Blog – Mary Harwell Sayler

As the New Year begins, expand your options and improve your writing and publishing success with these tips and helps.

Source: Blog – Mary Harwell Sayler


The Poetry Editor and Poetry: Excellent resources for poets ready to excel

This newly updated list of resources can help you enhance the writing, revising, and submitting of your poems to appropriate poetry journals, anthologies, and e-zines. Once you have placed a number of poems with editors of print or online publications, you’ll be better prepared to approach a publisher of poetry chapbooks or books of poems.

Source: The Poetry Editor and Poetry: Excellent resources for poets ready to excel

Using alliteration for sound echoes and for fun

In case you haven’t had a chance to experiment with alliteration, here are two types to practice in your poems or when you want to turn up the audio for emphasis or humor in other genres of writing.

Assonance – This type of alliteration with vowels is more subtle than consonance, which is more subtle than rhyme. If words end in a vowel, they might rhyme too, but assonance typically comes in the sound of vowels at the beginning of a word or inside it.

For example, read the following question aloud and listen for the repetition of the uuuu (ew,ew,ew) sound in every word but “as.”

Would you choose Hugh as true?

Consonance – The alliteration most people notice when they’re reading is consonance where two or more words in close proximity begin with the same consonantal letter of the alphabet.

Generally speaking two or three repeated consonantal sounds on one line of poetry lend musicality to a poem. As you read aloud the following, listen especially for the echoing m, r, and g.

…the murmuring sounds of morning

Like end-line and internal rhymes, consonance emphasizes word, but much more subtly. A big exception is if you use multiple words with alliteration. Then you have a tongue twister, such as Suzy sells seashells by the seashore. Try saying that aloud a few times to see how long your tongue lasts without twisting!

Now, go back, reread that last sentence above and notice the alliterative use of l’s and t’s. You can slip that type of consonance into descriptive scenes in novels or other forms of fiction to add a touch of musicality. And, you can use light alliteration in nonfiction to lighten a mood.

As you increase the volume of sound echoes with consonance, you also increase the humor to a certain point before getting just plain silly:

Susie’s sale of seashells
makes no sense to me!
Why does she sell seashells
when, on the beach,
they’re free?

by Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2016.

For more help with poetry techniques, terminology, and forms to play with, order Mary’s e-book, the Christian Poet’s Guide to Writing Poetry, based on the study course she wrote and used for years with other poets and poetry students. The guide is for almost any poet, but the poetry examples come from a Christian perspective. Hopefully, the title also lets poet-readers know that the poems used to illustrate various principles are G-rated. 🙂

Seasons of Poetry

Have you ever gone on a binge of writing poems then suddenly nothing? That ebb and flow of creativity mimics nature with its change of seasons or fluctuations of energy throughout the day in irregular intervals of work, play, and rest.

Like nature, too much work with too little rest or play throws off the flow. It’s like getting caught up in a flood of inventiveness, then having a long, dry spell. For a while, poetic thoughts stem from inspiration, flower with a sense of play, then wither into the work and worries of everyday life.

If that’s happened to you, I hope it helps to recognize this as part of a poet’s “norm.” Also, these dry times aren’t as unproductive as they might seem. They’re probably just parched and in need of rehydration.

For example, when poems don’t come to you as readily as you’d like, your creative self might need to find more options as you:

• Read poetry by other poets such as those reviewed in numerous posts on this site.

• Study and experiment with a variety of poetry forms and techniques as discussed in my e-book.

• Give your previously written poems additional thought and readings before you edit or revise.

• Practice your skills of observation by noting whatever your senses of touch, smell, taste, sight, and sound provide.

For instance, I’m writing this in the middle of an insomniacal night as dripping rain produces different sounds and rhythms, depending on the pitch of the roof and the density of the plants catching the life-giving water. I can attune my sense of hearing to each of those unique sounds or to the musicality they provide when heard together.

If I choose the former, I can describe the finger-drumming of the raindrops and their soft plunking sounds and varied tempo. Or, I can listen to the overall sound effect and find myself soothed, lulled, and, thankfully, ready to rest again.

by Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2015, poet-author of 27 books in all genres and a recent flood of praise poems in search of a traditional or indie book publisher

Finding the right word

Poets often have a favorite method of writing, and mine is to let words flow without censoring or editing until the poem has finished pouring onto paper and/or into my pc then taken a rest. Later, when I go back to revise, I read the poem aloud to locate and repair any rough spots.

