Monday, March 6, 2017

Communion of Saints: poems by Susan L. Miller

In Communion of Saints by Susan L. Miller, present-day people reflect saintly individuals of the past in a collection of poetic portraits grouped into four sections: Faith, Hope, Love, and Pax Et Bonum, before concluding with an epilogue and “Notes on the poems,” which readers might want to refer to from the start.

Published by Paraclete Press, who kindly sent me a complimentary copy to review, the book begins with a Foreword by award-winning poet Mark Doty, who says:

“I imagine it’s no accident that this surprising and moving book begins with a ‘manual for would-be saints’ and ends with a ruined, heartbroken wolf learning to be loved. To become a saint, the lesson might be, it is necessary to enter completely into one’s abjection, and then to give oneself over completely to what might provide for your hunger.”

As the opening poem, “Manual for the Would-Be Saint” begins with these lines:

“The first principle: Do no harm.
The second: The air calls us home.
Third, we must fill the bowls of others
before we drain our own wells dry.”

With nineteen principles in the poem to mull over, I found these two my favorites:

“The thirteenth, we practice forgiving Judas.
The fourteenth, we love Judas as ourselves.”

Being unfamiliar with some of the saints highlighted in these poems, I didn’t connect as well as I did with those whose stories I knew or whose work I’d read. Therefore, “Self-Portrait as St. John of the Cross,” spoke to me immediately then intensified with these closing lines:

“I know that even Christ

doubted his Father
for a moment, in his suffering, and cried out My God
why hast thou forsaken me? without

feeling your hand in his chest, that hand
that wraps itself around the human heart and presses gently
two times every second.”

In addition to those perceptive moments, the poet gives us fresh phrases as shown, for instance, in “Portrait of Father Santo as St. Anthony of Padua,” where the relics of St. Anthony’s bones:

“reminded me
that all we are, after we are, becomes
small and brown, as if time dyes our bodies
with tea and smoke.”

Considering the Master of fresh phrases, Miller writes of a potential moment when “Gerard Manley Hopkins Looks at a Cloud.”

“On his back, under a sea of stirring wisps,
Hopkins tries to find words for the cirrus,
the cumulus, the nimbostratus, the drifting crowd
of clouds like steam opening the sky.”

And then, going deeper into the imagined scene, the poet writes:

“He thinks of his heaviness,
his own bones a weight he must strive to stir.
He thinks of the clouds’ massive heft like the flesh
of the sky, a musculature sure and simple,
striated, spare, and strange: he is liftened then too,
all sinew and soul thrilled in the high reaches
of Christ’s clutches, to whom all things
are light, and lifted, and lifting.”

Since I quoted Mark Doty’s mention of “The Wolf of Gubbio,” which ends the book, I want you to:

“Imagine yourself an old wolf: lean
and ragged, belly shrunken beneath a ribcage
as bowed as a galleon’s undercarriage” –

a wolf whose hunger terrifies “each living thing you encounter,” but who responds to kindness, affection, and food until:

“No longer ravenous, you slowly eat your fill,
then lie on your side as children rub your fur,
making their high-pitched sounds.

For the rest of your life, you never
hunger, fed at any door you pass through,
beloved and belonging. Would you
call it a miracle if you knew
that wherever you went,
someone provided for you?”

Poetry book review by Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017, poet-author of Living in the Nature Poem, Outside Eden, Beach Songs & Wood Chimes, Faces in a Crowd, and from Cladach Publishing the forth-coming book PRAISE!

Communion of Saints, paperback

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Poems of PRAISE!

The Psalms provide wonderful examples of ways to praise, pray, thank God – and also complain and lament! A study of those timeless poems shows almost all of the lamentations in Psalms as beginning with a concern but ending with praise or thanksgiving. That uplift at the end exemplifies a strong faith in God, despite hard or scary circumstances, and also shows how the poured-out-heart of a poet must remain completely honest and wholly vulnerable.

Unlike the “made poem” of the sonnet and other traditional verse, this type of poetry writing relies on prayer and spontaneity. For example, a startling phrase or insight may suddenly come to mind and need to be written down in a spirit of obedience, rather than the usual intent on creativity. Once those words have been recorded on paper or computer, the rest of the poem will often follow freely.

You might call such poems short meditations, but as a lifelong lover of the Bible, I consider these types of poems as contemporary psalms and prayer-poems. At least, that’s how I would describe the poetry in my book PRAISE! which Cladach Publishing plans to release on March 30, 2017.

