Mary Harwell Sayler, Poet Introduction

Mary Harwell Sayler is a Christian Poet based in Florida, United States who has authored more than 30 books. She has written on different topics in different genres – serious Christian books to children books. She has been a poet since her early childhood and has been published in various journals worldwide. On request, she agreed to talk to Alok Mishra about her poetry and poetry in general.


The Interview with Poet Mary Harwell Sayler by Alok Mishra



Alok Mishra: You have been writing for a while. How would you describe this journey? 

Mary Harwell Sayler: The journey has been lifelong! I started writing poems as a child, but as an adult, I wrote almost everything except poetry. For many years though, I continued to read and study classical and contemporary poetry and eventually placed my own poems in journals and anthologies.  As my publishing credits grew, I began to sort my poems around a main theme – first nature, then spiritual matters, then poems for children. Then in 2012, an environmental publisher, Hiraeth Press, published my first poetry book, Living in the Nature Poem, and in 2014, Kelsay Books published Outside Eden and my children’s book, Beach Songs and Wood Chimes.

Alok Mishra: According to your thoughts, what is poetry? I have talked with different poets, and they have different ideas. How do you perceive poetry – as a “criticism of life” or as your personally developed theory?

Mary Harwell Sayler: Actually, a poem is anything the writer calls a poem!  If, however, poets want their work to be read or published they need to include poetic traits or qualities such as musicality, imagery, and precision. The contents might be a criticism of life, an applause of nature, or something else entirely. Regarding my personally developed theory, I believe brevity helps. Few poems improve with wordiness.

Alok Mishra: I see you are a Christian writer.  How do you get inspired? Did you get your incentive in Milton?

Mary Harwell Sayler: I knew nothing of Milton’s work when I began writing poems, but as a child, I regularly attended church services where hymn lyrics inspired me. I’m also an avid reader of the Bible, and, having grown up with the King James Version translated into English during Shakespeare’s time, the musicality of Bible verses spoke to me too – especially in the Psalms and in the writings of the prophets such as Isaiah.

Getting inspired, to me, mainly means listening – being open and receptive to musical phrases or fresh comparisons that come to me, then writing them down and seeing where the poem leads. Many poets seem to think that well-written poems come from their imagination, but that’s seldom true. Poems are more apt to appear with keen observation and a love for life in all its forms.

Alok Mishra: How can you connect religion with poetry? Don’t you think poetry should be untouched by religious views? Poetry should be universal, something that everyone can relate too. When I say, my “love is like a red red rose,” a person from any religion can feel it. However, when I say that “the fruit of knowledge, she ate and we lost,” I can only arouse something in a certain sect. I would like to have your views on this.

Mary Harwell Sayler: Inside each of us is something that draws us beyond ourselves to something timeless, infinite, loving, kind, and true. We seek love. We need love, and since my God, as revealed in Jesus Christ, IS love, my poetry cannot help but be touched by this, which I believe touches readers too.

For example, I recently wrote “The Parable of Me,” which appeared on my blog In a Christian Writer’s Life, but people of any faith or religion might relate or see themselves as the “Me” of this poem:

The Parable of Me

Jesus knows

I don’t swim well,

so He held my hand,

and we walked

across the water.

Christians flail about like everyone else when faced with something new. We’re no better or worse than anyone else, but the difference is that, in Christ, we know we are forgiven. We know we’ve been re-connected to the Infinite God with Whom we’ll reside throughout eternity. I cannot think of anything more important to acknowledge in poetry than this, but my poems seldom reach that height. They’re more apt to be about the struggles of life or the terrible beauty of nature or relationships that vacillate between joy and misery. When I think about it, those are topics the Bible addresses, openly and honestly too!

Alok Mishra:  What school of poetry appeals to you the most? Romantic, Classic, or the Eliotic?

Mary Harwell Sayler: Romantic poets write about how they wish the world would be, whereas I’m more of a realist. I want my poems to be honest about how things are but end with a word of hope or a call for change.

The classics include all sorts of schools of poetry, and I’m not an advocate for any. My “school” would ask questions like: Does this work? Will it speak to readers? Is it accurate? Is it honest? Is it fresh? Will people relate? Does the poem provide an experience readers might not have had otherwise?

Alok Mishra:  You like T.S. Eliot. How do you see him – as a cynic or a messenger?

Mary Harwell Sayler: I admire Eliot’s poetry greatly for his brilliant phrases and the way he brings music to voice in his lines, but he’s often a bit glum. His cynicism most likely developed when the First World War, that was to end all wars, gave way to the second. Despair became common among poets of that era, many of whom had a message or call for change.

Alok Mishra:  Not as a poet but as a reader, what do you see for poetry? Do you think the readership of poetry has declined? This is a question I ask every poet. Please have your say too. Also, add to your answer why people should reawaken their interest in poetry.

Mary Harwell Sayler: The advent of the Internet has opened new options for poets such as finding e-zines open to their work, posting poems on their blogs, or self-publishing poetry books and e-books.  Ironically, these possibilities of quick-and-easy publication require little or no effort to improve the quality of one’s work, so yes, the readership of poetry seems to be declining as the number of poets soars.

Poets who are serious about poetry do well to read a variety of forms and styles, and study what works in a poem and what does not. Introducing poetry to children – not to teach but to delight – will reawaken interests in poetry long-term.

Also, I suggest that poets whose poems go on too long might study haiku, and poets with a slow ear for music might read Eliot’s work (and their own!) aloud. Reading current journals and the poems of Pulitzer and Nobel prize-winning poets can help to rekindle interest in poetry too.

Alok Mishra: Do you think the popularity of the novel has something to do with the readership of poetry?

Mary Harwell Sayler: Perhaps. People like a good story, so one way to reawaken interest in poetry might be to write and publish narrative “story poems.” A well-written novel also provides readers with a new experience or insight into the minds of story people whom we might not get to know as well in person. But poetry can do this too – and more than this. Poetry can move us as music and love do!

Alok Mishra:  Tell me any favourite line from your own poems, and one from any of your favourite poets.

Mary Harwell Sayler: Whatever line most recently came to me by surprise would be the favorite of my own work. I enjoy the artistry of so many poets, I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite poem, poet, or quotation. Sorry.

Alok Mishra: Thank you for your time. I hope you keep doing well in your writings.

Mary Harwell Sayler: Thanks, and thank you for inviting my thoughts on poetry. I hope your readers will enjoy this previously unpublished poem – a sonnet in unrhymed blank verse. Since many poets write about the moon, I thought I’d do the same, and this is what came to me:

Sonnet Written Blankly In Stone

The moon says nothing new to me.

Its fullness does not harvest pumpkin

pies nor make a flat dinner plate to hold

a small round of gouda. It would please

me to offer you a sphere of cheesecake

with blueberries as dark as dusk. If you

insist on paying, collect those opaque

coins from the money tree plant whose

real name I forgot. Or send me a card

of black paper with a white dot to mar

the middle at which each eye must stare

and stare. Everywhere I look, angels roll

away a big round stone as white as a full

moon hurled back to hold a pitch black sky.