Thursday, December 12, 2019

Prime Time for Rhyme

Rhymes have the best success when they accentuate the meaning, theme, or purpose of a poem.

Since the repetition of a sound naturally calls attention to it, this can be a useful technique to highlight an important thought or image. Otherwise, the emphasis of rhyme can be distracting – like pointing to an empty doorway and saying, "Ta DA!" when nothing is there.

If you once thought, as I did, that a poem wasn't a poem unless it rhymed, you may have found yourself being faithful to the rhyming pattern rather than the poem’s meaning. However, rhyme for the sake of rhyme can make a line seem odd, awkward or strained, so it's better to omit rhymes altogether than to force the syntax into an unnatural-sounding sentence.

In general, the weakest rhymes use the weakest words to create the weakest pictures.  For example, a preposition, adjective, or adverb can not be envisioned.  Except for providing a senseless sound, nothing is gained by pairing a rhyme with “of,” “for,” “the,” or other abstract word.

Conversely, the opposite is true:  Strong nouns and verbs offer the strongest rhymes, create the clearest pictures, and give the greatest strength and emphasis  to a poem’s meaning, theme, and purpose as I hope this poem will show: 


The cardinals convene the color of the day.
Robed in red, they pronounce a benediction
over cawing crow and squawking jay –
an ecumenical procession of beak and plume.

Two tiny titmice, cowled like monks,
begin to chant, and a pair of mourning doves
peck flat wafer seeds from green chunks
of ground, keeping time to some hymnal tune.

A brown thrasher thrashes in a purifying pool,
and into this God-given school of earth and sky –
on my most mid weak day – I
come to be quiet and commune.

by Mary Harwell Sayler from the poetry book Lost in Faith

Note: The above post primarily came from the ChristianPoet’s Guide to Writing Poetry e-book.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Blank Verse Versus Free Verse

Have you ever met a person who reminds you of someone else? The two may look alike or express themselves with similar gestures, but after you get to know them, you might see they’re not alike at all. The primary characteristic you first noticed may be the only one they share. That's how it is with blank verse versus free. People often confuse the two, thinking they’re the same although they have little in common – with one big exception:

Neither blank verse nor free verse has regular end-line rhyme.

The following might help to clarify:

• Free Verse is free of all preconceived patterns or fixed forms. 

Free verse often has no rhymes whatsoever, but it’s just as likely to have true and/or slant rhymes tucked less conspicuously into its lines. Notice, for example, the true rhyming pair receive/believe in the poem “After Shock” and the slant rhymes thicket/wet and guarding/Garden. If you read aloud the poem (derived from the biblical book of Genesis), you’ll also hear sound echoes of resonating vowels and repeated consonants.

After Shock

When we awoke, we found ourselves
in a thicket of trees, the man called a forest –
our eyes too wet to see.

The boys had disappeared,
most likely exploring,
but the flaming torches
guarding the Garden had long
been leafed from sight.

Is this called sorrow?

Are we banished from God


Oh, why did we agree to receive
more than our Maker had made?

How could we believe that sliver
of truth in a slithering serpent?

by Mary Harwell Sayler from poetry book, Lost in Faith, ©2017

Free verse follows its own unique shape. It has the freedom to freely use or not use rhyme, rhythm, or meter – unless any of those features falls into a regular pattern.

Metaphorically speaking, free verse is a stream flowing freely within interesting, irregular, and sometimes surprising boundaries. Conversely:

• Blank Verse is rhythmic poetry blank of end-line rhymes.

In blank verse, the lines do not end in rhyming pairs even though the form is “traditional verse,” which usually does have a rhyming pattern. However, blank verse most often follows tradition with a sonnet structure of 14 rhythmic lines.

Figuratively speaking, blank verse is like a drinking glass used for tiny sips of water but appropriate for large gulps too. In classical English literature,  blank verse has occasionally been the medium for epic poems or plays, generally confining itself to metered verse set in iambic pentameter such as loosely shown here in sonnet length:

Blank Verse on a Blackboard

School children leaning over the flat world
of their desks symbolize tomorrow. How
will the chin lift, the back straighten, the eyes
refocus in time to come around in time
for the circle’s revolution from straight line
into that ongoing entity of spin and spin? 

