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Melodically Challenged: GSU’s Poetry Radio Show by Mike Saye

Every Sunday afternoon from 2:00pm to 4:00pm, students from Georgia State University’s Creative Writing Program compile a program of contemporary, traditional, classic, slam, and avant-garde poetry and indie music and divide all that goodness into two one-hour radio shows; the first hour is a syndicated program that’s pre-recorded and sent across the country to eight (and counting) college radio stations (get in touch with K. B. Kincer at or through the Melodically Challenged website or visit them on Facebook  if you want the program aired on your college radio station – it’s free!) The second hour is a live radio program of recorded poetry and music. The poetry ranges from canonical to emerging, lesser known to infamous, and the music reflects a similarly eclectic range of tastes: blues, folk, hip-hop, indie-pop, jazz, classical, etc.

Melodically Challenged is the brain-child of Robert Morea III, who was an undergraduate majoring in English at Georgia State University. In 2006, he had just been appointed Program Director of WRAS, Album 88, Georgia State’s 100,000-watt radio station, the largest student run college radio station in the country. Morea’s initial programming consisted of a series of Academy of American Poetry CDs that he purchased with his own money and played with a few tracks of alternative music played between stretches of verse. Born with Cystic Fibrosis and the recipient of a double lung transplant three-and-half-years prior, Morea contracted an infection and passed away barely a month after the show first aired. The current director of the show, K. B. Kincer, tries to live up to the vision that Morea created. The program is dedicated to him.


Melodically Challenged’s creator Robert Vincent Morea,  1-6-79  to 6-20-06

 I sat down with K. B. Kincer, the shows current director, a poet, doctoral student, and undergraduate teacher at Georgia State University to discuss Melodically Challenged, its purpose, the production process, and what it’s like to juggle writing poetry, teaching undergraduates, and coming up with two hours of radio-worthy poetry 52 weeks a year.

 Melodically Challenged allows listeners to experience poetry as a living breathing medium every week for two hours. “The people you hear on Melodically Challenged are the poets,” says Kincer. “This is the real deal. This is like you’re at the reading…”  According to Kincer, “The goal of Melodically Challenged is to introduce college audiences to great poetry: contemporary, traditional, historical, and avant garde.I think most people have no idea that there’s this art form that’s accessible and, I think, will improve their lives. When we have a disaster or something we can’t comprehend, we turn to poetry… [but] there are poems for all aspects of our lives: funny, miserable…”

The show does a remarkable job of making real poetry appealing to a contemporary audience. If you click the link above and give some of these shows a listen, I think you’ll find yourself agreeing with Kincer. The great thing about the program is that it isn’t for one kind of listener. Melodically Challenged has had shows devoted to Slam poetry, contemporary southern poetry, the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins.  Kincer has hopes of eventually producing a show devoted to Milton, one that’s palatable to a general audience. But regardless of the show’s topic or theme, what the listener experiences is an intimate, personal interaction with the poetic word.

In order to facilitate a connection between the radio audience and the poetry, the format of the show can’t be one random poem after the next, so each episode is set up based on a theme, and the staff searches for the best poems they can find that reflect, directly or indirectly, that theme. Shows have been about dead animals, live animals, cars, sports, cities, the body, states, sweets, rain, food, seasons, trees, music, booze, etc. Sometimes the theme is more abstract: “failed love,” time, pop culture, back-to-school, poems about darkness, spiritual poems, poems related to holidays. The most intriguing themes, for me at least, are about the structure of the poems themselves: “poems that end in questions,” “ends in simile,” “ends with an image,” poems with a literary allusion, and ekphrastic poems.

It takes a lot of work to compile two hours’ worth of theme-centered poetry each week. In addition to her teaching duties, studying and reading for classes, and writing her own poetry, Kincer puts an average of 30 hours a week into the radio show, but the choice of poems, music, and themes for the show is group effort, and Kincer is quick to point out how much work the other student staff members do. I didn’t speak with the other members of the staff about the number of hours they put into the program each week, but between all four members of the staff, it’s at least a full-time job to produce Melodically Challenged.


TheMelodically Challenged crew  working on their Girl Power show

The other component of production that supports the high standards of the show is backing from the administrators at Georgia State. In a world where the arts and cultural programs are tossed to the wayside and artists have to fight and fend for themselves for a public space, the administrators at Georgia State are a light in the darkness. Kincer asked me to include her thanks in this post:“I’d like to thank the English Department at GSU for unanimously voting to sponsor the show. Without their sponsorship, we could not syndicate the show, and Dr. Pearl McHaney [the Associate Dean for the Fine Arts] has also been very supportive, allowing us to use her office, which gives us an official address.”


