017

For more on record-keeping and submitting manuscripts of all genres to traditional and indie publishers, order the Christian Writer’s Guide e-book from Amazon Kindle.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Figuring out figurative language

Would you rather someone show you something or tell you about it?

Both choices can be put to good use. For instance, if you want to teach other people about a subject unfamilar to them, you'd explain as literally as possible the topic you're addressing. But, if you want the person to experience what you've been through or have come to believe, you'll need to show them.

A figure of speech figures on showing this in terms of that.

When someone speaks figuratively, they’re using some kind of picture or figure to show an abstract concept or something that cannot otherwise be seen. For instance, “love” cannot be envisioned without a picture or symbol such as that big red Valentine heart commonly used to show it.

Figurative language enlivens all genres of writing. Not only does a figure of speech add imagery, it usually uses less words than if you were trying to explain.

For example, 1 Corinthians 13 takes a whole chapter to define true love. Even then, the apostle Paul tossed in some metaphors to explain what love is not: “sounding brass” (i.e., an overbearing boom!) or a “tinkling cymbal” (too faint to be witnessed or heard.)

When someone speaks literally, they rely on factual data and dictionary definitions. Using 1 Corinthians 13 again, but this time for examples of literal speech, we read: “Love is kind” and “Love never fails.” Those statements accurately describe the standard for love, but literal definitions just don’t show what love is the way a loud, headache-producing gong figuratively shows what love is not!

Literal language depends on dictionary definitions and, often, flat statements that can come across as blah, boring, or uninspired.

Figurative language needs pictures to show This in terms of That.

For instance, if I wanted to tell you about the beauty of the evening sky, I’d have trouble doing that without figurative language such as “the lavendar film of sunset.”

Or to describe the big, fat, white clouds on the horizon, I might figuratively speak of “cauliflower clouds.” (If those clouds were literally made of cauliflower, wow! We could eat the sky!)

To include figurative speech in your poems and other writings, figure on using:

Metaphor – This IS That, such as “God is a strong tower.” If you said, “God is strong” or “God protects me the way a strong tower would,” those flat statements would be literally true. Literally speaking, though, God is not actually a strong tower to be worshipped. But, figuratively speaking, I can truthfully say, God is a strong tower to me, and you’ll immediately get the picture.

– Similar to metaphor, simile points out similarities. Simile says This is LIKE That. For example, “The puppy is like a tornado.” Similes can also use “as.” i.e., “That dog is as active as a tornado.”

– once-fresh similes gone stale, for example, “quick as a bunny,” “sly as a fox,” or “hard as a rock.” However, you can have fun playing with a cliché until it becomes fresh again by substituting another picture for the faded one. Since this takes time, thought, and observation, it’s not as quick as a computer search.

– a concrete object used to symbolize or illustrate a concept, belief, or principle. For example, a flag symbolizes patriotism and loyalty to a particular country. The six-pointed Star of David is a symbol for Judaism, and a cross symbolizes Christianity.

To be effective, figurative language focuses on one picture at a time. Therefore, each surrounding word needs to be consistent with that image. These aren’t to be just any images, though, but ones your readers will instantly envision and understand.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017. For more on figurative language, these e-books will help: Christian Poet’s Guide to Writing Poetry and the Poetry Dictionary For Children and For Fun.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Every poem doesn’t have to rhyme!

When I first began writing poems, they inevitably rhymed and bounced to their own rhythm. Most poets can probably say the same, and that’s fine! Rhythmic and rhyming lines work wonderfully well for humorous verse, nursery rhymes, and greeting card verse.

If, however, you want your poems to have a literary tone or quality, you and your rhymes may need to break up for a while! You won’t be saying goodbye forever, but when you return to rhyming, you’ll have a purpose and appropriate form.

Since haiku has been perennially popular for centuries, it makes a good place to start weaning yourself from rhymes. The brevity of its three lines and picturesque scenes from nature provide an excellent exercise in areas far more important to poetry than rhyme, for example:

• Being concise (aka “writing tight.”)

• Being highly observant (i.e., noticing – really noticing what you see and sense.)

• Using fresh comparisons of This with That (to SHOW, rather than TELL.)

To make a clean break with rhyme, consider writing prose poems, which focus on insights, thoughts, feelings, or even a mini-story, rather than rhyme.

Also, consider writing free verse, which relies heavily on the way in which you arrange and rearrange your line breaks.

As long as your free verse stays FREE of any pattern, including a rhyme scheme), the poems might scatter rhymes internally, rather than end-line, but they’re more apt to use sound echoes – word pairs that echo off of one another, creating audial interest.

Once you’ve spent some time with these alternatives to rhyme, learn how to scan a poem, which is much easier than it sounded in high school! (You can do it!)