We sat still once to become conversant
in the past’s apparent presence in pyramids, 
ancient cultures, and Babel's complex
structure – tortuous and convoluted, like
fault lines in the earth where quakes occur
below a city built to outlast blasts of when.

Who knows what we can learn from turning
pages – poured over, revised, and read again?

by Mary Harwell Sayler from the poetry book, Faces in a Crowd, ©2016

As you experiment with blank verse and free verse writing, you might discover you want the predictable, reserved blank verse for everyday company, while enjoying the spontaneity of free verse to help your writing flow, freely, into new terrain.

Note: The above post primarily came from the Christian Poet’s Guide to Writing Poetry e-book. For more information about blank verse and free verse, you can also type the topic of your choice into the Search box on this blog page to find related discussions.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

New poetry column on Interlitq!

If you would like a discussion of poets who make us better -- as people and as poets -- I hope you'll check out my new column by that name on the international literary e-zine Interlitq

Since T.S. Eliot was the first award-winning, 20th century poet whose poems I studied, I began the column with an article on his brilliant work: Poets Who Make Us Better: T.S. Eliot. 

If you have a favorite poet whose subject matter helps us to be our best selves or whose artistry improves the quality of our writing, I welcome your suggestions in the Comments below.

Thanks and blessings.

Mary Sayler


Monday, November 18, 2019

Do our poems make a difference?

Earlier today I received word that Interlitq had posted my poem Grieving,” which I hope you’ll read on their site by clicking its title. But I mention this because a response from a reader stunned me. She wrote:

“Wow. I just finished praying over Hong Kong and then read this poem. Hong Kong is grieving like this. Beautiful.”

Who would have thought that a poem beginning with sorrowful crows and elephants could travel to Hong Kong and back with healing words both ways?

But isn’t that our hope each time we submit a poem for publication – that somehow somewhere someone will be affected in some way? What a blessing when someone takes the time to say so!

May you find encouragement in your writing life today.

Mary Sayler, ©2019

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Now where did I put that poem?

Keeping track of your poems is easy at first, but as your work grows, it’s hard to remember every title, much less where it was last seen.

If you occasionally (or regularly!) send poems to poetry journals or anthologies, you know a typical submission contains 3 to 5 poems in one batch sent to one editor at a time. This can add up quickly– and quickly add to the confusion!

To keep track of individual poems:

·         Type each on a separate page in a poetry file kept on computer.  

·         At the top of each poem, type the date written and the primary topic, the latter of which will help you find appropriate poems to send in one batch. (This information also helps later when you search for poems on a particular subject for a chapbook or section of a poetry book.)

·         When you’re ready to submit a poem to a contest, periodical, or other publication, type the date of submission and name of the potential publisher with the other record-keeping info at the top of the page.

That information is for yourself, of course, and not publication. If, however, you don’t like this method, another way to keep track is by setting up a “Poetry Submission” file. (I do both.)

For a poetry submission file:

·         List and alphabetize each poem by title.

·         Beside each title, identify the form, such as “haiku,” “sonnet,” “children’s poem.”

·         Also, identify the primary subject(s), such as “nature,” “faith,” “love.”

·         Type in the date and place where you’re submitting the poem, the method of mailing, and the contact info for the person to whom the poem is sent.

·         If the poem is not accepted for publication, type in the date you received a “no.”

·         If the poem is accepted, enjoy the moment! Then type in the date you received a “yes” and the date to be published (TBP.)

To see at a glance which poems are being considered, which will be published, and which are ready to send out again, I add an identifier to the left of each title. For example, I type * when a poem has been accepted and + when under consideration.

If a poem comes back and waits for me to tweak, revise, or otherwise reconsider before I send it to the next potential publisher, I remove the identifiers. This way, my Poetry Submission file shows me which poems are free to go out again without my fretting over where they are.

Mary Harwell Sayler , ©2019

P.S. After posting these tips on keeping track of the poems we submit, I discovered I'd sent a previously published poem to an online journal that wants only unpublished pieces! Lord, help! Even the best laid plans and systems can go awry! Thankfully, I caught the error before the journal had time to use the poem, so I confessed my mistake to the editor. Also, I'm thankful I have another file called "Bio" that lists the titles and genres of my published works with the places and dates they see print, which is how I found my mistake.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Poems that make us feel

Poems that make us feel work best if they get real!

