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Thursday, July 28, 2022

Repeat after me: Repetition can be used effectively

Many poets in our Christian Poets & Writers group on Facebook use repetition in their poems, which, when well-done, helps to create drama and memorable phrasing. Sometimes, though, repeating words or phrases make poems lose musicality and also the interest of readers who might want to say, "Stop! I heard you the first time."

For those of you who like to use repetition, these previous posts on the Poetry Editor blog mention various uses of repetition:

"Writing a ghazal"
"The poetry of the Psalmists"
"Writing a ballad"
"Writing children's poems for actual kids to read"
"Poetry and the forgotten Beatitude
"Villanelles need something worth repeating"

Hopefully, you'll find something in at least one of those posts that evokes your "Aha!" But, when I started thinking about the topic, this poem written during WWII came to mind as a very effective example of the use of repetition.

Today we have naming of parts
by Henry Reed

Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday,

We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
Today we have naming of parts. Japonica.
Glistens like coral in all of the neighbouring gardens,
And today we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
Any of them using their finger.

And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
For today we have naming of parts.


posted by Mary Harwell Sayler

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

7 Poems responding to 7 Poets

The idea for this blog post came about because of the tremendous encouragement I received from posting a poem dedicated to Mary Oliver on a social media page honoring her.

After reading the works of hundreds of poets, deciding my poems were totally out of sync, and giving up on the genre I’d loved since childhood, I ran across a little book by Mary Oliver with accessible poems I related to so well that I began to write again. Naturally, I wanted to acknowledge her work, which, at the time, used the unique format I mimicked in this poem:


Late Night with a Seasoned Poet
            after reading Mary Oliver

I cannot reach you
  at five a.m. when you spring
   awake to watch a summer rose

 fall into a pink-petaled
  lake where fishes bloom.
    I'm not a morning

person unless a winter-
  less night yawns & stretches
    into dawn with jarring songs 

of owls & whippoorwills
  and the charming squeak of
    a bat. Outlined at dusk,

 its soaring silhouette
  intersects the evening
    sky, circling insects

 and other small mysteries
  revealed to me before the
    pink-pollen light recedes.

                                         And then,

     black roses blossom: hybrids
   cultivated from a long, wild
growing season of the night.

Mary Sayler, from Living in the Nature Poem and A Gathering of Poems


Although he’d unfairly fallen out of favor in the late 20th century, the work of Carl Sandburg drew me, too, because, like Mary Oliver, his poems were accessible and his metaphors apt. For example, his famous fog coming in on cat feet resulted in this response:

Weathering Sandburg 

The fog comes in cat
fur: pale gray Persian
with traffic sounds
rolled into the round
core of a purring rug,
each end opening to
skies of Siamese blue.

Mary Sayler, from A Gathering of Poems


As I continued to discover poets whose work I wanted to read more than once, poetry books by Wallace Stevens started to appear on my bookshelves. His intriguing titles and love for Florida (my almost-native-home) evoked this poem:


Landscape Loved by Wallace Stevens 

If you could fly over \ yards and yards
of green lace lining the Gulf and Space
Coasts, you would see low-lying bands
of land seeding the sea with pockets blue-
beaded with water, and you’d wonder how
one more word could fit into the shell-
shaped pattern, hemmed with canals, and
not unravel beneath the weight of so many
people pushing the delicate fabric, poking
the intricate design, picking at flaws not
found in winter-bound spools of wool.

Mary Sayler, from Living in the Nature Poem and A Gathering of Poems


As a writer and poetry-lover, I’ve often aspired to saying as much as possible in as little space as possible. So, with that in mind, you can guess why Walt Whitman’s longer-than-long poems didn’t initially appeal to me! But then, his poems happened to be the only ones in a bookshop in the beach town where we were vacationing for the weekend. 

Reading this poet-ahead-of-his-times, I discovered the incredible inclusiveness of his poetry. My response to him came right when I’d found I liked reading and writing prose poems (aka paragraph poems), but the impetus for the following poem came when I caught a glimpse of someone who looked like a photo of Whitman.


Leaving Walt at the Mall

Coming out of Dunkin’ Donut, I walked right by Walt Whitman without even speaking. You know how he likes to include everyone in a conversation and can go on and on, and I just wanted to get home before my caffeine let down. Later I felt bad about giving him nothing more than a nod, especially since I’m sure his driver’s license expired long ago. He’s been gone for over 100 years now and was almost that old when he died, so I could have at least offered him a ride somewhere, even though, by his very nature, he might not like being confined in this little boxcar of a poem.