Then, you have the tools you need to write rhyming poetry in such traditional patterns as the sonnet and villanelle. Writing in these classical forms not only gives you a strong sense of satisfaction in your work, it can elevate your level of poetry-writing into literary realms. There, you’ll be more apt to find poetry journals and anthologies waiting for your poems to fill their hungry pages.

Mary Harwell Sayler
, ©2017, poet-author of Living in the Nature Poem, Outside Eden, Beach Songs & Wood Chimes (for children), Faces in a Crowd, PRAISE! and Kindle e-books on poetry


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Writing a ghazal


No matter how you spell it, the ghazal (often pronounced ghuzzle) brings an interesting pattern of rhyme and repetition in its traditional form of poetry from seventh century Arabia.

Set in five to twelve couplets, the opening pair establishes a refrain that recurs throughout the poem. This echoing sound may come by repeating syllables or a phrase as shown in the poem below.

Besides the repetition of the phrase, "new moon rising,” each couplet contains either a slant rhyme or a true rhyme with sounds, such as ear/ ir/ eer/ ier, about mid-way in the line. The first couplet establishes a refrain of repeated word(s) and rhymes in both lines, then places them in the second line for the remainder of the poem.

Often, a ghazal hinges on thoughts that come in free association of a repeated word or phrase. Otherwise, little, if any, connection of thought exists from one phrase to the next.

Finally, the last couplet ties the poet's name into the refrain as in the example shown where the words, Mary, hare, well, sailor sign my "autograph" to the poem.

Reflecting On The Moon

I could not hear the new moon, rising –
white fist of fear, the new moon rising.

Oh, come! Let's make a man of snow.
Its face will appear like a new moon rising.

On the Chesapeake Bay, hound dogs bay
any time of year at the new moon rising.

place-thing-mir-or the new moon rising.

The Law carves a heart of pumpkin stone.
Jack-O-Lanterns jeer at the new moon rising.

The Witch of Endor has no broom
nor king to steer the new moon rising.

Hark! Whose star is this, upon
a midnight clear and new moon rising?

Unclean! Unclean! Life touches death
beside the bier – anew! Moon rising....

Welcome wagon, sailor, hare. By
Mary's well draw near the new moon rising.

by Mary Harwell Sayler from the e-book Christian Poet' Guide to Writing Poetry based on the poetry correspondence course Mary wrote and used for years with other poets and poetry students


Christian Poet's Guide to Writing Poetry, e-book on Kindle


Saturday, June 17, 2017

New Collected Poems of Marianne Moore

If you’ve only read later editions of poetry by Marianne Moore, you might not have read the poems that actually made her famous. We discussed this previously in my review of Observations, but basically, Miss Moore’s original work helped to create a modernist culture in poetry while earning impressive awards – from the National Book Award and Bollinger Prize to a Pulitzer. Giant names in poetry, from Elizabeth Bishop to William Carlos Williams to T.S. Eliot, applauded her work too.

Many (most?) poets would be thrilled to have such literary accolades and appreciation of their work, but apparently Miss Moore was not one of those. She continued to revise and rework her already-published and highly acclaimed poems until some might say she occasionally butchered them!

In hopes of remedying this, English professor and writer Heather Cass White undertook the massive task of trying to find the earliest versions of each poem to show the proper trajectory of Moore's work. Ironically, this collection from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, who kindly sent me a copy to review, has been entitled the New Collected Poems since Poems, Selected Poems, Collected Poems, and Complete Poems had already been taken. However, the Introduction points out, “…’selected’ is the only adjective that accurately describes any book of Moore’s work thus far produced, or any that can be produced,” since “Moore’s art has no straight path from beginning to end.”

As Professor White explains, “For Moore, the publication of a poem in a periodical, or the ordering of poems in a book, marked resting-places in her poetry’s development, not its final form.”

Having seen Miss Moore’s flamboyant personality on television, which, for years, personified the general public’s perception of poets, I wonder if her revisions were part of the act – i.e., showmanship born, not of the perfectionism that might make some of us incessantly revise our poems, but of her inclination to dazzle.

As the Introduction reminds us, the clear eye and distinctive voice of Moore’s poetry were “also part of its simultaneous ‘dazzlement,’ the poems’ sometimes overwhelming complexities of statement, form, and metaphor.” i.e., “If clarity allows us to see better, dazzlement, however exciting, may mean we can hardly see at all. It is seldom easy to say what a Moore poem as a whole is about, even when it comes with a seemingly straightforward title. Moore was serious, but also witty, and not above liking to shock her readers.”

Yes. That’s it, exactly.

