Tag Archives: Mike Saye

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, Mnemotechnics.org, 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.



Leave a comment

Filed under Guest Posts, Mike Saye's Posts

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.



Filed under Guest Posts, Mike Saye's Posts

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Guest Posts, Mike Saye's Posts

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!

1 Comment

Filed under Guest Posts, Mike Saye's Posts