Mary Sayler, from A Gathering of Poems


Interestingly, a contemporary of Walt’s, Emily Dickinson’s life and poems were almost the exact opposite of his! While he traveled widely and embraced fully almost everything, Emily lived a rather self-contained, reclusive life in New England where her poems resulted from penetrating observations of people. Often this included a breathless approach, dry wit, and the musicality of ballads.


Emily Dickinson Dips Ink

The music breaks

strike the page
with spikes and slivers.

Vermont maples
red and gold 
with no syrup
to make the fragments stick.

A dark stare
from a paper-white face
at that bruise beneath
your left rib.

Mary Sayler, from A Gathering of Poems


While still enamored with prose poem-writing and intent on discovering poets whose lives and cultures contrasted with my own, I ran across the sensitive, insightful, and soulful poems of Attila Jozsef. In his poem, "The Dog, for instance, the creature and the poet morph into one. Anyway, I hope you will look up his work on the Internet and become familiar with him and, indeed, all the poets honored in this post.


   after reading Attila Jozsef by Attila Jozsef

Attila the Hungarian poet, I really love you. Please
believe me before you throw yourself beneath that
train. The fright of flying freight crushes my reading
of your prose poems – poems poised with insight
and odd juxtaposition. I try to rescue the paragraphs
you pose from extermination, reeling as I read. What
can I do but pet The Dog you left behind, ragged and
muddy, ready to avenge your wounds and scavenge
the pieces of God you hid in my upper berth on this
looming train?

Mary Sayler, from A Gathering of Poems


A tragic loss for the poetry world and for those who loved him, Jozsef committed suicide in his early thirties. Since this month is being devoted to mental health awareness, perhaps his work will be rediscovered. I hope so.

Around the same time I devoured Jozsef’s poems, the poems of Marin Sorescu provided a delightful diversion. Despite living under unimaginably oppressive conditions, Marin apparently made the decision to write with wit and irony, rather than direct confrontation, which kept his work publishable in his home country and, eventually, here.


Sorescu’s Core
in honor of a Romanian poet

Marin, I’ve been staring
at the painting that you did
as a cover for translations
of your poems: a bowl
of fruit, well-suited to design
the colorful plump phrases
pared to sink your teeth
into the pulp of apples,
oranges, lemons, life-sliced
and spiced and eaten with
your hands
behind your back, elbows
akimbo, juice


      down my chin.

Mary Sayler, from A Gathering of Poems


Before publishing this post, I revisited poems by these seven poets, trying to find specific hotlinks to recommend to you. The many options make me plead with you to find and read their poems online!

Well, with five shelves at home devoted to poetry books, this post could go on and on! However, visual problems hinder my reading, writing, and (definitely!) arithmetic as numbers disappear and words or sentences look like they’ve been smashed by a compacter! Nevertheless, my love for poetry hasn’t lessened, so I hope to continue with this blog, albeit irregularly and with occasionally long gaps.

Thanks for bearing with me all these years!

May God bless you and your poetry adventures.

Mary Harwell Sayler ©2022













Thursday, December 30, 2021

Poets on poetry


Recently, I had the pleasure of discussing poetry, faith, and his new chapbook with Matthew J. Andrews in an online interview for Agape Review. Not only is Matthew the Associate Poetry Editor of Solum Press, he has the unusual-for-a-poet job of Private Investigator.

I hope you'll check out Matthew's and my discussion, and since family concerns have kept me from posting here lately, I also hope you'll use the Search box to find other subjects of interest.

May your New Year be blessed with peace, joy, and poetry!

(c) 2021, Mary Sayler

Monday, November 15, 2021

The Arts have much in common


A composer composes a tune or score of music.

An artist considers the composition of a sketch or painting.

A writer writes in a composition notebook.

A poet composes a poem.

And, if we hope to be the best possible poet, writer, artist, or musician, we might need composure to compose ourselves!

The Thesaurus inherent in Word software offers these synonyms for "compose": 

  • Invent
  • Create
  • Unite
  • Combine
  • Make 

In each of the arts mentioned, our work consists of the following factors we can connect, make something of, or combine in inventive ways:


Composition – A particular arrangement of notes, syllables, objects, or words can be boring, pleasing, or, preferably, breath-taking.


Line – A line of musical notes, a line of poetry, a line drawn on canvas or paper provides coherence to the work as a whole. The direction of those lines affects the artwork too. For example, a visual artist might draw a diagonal line to depict dynamic movement, a vertical line to show stability, or a horizontal line to evoke calmness.


Rhythm – The tempo, beat, or pace of a piece of music is generally obvious to our ears, but the musicality of a poem or the flow of lines and shapes in a painting have rhythm too – rhythm as vital as a person’s pulse.