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Guest Post: Of Hendrix and Mnemotechnics by Mike Saye

Saye1I recently had to memorize “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, a fifty line poem, for one of my classes. The idea was to get into the heart of the words of the poem, feel their rhythm, know the poem in an intimate way that one doesn’t get by silent reading or a few readings aloud. I used YouTube and listened to a guy read the poem over and over and memorized it by way of rote drilling. I probably listened to the poem read twenty-five times. There is something very personal about memorizing poems; I’ve memorized several over the years, not nearly as many as I’d like, and they become a part of my psychic landscape after a while. I quote “The Song of Wandering Aengus” to myself when I’m doing all kinds of non-poetic stuff, and often, when in a piqued mood, I look passersby in the eye and quote “Jabberwocky” to disabuse them of their superiority. I lord my poem horde over the peons like a hermit lords the power of solitude o’er the hoi polloi.

Along the way to absolute dominance, I became curious about the various ways in which one might memorize poetry, and, lo and behold, there are lots of ways in which folk memorize all kinds of stuff. On the website,, there is a wealth of information for people interested in this notion of owning poetry by heart (I’m quoting Harold Bloom’s expression). Here, even the notion of memorizing whole books is taken seriously, which I find so pleasing to my own aesthetic, though I never plan to do it myself mind you, that I immediately relaxed upon reading the website and Lethe-wards have I sunk. Yet, I must point out that there should be a purpose in memorizing these poems, and voila! I have found fine purpose.  Should you follow this link, be prepared to read a good little blog post by Christopher Higgs over at HTMLGIANT about how to approach criticism. The reason the post is so good is not because I think criticism should consist solely in “foregrounding observation over interpretation, and participation over judgment, by asking what a text does rather than what it means,” but because the reader, the normal person reading a work of literature or watching a film or looking at a painting, can use Higgs’ notion as a considered excuse to bleed off the anxiety of getting intellectualized by reading Literature and looking at Art, and can, instead, enjoy the work and find an emotional connection there. If the emotional connection, the visceral reaction, isn’t, first-and-foremost, what an artist hopes to evoke from his audience, then I want no part of the observation. It is, after all, this visceral reaction that prompts the artist to write in the first place, or it was my reason anyway.

Saye2Higgs hints at this fact in his essay when he paraphrases Jean-Luc Godard’s statement that “the only valid way to criticize a movie [is] to make one of your own.” Making the poem your own by memorization is a response, an active participation in the work. Jimi Hendrix internalized blues and R&B by listening to songs and playing them in cover bands; he made them his own and turned possession into expression. The vehicle of expression for his own passions and obsessions was a wonderful mix of the old and familiar with the genius of a truly uninhibited imagination. So yeah, what I’m saying is, you can be Jimi Hendrix if you memorize poems. Now Testify children.


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Guest Post: Let’s Talk About Performance by Mike Saye

John Tucker as Zeus, who loves the lightning, in Prometheus the Fire

The performance of poetry is something we tend to let fall to the wayside during the writing process. In my experience, reading a poem out loud to anyone, even an empty room, quickly exposes—shall we call them infelicities? – in the work. I think a performance course should be mandatory in MFA programs, but I don’t know if they exist outside theater programs. MFA directors the world over please take note. Yes.

Art on the Atlanta Beltline is an initiative that reconceptualizes the way Atlanta functions as a community. It’s part of the Atlanta Beltline project (here for info) and part of what they do is offer art and cultural performances throughout various parks and trails in the Atlanta area from September though November. I had the good fortune to attend a performance in the Historic Fourth Ward Park called Prometheus the Fire, which was produced by Trevor Jones and the Collective Project.  Prometheus the Fire is a re-telling of the Prometheus myth with various performers/storytellers acting and reciting their parts, which consists of adaptations of Aeschylus, snatches of Lord Byron and other poetic renditions of the myth, in a modern Greek-style amphitheater overlooking a beautiful lake. It was free too!

When I entered the amphitheater, I found (excuse my crappy Iphone photos)—poetry on demand! I’d tell you the name of the poet who wrote my poem (I chose the topic of fecundity), but I didn’t get his permission to do so. It took him about 15 minutes to write a poem, which was actually pretty good – not trite, not unconsidered – part of the deal was he read it to me – quietly, on the side, like a confession. We wore our cold weather caps; I lent an ear. It was almost intimate, a charming experience.  I got to keep the poem.

Historic Fourth Ward Park: That’s a dragon in the lake.

My point in all of this? Poetry read aloud, poetry performed, personal poetry. All in the course of a couple of hours. Performance matters.

