Thursday, January 11, 2018

Almost Entirely: a book review

In this age of cynicism and, often, fury, Jennifer Wallace lifts us from doubt and despair into spiritual insight and buoyancy in her new book of poems Almost Entirely published by Paraclete Press, who kindly sent me a copy to review.

Take, for example, the poem “When The Wing Gives Way,” in which the poet, like most of us, is getting too accustomed to death:

“I want to be more ready than I am today.
Ready to let what is left lift me, draw me into meanings
that will shatter me more than this.”

And consider her response to doubt in the poem by that name, which opens with these lines:

“I look at it this way: either you exist or you don’t. I don’t think –
in your case – there’s an in-between a ‘sort of’ God….”

And ends with the light touch of humor found in some of the poems:

“the same one who invented oxygen invented doubt and I guess
that sort of variety keeps things moving, which you are a fan of.
No doubt about that.”

In “Day of Faith,” the poet reminds us:

“Most of us believe in something:
the garden, a star, the scrape
of the stone rolling back….

Then asks:

“What is death but the truth of incompleteness?
An unpicked pear mottles in the grass.
The well fills and unfills.
One early sparrow can’t help but sing.”

As I read through the book, I marked it up – underlining exquisite phrases and putting an asterisk beside favorite poems such as “Atonement,” which begins with the “I” of the poem, starting a small fire and placing:

“On top of the stones, a small pile of messages
written on rice paper and folded into thumb-sized
packets, each with its own label: Fear, Guilt, Anger.”

In this act of confession:

“Righteousness was the first to go, its message
curled and crumpled, the dark ink dissolved to smoke
then drifted a little in the biting breeze.

My disappearing sins warmed me first
before reuniting with everything.”

And that’s what this book does well: reunites us - with God, each other, and our amusing selves.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2018, reviewer and poet-author

Almost Entirely, paperback

Friday, December 29, 2017

Finding a title poem for your book title

For some poets and writers, titles come easily, often bringing us our first clue about the lines of a new poem or contents of a new book. For others, thinking of titles adds stress, but that can be a good thing if you’re stressing a main point or theme.

As you collect your poems for a book or chapbook, begin by selecting a central theme or focus.

That job will be easier if you type each poem on a separate page with a key word at the top. You can then do a word search in your computer file to assist you in gathering poems relevant to a particular theme.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, “10 Tips on Titles for a poem or poetry book,” my first experience with this began by searching for “Nature” poems in my Word file, gathering poems with that emphasis, and entitling the book Living in the Nature Poem.

I’m very happy with that title, but since that book’s publication by the environmentally-minded Hiraeth Press in 2012, I’ve looked for poems with interesting titles or lines that speak for the whole book.

The title of a key poem can provide the ideal book title.

This works especially well if your choice summarizes or symbolizes the contents of your book and/or gives your readers an entrance into your theme, purpose, and poetry.

For example, my next book of poems published by Kelsay Books, Aldrich Press, in 2014, came about as I searched my files for poems with some reference to the “Bible.” That collection included “Lot’s Wife Visits Genesis 19,” “Having a Word with Judah,” “Manager Scene,” “Message to Mary,” “Re: Deemed,” and others based on recognizable Bible stories. However, none of those poems spoke for the whole book. So I turned back to the beginning of time and wrote "Outside Eden,” which became the book's title poem, starting with these lines:

“Away from the flaming torches,
everything grows dark.

Does God
want me near?”

Those words could express the dilemma we all have, living, as we do, outside Eden. Since it seems to me the entire Bible brings us God’s Word that, yes, God wants us near, the poem said what the entire book aims to show and, perhaps, build faith and relationship in the process.

The poem “Faces in a Crowd” provided the title for my next book, which I decided to self-publish in 2016. For years I’ve been drawing faces, portraying people in fiction, and observing people in poems – not to call anyone out, but to give a glimpse of those unlike ourselves while showing how much alike we are, despite our differences. With so much to divide us, I believe that merely taking time to find out where someone else is coming from can be enough to spark empathy for one another. For instance:

Faces in a Crowd

Why trouble yourself with tea leaves
or try to discern the lines in a palm
when you can read faces?

See how the dark centers
of her eyes light up only
as she looks at a child?
And watch her cornered
mouth turn down
even as she laughs.

Hard times cannot be hidden
beneath the cut of hair
nor foundations concealed
with makeup meant to attract
a man, but then
consider him:

Can you see
that forlorn little boy, alone,
waiting to be remembered
inside the grown man,
caught now
in clouds of anger?

After gathering poems I’d labeled over the years as “People,” “Social Comment,” or “Relationships” for the book Faces in a Crowd, I felt urged to do something foreign to me: praise! So, for the next year, each day began with a phrase or sentence that led into a praise poem, which I subsequently published on my blog by that name.

