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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














  1. This beautiful, insightful, sensitive post with your poetic responses (I especially enjoy the way you enter into the poets' imaginary scenes and your pleasing internal rhymes) make me love you even more as a first-rate poet yourself. God bless and keep you and your vision, Mary.

    1. What an encouraging word - especially coming from you, Cathy! Thanks and blessings.