To give you an example, the word ruah appears hundreds of times in the Bible and, depending on its context, means wind, an animating force, or the Holy Spirit. That thought brought to mind God’s Breath, which soon brought forth other thoughts in this poem:

Praise God the Breath of Life –

Who breathed me awake
at birth,

Who breathes on me now
in my sleep,

Who keeps my lungs filled
with Holy Spirit Ruah,

and takes my breath away.

by Mary Harwell Sayler, from PRAISE!

For about a year, the opening lines or thoughts for praise poems came to me with the rest of the lines usually following fairly quickly. I posted most of those on the Praise Poems blog, which eventually led to their collection in the forthcoming print book PRAISE!

Like the biblical psalms, these poems came without titles. Rather than labeling them numerically, as editors did in later years for the Psalms, I saw the first line as the poem’s title.

Since I’m writing this the day before Ash Wednesday – the first day of Lent – I’ll give you an example of the title as first line in this time-appropriate poem.

The day holds its people

to star words and crystal
globes, to apron strings
and past experiences,
to present predicaments
and verdicts of guilt.

Who so bound
can stand?

Oh, praise! Oh,
praise the Son
of Man!

Praise Christ,
Who bound
to the cross
for our sins,
willingly died.

Praise our Lord
Who cuts us free
with the sword
thrust into His side.

by Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2017, and included in PRAISE! – the book of contemporary psalms and prayer-poems to be published March 30, 2017 by Cladach Publishing, but available now for orders at a pre-publication price

PRAISE! paperback

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Stained Glass: poems by Joanna Kurowska

Having previously reviewed Inclusions by Joanna Kurowska, I looked forward to her most recent book of poems, Stained Glass, which the poet kindly sent for my review.

Published by eLectio Publishing, this slender volume immediately spoke to me in the title poem “Stained glass,” which begins:

“I don’t know whose garden this is

the wind-whisper gently blowing,
an ocean under the leaf’s surface,
universes crossing in a spider”

Those lovely lines express the uncertainty many of us feel when we’ve gone from a home in one place to another far away. Although the poet crossed the Atlantic in relocating from Poland to the United States, the sense of mystery and fragmentation can occur even as we change regions, making

“pieces of stained glass I must
arrange, knowing they are necessary.

In such times, we may wonder, where are we? Where do we fit? Who are we? And where is God in all this?

In the second poem, the “I” of the poem states: “For a moment I turned into a plant.” But that transplantation gets re-routed then re-rooted in the poem’s closing lines:

“My entire body being made of light,
nothing separates me from the heart of a tree
or from other hearts in the palm of man’s hand.”

Reconnecting with oneself and each tense of life has to begin somewhere – past, present, or future. Interestingly, the poet began the first of four sections in the book with “The Cemetery,” which “was dying” before taking us on a tour of her native land with the colorful memories of a child.

In “Transgressions,” for example, we learn:

“The nineteen-fifties
had the blue color of the smoke
from the cigarettes of Grandpa Witold,
may he rest in peace.”

And in “The Lesson,” we discover:

“The nineteen-sixties were yellow or red,
full of exalted anthems to the fatherland
and military songs about the People’s Poland.”

“Expulsion” tells us:

“The nineteen-seventies were brown
like the background in a still-life.
In place of flowers or apples
gray eyes shone.”

We feel the loss – of place and “Youth” – before turning to section two “Time of Grace,” which seems to be a time of change and struggle.

As Mount Tabor is the likely site of Jesus’ transfiguration, the poem “Mount Tabor” has its own transformations to consider:

“Lord, put out the fire, let me step down from Tabor
onto solid ground, to tamed realities
Let me recoup the shapes in the names of things
I must know, can I still see or have lost my sight?”

In the third section of the book, “File #3” begins with “the Berlin boys” as the poetic voice asks:

“What are the Berlin boys doing now?
The one who used to walk with a dog
alongside the train corridors?
the one, who held my passport….
…the one who aimed his
machine gun at me from up high?”

Other troubling questions with no answers occur in “Christmas now,” which begins:

“What if he were born today
and the hotels ran out of rooms?”

then goes on to ask if the twelve-year-old Jesus would need to set up profiles on Twitter and Facebook, or, as an adult…

“Could he stay unemployed, spend the night
by the lake, make campfires, heal without
a license, transform himself with impunity
in the company of persons decreed dead?