With or without revision, a poem can speak clearly and well but still lack oomph. Sometimes this happens because of a lack of the imagery needed to help readers envision the experience or sometimes because of a lack of the sound echoes and musicality needed to create auditory interest or sometimes because of a lack of poetic energy, which is a nice way of saying: That poem is blah!

Correcting this situation most likely means spending a little more time with the poem and maybe with a thesaurus. To speed up the latter, I generally revise from my Word file, right-clicking onto each blah word then clicking onto the choice of “Synonyms,” but which one?

To find which synonyms will be effective in your poem, try this:

• Replace an abstract, unclear, or stale word with a synonym that increases the sound echoes in that line or the lines adjacent.

• Look for a word choice with interesting, thought-provoking connotations that add a new dimension or layer of meaning.

• Listen for the needed number of syllables. If your poem has a multi-syllabic word that mars the rhythm, find a synonym with one or two syllables to enhance the beat – or vice versa!

• Your best options for each new word choice will depend on the context of the poem, your overall theme, and the surrounding sounds, thoughts, or imagery you want to emphasize.

Hopefully, this will help to show what I mean:

The Poet in Pursuit of a Still, Right Word

The white stalk
of egret work
equals perfection:
the S-shape
rocks forward
toward some intended
goal – a mystery
to me as it doesn’t
seem to notice
fish erupting
erratically in its
unruffled wake.

© 2012, Mary Harwell Sayler

In revising “The Poet in Pursuit of a Still, Right Word,” I wanted the poem to illustrate everything I just said. So the word “stalk” might bring to mind the kind of stalks you find in leggy plants such as the ones growing in the margins of a lake where an egret “plants” itself in pursuit of dinner. In addition, the egret is most definitely a stalker stalking its prey. Then, the slow, determined movement toward the next fishing spot comes in a forward-rocking motion that shapes the bird into a big “S,” which hopefully evokes that very picture.

One evening, however, I watched an egret concentrate on one spot without moving as fish swished and splashed all around those long legs! What a picture of attentiveness to the task! And that’s the final image I hope to convey:

As you look and listen for the right word, sharpen your focus. Don’t let eruptive options ruffle you or unreal words reel you in. Observe. Be precise, and be like an egret – on the lookout for each freshly-caught word to surface and splash tastefully into line.

© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved. The above poem previously saw print in Living in the Nature Poem, published in 2012 by the environmental publisher Hiraeth Press.

How to improve your poems

Poetry writing often happens naturally and spontaneously. However, improvements can be made when a poem gets to sit awhile before you come back to read the lines aloud and notice what needs improvement.

The more you read poetry by other poets, the more you’ll recognize what works well and what does not. Meanwhile, you can improve your poems by asking these questions of each poem as you revise:

• Does the poem have a fresh view or insight into the theme or topic?

• Will the subject interest most people?

• Is the poem truthful and honest about its facts and feelings?

• Does the poem make refreshing use of language?

• Do the word choices have interesting connotations or echoing sounds?

• Does the poem emphasize only important words with the use of sound echoes or rhyme for special effect?

• Can any musicality be heard as you read the poem aloud?

• Does the poem use humor rather than wit and cleverness?

• Do the form, tone, and style fit the idea?

• Do the line-breaks in free verse work well, or would the poem improve if the lines were broken differently?

• Does each traditional poem fit a particular form?

• Will the length and style suit poetry journals or e-zines?

• Does the poem invite readers into an experience?

• Does the poem cause readers to think on their own, rather than telling them what and how to think?

• Does the poem offer more than readers will get in one reading, so they’ll want to read it again?

• Would you like the poem a lot if someone else had written it?

If you want to write poems other people will enjoy reading, you’ll do well to study poetry forms and time-tested techniques as shown in this home study course, now available as an inexpensive, reader-friendly e-book, the Christian Poet’s Guide to Writing Poetry. And, if you have been writing poems a while or just want feedback to help you take your poems to the next level, a poetry critique will help.

© 2014, Mary Sayler, poetry editor and poet-author of Living in the Nature Poem by Hiraeth Press and Outside Eden, to be published in late Spring of 2014 by Kelsay Books

Living in the Nature Poem, paperback

Christian Poet’s Guide to Writing Poetry, Kindle e-book

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