At the time of Moore's writing, rhymes ending the ragged lines of her poems would have been a novelty as would her use of quotations pulled from obscure literature, magazine ads, and even information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

As we look at “To a Snail,” for example, notice the delayed rhyme (adorn/horn), the use of words with four or more syllables, and the quotes included:

To a Snail

If ‘compression is the first grace of style,”
you have it. Contractility is a virtue
as modesty is a virtue.
It is not the acquision of any one thing
that is able to adorn,
or the incidental quality that occurs
as a concomitant of something well said,
that we value in style,
but the principle that is hid:
in the absence of feet, “a method of conclusions”;
“a knowledge of principles,”
in the curious phenomenon of your occipital horn.

Moore’s Notes 296 . Editor’s Notes 361

To assist us in finding the eclectic sources of the poet’s quotations, this edition presents each poem followed by a page reference to Moore’s Notes and/or the Editor’s Notes at the bottom of the page. So, “To a Snail,” includes a reference to Moore’s note on page 296 and the Editor’s note on 361.

With these aids, we can find the prior publications Editor White has tracked down for us, and, if the poet made a comment about a poem, we can find that too.

For instance, “compression is the first grace of style” in Moore’s poem above is credited as a quote from Democritus, whereas she cites Duns Scotus as the original source for the phrases “method of conclusions” and “knowledge of principles.”

Since the later phrases don’t seem to warrant quotation marks today, it’s hard to know if they were fresh at the time of her writing or whether the poet was just playing with us and the literary scene. Since that scene changes drastically, you can see why a highly innovative poet might think her poems needed to do the same.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017, poet-writer, reviewer

New Collected Poems, hardback

Monday, May 8, 2017

A Gathering of Larks: letters to Saint Francis

What a refreshing book of poems!

Spiritually-minded yet down-to-earth, A Gathering of Larks by Abigail Carroll addresses Saint Francis in lyrical letters, which the poet-author explains in the Introduction by saying, “I explore the spiritual landscape of Francis’s life, and, as with a close friend, I invite him into the spiritual landscape of mine.”

In relating her life to Francis’ and his to hers, the poet includes us in common experiences such as a broken showerhead that brings to mind the "slow, monk-like cupping/ and pouring" of water down the back. I especially related to a later lament over "an arsenal of weapons to defend against dust, oil stains, odors," which contrasts greatly with Francis' "prize possessions" of wind and sun that he "never had to defend, never had to clean."

If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to get to know this saint, the “Prologue: The Life of Saint Francis” presents a short but interesting biography of Francesco Bernardone, who initially “took up the life of a French troubadour – singing, reciting poetry, drinking, and making merry.” Once known as the “life of the party,” no one would have expected Francis to give up everything for Christ nor, in contemporary times, become little more than a relic in the minds of many.

Addressing that thought in a poem, “Starry-eyed” admits:

“There is something to be said for B-grade films
about the lives of saints – the kinds with dubbed
voices and stiff scripts and shafts of light descending
from the clouds into warm pools of holiness in which
only a chosen few will ever be bathed.”

Having grown up with Cecil B. DeMille movies and films playing Bing Crosby as a kindly priest, I relate to the poem, its humor, and its ending:

“God bless the blue-eyed actors
who taught me how to believe: their profiles glowing
in backlit prayer, tunics rippling in the artificial breeze.”

If you’ve watched some of the house-hunting shows on television, you’ll appreciate the levity of the “Dear Francis,” poem signed by “A simplicity-seeker.”

“When it comes to living small,
you were ahead of your time,
which is why I nominate you
patron saint of tiny homes.”

In the humorous poem “Dear Reluctant Saint,” which gives directions for getting around in today’s Assisi, the poet signs herself “Your willing tour guide,” thus reminding me of another unique feature in this collection: i.e., Instead of being identified by titles, which may be the same from one poem to the next, the ever-changing signatures at the base of the lines nicely identify each poem.

For example, the poem “Dear Lover of Light” has all sorts of potential trajectories, but the signature “A Vincent enthusiast” narrows it down to the one who

stars as big as brooches
on the sky, danced
crows across bowing fields
of wheat, exalted a bowl
of onions, a bridge, a pipe,
a chair, a bed.”

These poems consistently nudge us – lyrically, humorously, and insightfully – into revisiting closed perspectives, materialism, busy-ness, and a general malaise. For example, “An advocate for wonder” informs Francis that “some children/ hardly ever/ leave their homes – have yet/ to see a snake part grass, touch/ the warm nose/ of a horse, pass/ a few hours in a tree” thereby exemplifying “Nature Deficit Disorder – NDD.”

“What a waste of toads and creeks
and Queen Anne’s
lace, of worms
and rain and mud….”

In addition to the these thought-provoking poem-letters to Francis, which Eerdmans kindly sent me to review, this slender volume includes "A Conversation with the Author" about the book's development. Then, in the back matter, a section of "Questions for Thought and Discussions" also entices us toward a meditative entrance into the wonders of God’s creation and the spiritual realms of our lives.

Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2017, poet-writer reviewer

A Gathering of Larks: letters to Saint Francis from a modern-day pilgrim, quality paperback