The last section “Nothing” sees “no way out,” yet looks to death as “opening to freedom” and life as “an unfolding flower.” Either way, there’s no containment, no strict answers in a box clicked shut, but pieces of life and memories remain as does “The Presence” where “God is next to you” – in your kitchen or Auschwitz.

Despite the sharp edges of reality, these fragments come together and find a unique yet familiar pattern, ready to go on.

Review by Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017

Stained Glass, paperback


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Literary Magazines and Journals Database| Poets & Writers

Literary Magazines and Journals Database| Poets & Writers:

Poets and writers, place your work in a literary magazine, journal, or e-zine before you even think about self-publishing.

Having editors accept your work will develop your confidence. And, if they decline it, well, that's informative too, especially if you put your poem or manuscript in context with those published in that particular publication.

Once you have built some publishing credits, consider gathering poems for a chapbook, based on a single theme. If none exists, you might wait until you have enough poems for a book of, say, 45 to 75 pages.

Either way, be sure to acknowledge the title, periodical, and date of publication on an Acknowledgment Page. Then study, study the guidelines most publishers provide on their websites to see where your work best fits.

A little revision, a little research of potential markets can go a long way in helping you reach your publishing goals.

Mary Harwell Sayler, (c) 2017

'via Blog this'

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Observation makes a poem

Poets often think poetry writing requires a heightened imagination, but I don’t usually find that to be true. More likely, a well-written poem takes keen senses and heightened observation –- something we can appreciate and learn with practice.

To do this, simply notice – really notice – what’s going on around. Some call this being present in the moment then capturing what’s there –- something I find especially helpful in writing nature poems.

Yesterday, for example, we took our lunch to a lakeside park where we sat, soaking up the day’s beauty and unseasonably warm weather. However, the deciduous trees along the lake knew we’re still in winter months, and they behaved accordingly.

Looking at them, I remembered that cypress trees turn brown, which always surprises me as I think of them as being evergreen. Nevertheless, they’d turned to rust, and so the thought of their needles rusting came to me, along with the line “The rusty needles.”

To expand that image into something readers might recognize over a sewing kit, I needed the next line to explain that I’m talking about trees in winter, which made…

The rusty needles
of wintering cypress

Observing the present line lengths encouraged me to count syllables, and sure enough, haiku happened. With five syllables on the first line, I only needed another syllable on the second line to round out the traditional seven-syllable count.

5 The rusty needles
7 of wintering cypress trees….

…and then what? They weren’t doing anything but standing there. Or, were they?

Thinking about needles –- with or without rust –- added the thought of sewing, which brought the idea of stitching the lake and sky together. A little tweaking rendered the final five syllables needed for a 5/7/5 traditional haiku form.

The rusty needles
of wintering cypress trees
stitch the lake to sky.

by Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2017

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Take a poem to lunch

Have you read any delicious poems lately? You can recognize them by their crisp images and yummy words.

Similar to vitamins and minerals needed to replenish weary body cells, poems can replace junk-food thoughts with revitalizing nutrients for the body, mind, and soul.

A problem comes, however, in trying to find appealing poems to devour. Many of them go on and on with nothing new to give those of us who want more than empty calories or rehashed left-overs. Some poems make us turn up our noses at their saccharine sweetness while others seem gross enough to make us gag!

Poems need to be smooth, edible, and not stick in the throat.

Poems need texture, salt, spice, and a colorful garnish.

Poems need to be more melodic than a dinner bell.

As a lifelong lover of poetry, I’ve had the joy of sampling poems with enough variety for almost any taste. A couple of years ago, I wrote about some of those recommendations in “Favorite poets, poetry, and why.” Since then, new works have come to my attention as review copies arrived from poetry book publishers. I’ve undoubtedly missed many, but the following links can help to expand your versatile menu for a healthy, creative life of poetry:

Poetry by some of my favorite poets:

The Life and Death of Poetry: poems by Kelly Cherry

Idiot Psalms by Scott Cairns

Songs from a Wild Place and Estuaries by Jason Kirkey

Eyes Have I That See by priest-poet John Julian

Remembering Softly: a life in poems by Catherine Lawton

Anthologies with works by many poets:

St. Peter’s B-List, anthology

The Paraclete Poetry Anthology

The Seashell Anthology of Great Poetry

Reviews by poet-author Mary Harwell Sayler