When that flow of poems suddenly ceased, I realized I had a book that Cladach Publishing might like, so I sent the manuscript to them, and in March 2017, editor-publisher Catherine Lawton released PRAISE! Each poem in the book reflects that title, but this poem summarizes:

Praise God our Praise –

Without Whom
there is none:

no cause for joy,
no source of love,
no hope of peace.

Praise God Who dwells
in us and around us –
enthroned on our praises –
uplifting our days

Since I began writing as a child, my Word file now gives me many hundreds of poems from which to choose. Yet those poems seem to gravitate toward my favorite subjects – i.e., Bible, prayer, people, and nature. If you’ve also been drawn to writing about your favs, the number of poems you have on a single theme or topic can help you decide whether to do a chapbook of about 20 to 24 poems or a book of about 75 pages.

I felt certain I’d have enough “Faith” poems for another book, and I did, but then I couldn’t find The poem that spoke for the whole collection. I wanted readers to know these would not be “greeting card” poems or fluff but would deal honestly with struggles between faith and doubt. And so, for this latest poetry book, Lost in Faith, I wrote the title poem after the fact in an effort to summarize and to give readers an idea of what to expect:

Lost in Faith

by You, Lord?

by me….

I throw myself
on your mercy.

That’s the last of the poetry books planned for now, but recently a writer friend encouraged me to reissue an inspirational romance novel set in Florida in 1895, which Zondervan published over three decades ago. Hopefully, time, writing experience, and the computer ease of revising a manuscript helped me to tweak the book, while retaining the original characters, story line, and title.

Although this latest release is fiction, rather than a book of poetry, the title comes from the closing lines of a song (aka poem) that the main character “writes” throughout the book, Hand Me Down the Dawn.

Whether you’re writing a book of fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, keep searching for a poetic title or a title poem that encompasses your contents, sets a mood, and invites readers to see for themselves that this book is for them.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017

Hand Me Down the Dawn

Lost in Faith


Faces in a Crowd

Outside Eden

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Saving your files and updates

Mary Harwell Sayler : Saving your files and updates: First, we had floppy disks then hard disks then CDs and DVDs to backup copies of our word processing files. Then flash drives came along and.... (click the above hotlink to see the full post and discover your options for saving your priceless poems.)

Monday, October 23, 2017

Faith, Fiction, Friends: “Lost in Faith: and poetry” by Mary Harwell Sayler...

Faith, Fiction, Friends: “Lost in Faith: and poetry” by Mary Harwell Sayler...: Mary Harwell Sayler loves writing, and has published 30 books. She loves poetry. She loves encouraging other writers and poets. But if...

God bless Glynn Young for his review of my new book and his ongoing encouragement to poets and poetry.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Living the poem

For some time I’ve been reviewing poetry books by other poets on this blog, but with several of my own poetry books now in print, I hope to post poems from each book with a word about what went into their making. That’s the kind of thing poets often ask about at writing conferences or readers want to know at poetry readings. Happily, this little site on the Internet gives us an opportunity to meet together and chat about poems.

Starting with my first poetry book in print, Living in the Nature Poem published in 2012 by Hiraeth Press, the following poem came about as I tried to find a way to accept – and perhaps even appreciate – the conflicts found in nature. Although I love the wildlife surrounding me in my woodsy Florida home on a small lake, this doesn’t always display the pretty little picture, which I prefer. Thinking about that coaxed this poem into being:

Tribulations of a Playful Poet

The alligator owns all rights
to the lily pads,
gliding by, right when I'm writing
about beauty,
about serenity.

If I were to wade into the waters
around a dry bouquet
of cattails,
the head of the alligator
would bloom beside me.

Where can I hide
from this presence?

How can my poems evade
the hidden claws,
the baffling jaw
eager to emerge?

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2012, from the poetry book published by Hiraeth Press Living in the Nature Poem

This morning while I was still considering whether to begin this new phase on the Poetry Editor & Poetry blog, I took my coffee onto our deck and saw what we occasionally glimpse, moving about beneath the water but, in 15 years, had never fully seen on our lake until “a sign” arose today! Thankfully, my camera has a zoom lens for taking this picture:

photo by Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017

Thursday, September 28, 2017

National Day of Poetry – Mary Harwell Sayler

National Day of Poetry – Mary Harwell Sayler:

Poets, today is #NationalPoetryDay. If you use that hashtag to post a short poem using a Public setting, it will appear on a Facebook, and you can also post on Twitter, where your poems will be grouped with others using that hashtag and/or #NationalPoetryDay2017. For examples....

'via Blog this'

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