Women on Poetry: Writing, Revising, Publishing and Teaching

If you would love to be in a crowd of poets where each literary artist gives you a woman’s perspective on writing, revising, publishing, and teaching poetry, this is it!

This is the book I wish I’d had when I began sending my poems to potential publishers – the book I wish I’d had before leading my first writing workshop or teaching poetic forms to a class of third graders or doing poetry readings. This book might have eased my search for role models and lessened my remorse over having to learn to market myself. This is the book that might have given me a realistic view of publishing to offset the assumptions made when I earned $35 for a single poem the first time a publisher accepted my work for publication over 30 years ago! Since then I’ve received many writer’s copies but almost no cash, eventually learning the hard way many of the helpful experiences and information you’ll find in this book.

Published by McFarland, who kindly gave me a copy to review, Women on Poetry: Writing, Revising, Publishing and Teaching presents 59 essays from an eclectic group of poets offering diverse approaches to poetry related to one of these general categories:

Part I
Our Writing Life – A Collective Voice

Part II
We Who Pass It On – Tips on Teaching

Part III
The Next Step – Publishing Our Poetry

Part IV
Just for Us – Essential Wisdom

To begin at the beginning, renowned poet Molly Peacock gives a word of advice in the Foreword that took me years of looking back to see! She said: “Noticing – the act of simple observation – lies at the foundation of lyric poetry. It is the precision of noticing that leads to the leaps of metaphor that thrill the readers of the art.”

Or, to say it another way: Neither a heightened imagination nor a high I.Q. mark a poet who writes with precision and freshness. However, the work of a poet who simply notices everything is apt to be brilliant!

For centuries though, the shine of a poet has typically spotlighted men who write, and so, as Editors Carol Smallwood, Collen S. Harris and Cynthia Brackett-Vincent explain in the Introduction, “It follows, then, that women poets may have a more difficult time thinking of themselves as ‘serious poets’ and have a more difficult time feeling comfortable promoting themselves as poets.”

That’s certainly been true for me. And yet, with the exception of my first-store-bought-book of poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, the work of women poets often discouraged me in my early years of writing more than poetry by men! With too few female artists being anthologized or discussed in literature classes, I saw women poet-peers as wordy workers of words apt to go on and on in confessionals, suicidal thoughts, or exploration of their own body parts. Since none of that interested me, I filled my bookshelves with poetry from Auden to Yates with a little Zen thrown in until I gleefully discovered Mary Oliver, Jane Kenyon, Pattianne Rogers, Jorie Graham, Anna Akhmatova, and Denise Levertov as other-centered poets with whom I enjoyed keeping company and learning about the world at large.

I pray our peer base of female poets addressing universal subjects will widen as we read this highly recommended book and consider such topics as “The Fine Art of Revision,” “In Praise of the Chapbook,” “Writing Prompts,” and “Give ‘Em the Beat: Tips on Teaching Meter,” which also shows you how to revise a rhythmic poem to fit a metered form.

Also in the first two sections, one of my favorite chapters, “Fishing Lines, Dream Hieroglyphics: How to Begin a Poem,” provides “Twelve Ways to Jump Start a Poem,” with suggestions ranging from browsing a dictionary (which Billy Collins has reportedly done) to listening to music (which T.S. Eliot was known to do.) For me, observing nature (which Mary Oliver does) jumpstarted at least two book of poems and intense Bible study another.

To keep learning and improving our poetry, the works of other poets can continue to inform and inspire us, hopefully, throughout our long poetic lives. I also want to support poetry in the arts, but after buying hundreds of poetry books, chapbooks, and anthologies, I decided to support my habit by requesting review copies from traditional publishers whose work I already know I like. Studying those books and seeing what works and what does not cannot help but help my own poetry, and I like the idea of helping other poets as you’ll be encouraged to do in the essay on “How – and Why – to Write Book Reviews.”

I’ve merely highlighted a few of my Favs here, but in Women on Poetry, you can expect to find a wealth of preferences and practices by over 40 poets whose ideas on writing, revising, publishing, and teaching will guide you and your poetic writing life.

© 2014, Mary Sayler is poet-author of Outside Eden, Beach Songs & Wood Chimes, and Living in the Nature Poem in print and in an e-book on Kindle. Mary also works with other poets through the Contact & Critiques page on her website.

Women on Poetry: Writing, Revising, Publishing and Teaching, paperback

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Or call the order line for McFarland – 800-253-2187.

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