The title of a poem, poetry book, or chapbook can capture a reader’s attention, add connotations to what follows, and help readers gain an entrance into the poem.
What is a poem? Answers will vary, depending on whom you ask, but memorable poems share similar characteristics.
In the new poetry book True, False, None of the Above, which Cascade Books kindly sent me to review, poet-author Marjorie Maddox shows how literature opens doors into people and worlds unlike our own, helping us to emphasize with others and better understand them, ourselves, our faith, and the type of literature we would like to write.
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.
A “good” poem is meant to be read, not once but as many times as it takes to reach that “oh” moment inherent in each good poem.
Conversely, many poems by new poets and poets who never read poems by other poets have no secrets. One reading reveals all they have to offer, making them boring or long-winded or too personal to connect with readers outside the poet’s private circle.
An effective poem has comparatively few words but much to say. This might be an insight into a spiritual realm few readers enter on their own. Or it might be a call to observe the intricacies of nature and our unique relationships with one another in a particular time and place.
“Good” poems occur as we give ourselves to them, opening our eyes and ears and letting our thoughts touch whatever is around, whether in a physical, mental, or spiritual realm.
Somewhere, somehow a poet must capture wonder, causing readers to perk up, pay attention, and read the lines again.
And, yet, too few of us allow enough time to throw ourselves into poems, whether we’re reading or writing them, but when we do, we come away with an experience or insight or awareness previously unknown to us.
It’s a busy world we live in, and, whether we read or write, poetry slows us down. But, even if you do not buy and read the poetry books occasionally reviewed on this blog, just reading the reviews will give you a feel for good poetry.
Then, if you do leap into faith in poetry, whether your own or someone else’s, be prepared to feel foolish at first! For, most likely you will not “get” what you’re reading the first or second time you read. Or, if you write to discover, as I often do, you might not even get right away what you’re writing.
Nevertheless, go with it! Flow with it. Let the words fall where they may.
Later, you can revisit your own poems and revise, but for the initial writing or reading, abandon yourself to the poem.
A mystery is at work here – a creative force looking for voice.
Give yourself to it.
Give yourself to the poems you write and the poems you read, then be prepared to be amazed!
© 2014 Mary Harwell Sayler
When I began instructing students of Joan Unger’s Personalized Study Program in the early 1980’s, we had no poetry home study course, but then, no one else did either. Joan and I decided to add one to the correspondence courses (yeah, by snail mail) she had written on fiction and nonfiction. So I wrote the PSP course in Poetry, which we also called the “V” (for “verse”) units.
Joan did the formatting and everything else – not only for PSP studies, but also for the Christian Writers Fellowship (CWFI) she had founded and directed. After she retired, I headed CWFI for a few years until turning it over to Sandy Brooks and the fiction and nonfiction courses to Marlene Bagnull with my blessings – and relief!
By then I had all sorts of writing projects but kept working, one on one, with poetry students until I needed help. Thanks to a former PSP student, very successful writer, and poet-peer Mona Hodgson, I got caught up and continued to tweak and use the PSP poetry home study course for years with poetry students.
With the advent of the Internet, however, online help became instantly available for poetry lovers and students with fewer and fewer interested in poetry courses by mail. I tweaked the course to aim toward a more secular audience and found a traditional publisher for the book version Poetry: Taking Its Course.
By the time I ran out of copies, e-books had made books readily accessible to people all over the world, so self-publishing on Kindle seemed like the way to go. First, however, I returned the text to its original emphasis on a Christian poet’s perspective then changed the name to the Christian Poet’s Guide to Writing Poetry.
You can find the new e-book on Amazon, but in case you don’t get a hand-held Kindle for Christmas, you’ll be glad to know you don’t have to have one. Just download the free Kindle viewer onto your computer, and you can order this and other e-books online.
As a poet who still prefers pencil and paper, I’m happy to say the e-book formatting process on Kindle was simple enough that, Lord willing, I’ll upload an easy-reader poetry dictionary soon. Meanwhile, if you find any errors on the Christian Poet’s Guide to Writing Poetry, please let me know. And, if you get anything helpful out of the book, let other people know in your review. Thanks and blessings.
(c) 2012, Mary Harwell Sayler