I think my favorite reader is W.B. Yeats. Yeats tells us here that he will not read his poetry as if it were prose, and indeed, I love the chant-like way he recites The Lake Isle of Innisfree. Can you imagine thinking of your own poetry as if it were a thing to be chanted? Do you think of your work like this? I’m asking seriously. Leave a comment and let me know. The way we conceptualize our work affects what we write and how we write – yeah, obviously. But, are we allowed to think of our work as something to be chanted? It’s a bit old-fashioned – and creepily religious – but what of that?

Two lone poets, blustery day, writing the good write

The Yeats link has a few different poems that he recorded for the radio in the 1930s. There are two versions of The Lake Isle of Innisfree. Don’t miss the second version which starts at six minutes into the video. I think the second version is the stronger of the two readings – more emphatic, more passionate – but the difference is subtle. Did Yeats’ ability to perform his poetry affect the writing of his poetry? Is performance merely an adjunct? I have no idea. What do you think? I know there’s power in it.


Mike Saye is a first year MFA student at Georgia State University studying poetry and he is delighted to be there. Leave some comments. Talk to him about stuff.



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Guest Post: Digging The Digital Word by Mike Saye

I’m taking a Shakespeare course, and recently, we were discussing the making of Renaissance books, the painstaking, hard work and the eye-blearing patience that goes along with it.

In case you didn’t know, it’s much easier to acquire text these days. (The form of rhetorical device I just used there was meiosis or litotes.) Printed words of any type, kind, or sort required genuine labor for their production during that time and for much of the history of printing. For comparison’s sake, the next time you’re stuck in traffic because of road work, watch the people laying down asphalt. Watch the folks in the road roller trudging behind the paver which is fed asphalt from a dump truck. They do this for miles and miles. You despise the way they delay your commute, yet you love the smooth, glide-like progress of your automobile along their fresh black roadway. Printing books was comparable to this. Seriously, it kind of was.

Road Roller

During that same Shakespeare lecture, we spoke briefly about Nicolas Carr’s 2010 book The Shallows, which discusses various ways in which the internet ruins our ability to concentrate for long periods of time. To add credence to Carr’s point, I just scanned the article and skipped the book excerpt, which I urge you to do as well. Carr argues that the internet trains us to have short attention spans: brain plasticity is the culprit here.

I have no problem with this.

You see, the short attention span works in my favor. For instance, I just brought Carr’s book up and most of you short-attention-spanners won’t remember reading about it way back in 2010, so I just laid down some new-old-stock digital information for you.

Short attention spans also mean that most of you will thank me profusely for keeping this post short, since you’ll get to experience the endorphin rush of actually reading something to completion (you’re welcome), assuming of course that you aren’t still looking up Greek rhetorical terms over at the Free Dictionary – I agree, it really is a fascinating discipline.

Am I calling us goldfish, constantly delighted with the same small bowl because we can’t remember having seen it’s curvy corners over and over and over? Not really. If neuroplasticity is the culprit, it’s also the solution because it works both ways.

I, for one, am thankful for the over-abundance of text that allows me to accept or disregard information. Remember, Othello wooed Desdemona with stories of the Anthropophagi because she (as well as a large portion of Shakespeare’s audience) did not have recourse to better information. We all know where that got her.

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Guest Post: Intellectual Sushi! by Mike Saye

I came across quite a few lists this past week. I really like lists, especially those by writers I admire.  They are like intellectual sushi: bite-sized, neatly presented, healthy (when not too touristy) and often colorful. For example, Henry Miller says in his eleven commandments of writing:

7.   Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.

8.    Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.

9.    Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go

back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.

11.  Write first and always. Painting, music, friends,

cinema, all these come afterwards.

The best thing about this list is that Miller’s expectations are as lunatic, contradictory, and well-meaning as my own; therefore, my insecurities diminish, and I’m able to write.

The best commandment on the list? Easy.

  1. When you can’t create you can work.

I love this point. It echoes what the painter Chuck Close says:

“The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

I once took a writing workshop with the wonderful poet Thomas Lux ( you will find his poetry in the Combined Volume 10, No. 1 & 2of Five Points ) who said that the art of writing a poem is comparable to creating “high-level birdhouses”. Lux did not mean that writing good poems can be as simple as passing eighth grade woodshop. He meant that doing the work – writing, reading, revising – is both necessary and achievable. I think Lux, Close, and Miller would agree that the creative act is not the sole possession of geniuses. It is not something quaffed from the mysterious creative pool at the world navel. It is work. Joyous, depressing, life-affirming, self-defeating, happy toil!