Tone – The sound of music and the attitude suggested by a poem or painting heightens the tone of voice, while contrasts of light and dark add tonal value. With these elements at play, the work might come across as calm, lively, moody, maudlin, or an explosion of anger, grief, or joy.


Color – Colorful words in poetry occur best as strong nouns that readers can envision and active verbs that set those pictures into motion. In a painting, one color or hue highlights, complements, or contrasts with another. In music, jazz is often called “the blues.”


Texture – Since texture adds layers of interest and/or roughs up an otherwise smooth surface, we likely hear it in music with a change of tempo or a change of the tension between harmony and discord. For more about texture in art and poetry, see the last blogpost, “How can a poem have texture?” 


Theme – Each of the arts addresses or expresses topics that will be interesting or relevant to most people – subjects such as birth, death, faith, hope, love, infinity, and everything in between. Often, creative people have life themes recurring in their work. In mine, the same basic themes keep coming up: “God is good and can be trusted to work things out for our good” and “Everyone on earth needs to be treated with respect."


Techniques – Sometimes artistic people prefer to play by ear or wing it, rather than learning the technical tools at their disposal. For poetry or other forms of writing, a good grasp of grammar and a wealth of words will help, whereas visual artists need to know the effects of brushes, surfaces, and other utensils, and, musicians, lyricists, and composers need to know how to read music. These tools take only a little time to learn but a lifetime to utilize and open up more opportunities.


Similarly, a poet needs to know how to read a poem and an artist to read a piece of art in order to fully experience, enjoy, and learn from the work of someone else. All of us need to study our favorite forms or genres, of course, but studying works you never thought you’d attempt yourself can be especially insightful and delightful.


Most likely, other similarities occur in the arts, and if you have some to add, please do in the Comments section on this page. Thanks. And, regardless of your artistic interests, don't forget to experiment, practice, play, and have fun.


©2021, Mary Sayler, poet-writer, and maybe-someday artist

















Thursday, November 4, 2021

How can a poem have texture?


When I think of texture, I think of cable-knit wool sweaters, beach sand, seashells, pine needles, corduroy – all touchable and recognizable by our fingertips. Obviously, we can’t do that with poetry, so how can we give our poems texture?

A definition might help. According to poets who know about such matters, texture can include figurative language (metaphor, simile, etc.) and rhyme or rhythm (musicality.)

To give you an example, let’s look at the well-textured opening of this famous poem that most of us studied in high school but didn’t have a clue about what it mean until now:

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

by T. S. ELIOT


Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherized upon a table;

Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,

The muttering retreats

Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels

And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:

Streets that follow like a tedious argument

Of insidious intent….

Read that verse aloud to get the full impact of its texture and beauty. Then read aloud this bare-bones version, picked clean of the good stuff:

Let us go,        

When evening is spread against sky

Like a patient on a table;

Let us go, through streets,

The retreats

Of nights in hotels

And restaurants:


Of intent….

See? Hear? Poems need more than flat sentences and totally understandable statements. They need texture – something to alert or even disturb the wandering mind.

This week, I’ve been reading a wonderful book, Painting Abstracts, by Rolina van Vliet. She talks about visual art, of course, but her definition, “What is texture?” helped me to understand more in relation to poetry:

By texture we mean all the effects which disturb and penetrate the smooth… surface. It is the varied layers we use to construct our work…. It is how we vary the surface area using irregularities, emphases, rhythms, height, differences or roughness. Texture is a very strong artistic element….”

The author-artist goes on to list some of the things texture can accomplish:

  • activates imagination, creativity and expression
  • initiates experimentation and discovery
  • stimulates the discovery of one’s own imagery, our artistic vocabulary
  • lead to unexpected, interesting and surprising effects
  • ensures variation, contrast, emphasis and dynamics

and more – always more as you revise your poems, play with lines, and experiment with the sounds and meanings of words.


©2021, Mary Sayler, poet-writer










Saturday, October 2, 2021

How Haiku Helps


Reading and writing haiku, senryu, and other mini-poems help us to see more detail and say more in fewer words. Why should this matter to poets and writers?




Many of the poems posted on the Internet go on and on, like a first draft that was never read aloud, reconsidered, or revised. With just a little more wait-time allowed after writing and just a little more listening time allowed to evaluate the sound echoes, rhythm, and musicality, each poem can go from “okay” to “good” or “good” to “well-done.”


Haiku, senryu, and other mini-poems remind us to be brief.




Lengthy poems often have overlapping pictures with no clear focus. This can happen by mixing metaphors, but also because the poem has no clear direction. That’s fine in a first draft, but after letting a poem sit for a while before coming back to revise, poets are more apt to see what they and the poem are trying to say.