For centuries, poetry writing has provided emotional release for poets whose work, in turn, reassures others as though to say, “Yes, I have those feelings too.” Sadly though, some abused poets become abusive speakers, lashing out until readers feel victimized by words in print, while other poets have used emotionalism for shock value or manipulative device. This can be effective if handled responsibly, but besides being a type of sensationalism, feigned emotion demonstrates sentimentalism – a word usually associated with syrupy verse or platitudes but, in this case, representative of the opposite extreme. Either way, sentimentalism reflects an artificial and disproportionate response unlike true emotion.

The content of emotion expresses typical feelings most people have.

If you’ve actually experienced or witnessed an emotion, write about it, of course, but be as accurate as you can about those feelings and how they affect you or other people. Conversely, if you have any hope at all about anything, your poems can also reflect that. Who, for instance, hasn’t at least noticed fear of the unknown, anger when wronged, frustration when thwarted, or hurt when rejected? Most people understand such emotions, which can be written about from all sorts of perspectives and with every possible purpose in mind. But have we not also honestly felt or seen occasions of joy, awe, wonder, or pleasure? If so, we might acknowledge those gifts in our poetry too.

During times of tumult, enthusiastic fervor, and other emotional peaks, listen intently to what is said and how it is expressed.

To clarify further, contrast or compare: i.e., How deep is the worry? How charged the anger? How high the joy?

Noting emotions as they occur can help you express passion in poetry – especially if this comes in reaction to an experience, problem, or concern that almost everyone encounters as expressed in my poem below:

Expiration Date

I can't seem to get over
your dying like that.
Things I thought I knew
about you did not include
this option – not so soon.
No longer am I satisfied
with nebulous concepts
or indefinite infinities.
I want to know, precisely,
how much bone you have retained
and whether anything was gained
from being good.

Should I still hope
you'll wait for me?
If so, where will I be
inclined to find you –
behind which cloud or nebula?
Tell me, how does it feel
for each cell to unloosen
into dust? And, for what
indeterminate time
does rust remain?

Will my foot still ache
from that day I walked,
barefoot and careless,
over a high threshold?
When I dare again to speak,
will everyone hear, exactly,
what I most meant to say?

©2019, This blog post came from “The Content of Emotion” in the Christian Poet’s Guide to Writing Poetry by Mary Harwell Sayler - an ebook which includes the above poem “Expiration Date” as an example of the topic under discussion

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Poetry and the forgotten Beatitude

If you’ve ever studied the poetry in the Bible, you’ve probably noticed the elevated language and lyrical flow of the King James Version (KJV.) If you want to check it out, I encourage you to focus on the Psalms, the prophetic book of Isaiah, the Gospel of John, and Jesus’ words in Matthew, especially as translated gracefully, rhythmically, and lyrically into KJV English.

With beautifully written lyrics, the beliefs and values you hold most dear will have a far greater impact than didactic or “teacherly” statements that aim to moralize. Take, for example, the KJV version of Beatitudes in the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, verses 3-9.

Blessed are the poor in spirit:
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn:
for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek:
for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do
hunger and thirst after righteousness:
for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful:
for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart:
for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers:
for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted
for righteousness' sake:
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Notice how the rhythmic refrain of “Blessed are” and the poetic words and phrases that follow make those lines memorable – easy to remember and easy to quote.

Like me, you might have heard those biblical attitudes and even agreed with them, as I do. But, it’s the less-known Beatitude in verses 11 and 12, that brings it all home.

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you,
and persecute you, and say all manner of evil
against you falsely, for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad:
for great is your reward in heaven:
for so persecuted they the prophets
which were before you.

I’ve read this passage for years without noticing how the impact of that often-forgotten Beatitude comes from the sudden change in viewpoint or perspective. i.e., In verses 3-10, Jesus poetically presents the attitudes He wants His followers to have, but in verses 11-12, He wraps it all up and makes it personal – comforting, empowering – as He speaks, no longer about “them,” but directly to us – “you” and me.

Blessed are you
when people insult you
and mistreat you
and say all kinds of hateful lies about you
because you follow Christ.

Rejoice! And be glad about it!
For great is the reward
your spirit receives –
as did persecuted prophets before you.