If you want to check out some wonderful lists. Go to the website Lists Of Note where you’ll find lists from all walks of life. The creative life in particular is well represented.

Other important stuff from around the web:

First and foremost, it’s banned book week. If you don’t know why this is important, check out the link.

Previously unreleased recordings of Allen Ginsberg are out there for your edification and inspiration, and they’re free.

I came across this link at the Harvard Gazette on the fascinating subject of ecopoetics and the sounds of nature. Five Points Volume 12.1 features the photography of Britta Jaschinski, whose work centers on the intersection of animal lives and human lives, and Georgia State Professor Randy Malamud, whose most recent book is An Introduction to Animals and Visual Culture, explores some of the issues expressed in Jaschinski’s work.

And, in the spirit of healthy mental sushi, take care of your eyes.

Mike Saye is a Georgia native. This is his first year studying poetry at Georgia State University’s MFA program, and he is delighted to be there.

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Guest Post: A Little Round-Up by Mike Saye

Original reel-to-reel of the Martin Luther King Jr. interview with Robert Penn Warren. / Mona Frederick — from The Tennessean website

Archivists at Vanderbilt,  Robert Penn Warren’s alma mater, have gathered a collection of interviews Warren conducted with prominent civil rights leaders, most notably Martin Luther King Jr., and made them available to the public. Here’s how the folks atThe Tennessean describe the collection:





Warren, a Vanderbilt graduate once known for his strident defense of the Southern way of life in a collection of essays called “I’ll Take My Stand,” reconsidered that position and embraced the change the civil rights movement wrought.

In 1964, he traveled the United States posing the same questions to many of its leaders, known and unknown: King, Septima Clark, Robert Moses, the Rev. James M. Lawson, Ruth Turner, Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X. Also recorded were conversations with some of the writers who defined the changes the country was going through in literature, among them James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison.

For another type of discussion about breaking new ground, go over to Bookslut and check out Greer Mansfield’s excellent article on the Modernist Journals Project, which is a joint effort of Brown University and The University of Tulsa to digitize Modernist-era periodicals from 1890  to 1922 and make them available to the public. This collection includes all those “little magazines” you hear about in introductions to Eliot, Pound, and Joyce.

Writing is a nail-biting vocation – I’m doing it right now just thinking about thinking about it. We’re talking about traipsing through jungles of imagination and memory, negotiating sand-traps of nostalgia and sentimentality, forgoing the money-making jobs and the companionship of friends to drag verbal artifacts out of the unconscious – that’s just the rough draft! – and most of us don’t get read unless we pay for it or beg the indulgence of friends. And what, you ask, did we do to deserve this thankless toil? I think I know.


Mike Saye is a Georgia native. This is his first year studying poetry at Georgia State University’s MFA program, and he is delighted to be there.

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Guest Post: Greasing the Wheels by Mike Saye

Fall is one of the most productive times of year for my writing. I’m not sure why; perhaps the reason is that summer fills up the imaginative well with all its goings-on. Or maybe summer time is so draining that fall is about playing catch-up. Either way, in anticipation of my own word harvest, here are some websites I find particularly useful for revving up the writing engine.

Disclaimer: I’m a poet so these sites tend to be poetry heavy.

Figure 1 from Bookworm’s Website


Bookworm is a weekly radio show where writers from all over the literary world – fiction, non-fiction, poetry – come to talk about their work. This Mary Ruefle interview is particularly good, but I urge you to scour this site!

A couple of years ago, Dean Young’s nephew posted this wonderful letter. When I need to remind myself why I write, I go here: a letter from Dean Young.

The Library Of Congress’s selection of poetry podcasts at The Poet and The Poem: all kinds of great interviews with contemporary giants who read their work and talk about poetics.

I like to get as close to the source as possible. Over at Ron Silliman’s blog, I found a link to San Francisco State University’s Poetry Center Digital Archive.  This site is a treasure trove. Go listen to a broad selection of great poets read from their work and talk about poetics. These archives stretch back to the 1950s, so there’s a good chance that one of your heroes is there.

Or, you can listen and watch readings from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation’s YouTube page, which highlights the Dodge Foundation Poetry Festival. No new material on this site since 2010, but there are plenty of great poetry readings to learn from, experience, and enjoy.

This is a short list, but I think these sites will keep you ear-deep in literary-ness. If there are any websites you think should be added to it, please leave a comment and share with us!

Mike Saye is a Georgia native. This is his first year studying poetry at Georgia State University’s MFA program, and he is delighted to be there.

Mike invites questions, comments, and ideas of all sorts, so please drop a line if you feel so inclined. Let’s get a conversation going!

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