Haiku, senryu, and other mini-poems call on the clarity of a well-taken photograph or an artist’s quick sketch.




Haiku, senryu, and other mini-poems frequently rely on a beautiful sight or insight (preferably both!)


This awareness of a fleeting thought, moment, or scene causes us to welcome the unexpected, be alert for the exquisite, be attentive to the profound, and be appreciative of our environment.


Other Features


Haiku, senryu, and other mini-poems are so transportable! They encourage us to keep a notebook handy.


These little forms help us to break free of rhymes that quickly close down thought, originality, and natural-sounding language. Also, by focusing on rhyming words, we might overlook other poetic factors, waiting to reveal themselves.


When we give ourselves and our poems over to the traditional 5/7/5 syllables in the three lines of haiku or senryu, we begin to think in form. If we prefer 2/4/2 or 3/4/3 or other syllabic count, that works too. Regardless, we’ll eventually be apt to count out those syllables on our fingers, activating kinetic memory, exercising creativity, and becoming more aware of the poetic moments in our lives.



©2021, Mary Sayler, poet-writer, and recently appointed poetry editor for the new online literary journal, Agape Review





Saturday, August 28, 2021

The Animals in Our Lives

About four-hundred years ago, John Donne wrote a poem entitled “The Flea,” and over two-hundred years ago, “The Tyger” by William Blake was published. Both poems had to do with encountering various forms of nature in our lives. However, “The Flea” had more to do with the nature of marriage and “The Tyger” with the nature of God.


In the Introduction to The Animals in Our Lives, editor-writer-publisher Catherine Lawton offers this insight:


Sometimes animals are mirrors for us to see ourselves more clearly.


She also reminds us:


  • Animals are our fellow creatures, loved by the Creator.
  • Animals can provide companionship, inspiration, and comfort.
  • Animals can teach us about the Creator and how to relate to God.
  • Animals provide metaphors of our lives that help us understand ourselves.
  • Animals (especially those in the wild) represent elements of Mystery.


In these turbulent, often scary, times, directing our attention onto animals of all kinds gives us a positive focus that helps us to realign with God’s prayer for all peoples to take care of the earth.

Published by Cladach Publishing, who kindly sent me a writer’s copy, this new anthology can help us to regain our perspective, our commitment, and our hope through the essays, stories, and poems about engaging with animals from these diverse categories:


Our Dogs – from show dogs to trained therapists

Our Cats – from strays to guardian angels

Our Farm Animals – from sheep to prayer circles of cows

Our Unusual Pets – from crickets and honeybees to hedgehogs and reptiles

Our Wild Animal Encounters – from dolphins to bears and elks to owls


What a special showcase of creatures, great and small! May God help us to take care of them and remind us how they take care of us.



©2021, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer, poet-writer of PRAISE! published by Cladach Publishing



Friday, July 23, 2021

Revise, Revising, Re-Vision


Writing a poem sometimes starts with a fresh idea such as making an unusual connection between two different things. As we go back over what we’ve written, we might feel we’ve successfully conveyed our idea to other people who read our work. Or not!


In the following poem, I used the three-line haiku form (5/7/5 syllables) to make my comparison:


The size of rainfall
can’t be measured in drops or
inches but thread count.


Somehow that didn’t quite get the thought across, so I revised the poem and loosened the lines:


A heavy deluge
cannot be measured
in meters or inches
but thread count.


Hmmm. Maybe that clarified the idea somewhat, but I didn’t like the way the poem just sat there like a flat statement that probably wouldn’t make sense to people who have never heard rain referred to as “sheets.” Also, the poem needed energy.


The final revision seemed livelier and clearer, thereby securing its place among other haiku and mini-poems in my book, Talking to the Wren, published by Cyberwit.net.


Sheets of rain
cannot be measured
in meters
or inches
but thread count.

©2020, Mary Harwell Sayler


Sometimes, though, a poem doesn’t begin with an idea so much as a vision, an image, a story. For example, I wanted to capture true events in this poem:


Civilian Sighting

In woods on the other side of our nearest neighbor,
a man as slim as a new limb set up his home. He
found water from the pond and plenty of berries
until someone complained to the local law. An old
childhood chum, who keeps an open place in her
kind heart, charmed Facebook friends into giving
to those less fortunate than themselves. Yes! Let’s
paper-line the moneyed edges of a windfall, but
can’t we let an emaciated man live in the forest
beside us, at least until his shadow grows larger
than that armadillo nesting freely in the hedge?


Although the paragraph form gave this prose poem the look and feel of a story, I’d hoped for a more poetic-feeling result. So I tried breaking the lines differently to see/hear if that improved the poem.


Also, the poem seemed too wordy, which lessened the dramatic effect and clouded the overall image. So I cut words, hoping to sharpen the focus.


To do that, however, I first had to refocus on the important parts of the story. I needed to ask myself, “What am I trying to say?”


As the name implies, a re-vision adjusts the vision. Ultimately, the revision helps readers to see what you see as you invite them into the experience of the poem.


Civilian Sighting

In the woods
on the other side
of our nearest neighbor,
a man as slim as a new limb
set up his home. He found
water from the pond and
plenty of berries until someone
complained to the local law.

A childhood friend I
found again on Facebook
asked others to give to
those less fortunate than
themselves. Yes, but could
we not let an emaciated man
live in the woods beside us,
at least until his shadow looms
larger than that armadillo
nesting in the hedge?

©2020, Mary Harwell Sayler from the poetry book A Gathering of Poems




Monday, July 5, 2021

The power of meaning-filled words


This morning as I looked through a book on painting with oil pastels, I was reminded of an old school lesson on vision: i.e., The rods of the eye distinguish light from dark, whereas the cones assess hues of color.


Reading about rods and cones brought to mind the fourth verse of the twenty-third Psalm:


Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff—they comfort me.”


Wow! This newly considered meaning of “rods” resulted in the following senryu, which I wrote down quickly before I forgot!


The rods of the eye
distinguish light from darkness.
God’s rods comfort me.

©Mary Harwell Sayler


In this instance, the added connotations produced a poem, but this process can work backwards too. For example, as you read through poems you have already written, consider each word and any additional meanings they might have. Then, as you revise, use the most interesting connotations to add new depth and fresh insight to your poetry.







Friday, June 18, 2021

A 21st Century Plague: Poetry from a Pandemic


When University Professors Press added the anthology A 21st Century Plague: Poetry from a Pandemic to their “Poetry, Healing, and Growth Series,” I happily received a writer’s copy as one of the fifty-three poets whose poems comprise this remarkable collection.


In the Introduction, editor Elayne Clift gives us a glimpse of the goal:


International in scope, this collection offers validation, comfort, and support to those who have struggled with pandemic restrictions, sometimes with humor and always with compassion. Poems address coping with mundane acts of daily life, profound emotions inherent in the challenges we have been called upon to face during a frightening time, isolation, lack of physical intimacy, and ever-present anxieties. Offering perspectives derived from personal experience, poets from various cultures and age groups contribute to the literature of healthcare crises in deeply meaningful ways.”


But don’t just take her word and mine! See for yourself the richness of these selected poems:


In “Daily News,” for instance, poet Barbara Crooker writes:


And so this day is like every other,
beginning with coffee and ending
with wine. But with nowhere
to go, and nothing to do, I’m
going to take my time, sit
in the morning sun and savor
the darkness, black and bitter.
In the larger world, terrible
things continue to happen.
Here, the only action
is the hummingbird zipping
and sipping sugar water,
jazzed on sweetness, in love
with the sun….”

“The End of Summer 2020” brings us these poignant lines by Judith Adams:


Call for a convention of wild animals
So you can listen to their sorrow.
Ask forgiveness for history.
If you don’t know what you are here for,
sleep on the edge of the sea and let it
Breath for you.
One day you will be able
To kiss again…


Free verse and traditional poems give voice to what we’ve been thinking, feeling, and doing for many months, and yet this very time of uncertainty and, often chaos, has also brought reminders to reassess our priorities and acknowledge what’s truly important. i.e., Enjoy the NOW of things. Pray and watch without ceasing for good to come from hard times.

Brother Richard Hendrick opens the door to praise in these uplifting lines from “Lockdown”:


They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds sing again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
Across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
So that those who are alone
May hear the sounds of family….


And look at these lines in “Face Mask” by Paul Hostovsky:


Have you noticed
how beautiful
everyone looks

when all you can see
are their eyes?


The pandemic also encourages us to open our eyes to perspectives other than our own and relevant issues such as “Covid Times in Prison” by Tony Vick.


God has been good to me, despite my bout with Covid. He brought people into my life when I needed them. But maybe the Mexican folktale holds some truth. God doesn’t need to photograph the poor and disenfranchised. He resides in their midst, loving them, knowing that we all must be free to seek a kinder, more compassionate world.

Without that, COVID-19 will be the least of our worries.”


May this excellent anthology help us to express our own fears and worries while reawakening us to beauty, joy, and the marvelous versatility of peoples and poetry.

©2021, Mary Harwell Sayler, poet and writer in all genres, including A Gathering of Poems