Friday, May 25, 2018

Tobi Alfier - You Need To Read

To Write A Lot You Need To Read A Lot

You know this! If you want to excel with your writing, read everything you can. 

To read poetry, you may need to buy directly from the publishers. You may want to buy a signed copy directly from the authors. And if you are unable to do that, support your local independent bookstore before you buy from a “Big Box Store” (it’s a way to be a good literary citizen. They will also be more amenable to hosting your book launch if they know you).

My husband is Jeff Alfier. He’s a beautiful poet and a wonderful photographer. We don’t write the same way. We don’t read the same way. But we both read. He loves poetry, and buys so much of it, I don’t have to. I fall in love with individual poems, with fiction, and the occasional memoir. I keep authors in my head forever (says the person who never finished the last volume of The Diary of Anaїs Nin because she couldn’t bear for it to be done).

I’m not telling you what to read. I telling you what we have read and liked very much.


·         Rail by Kai Carlson-Wee from BOA Editions in 2018

·         The Long Drive Home by Nick Bozanic from Anhinga Press, 1990

·         Begging for Vultures by Lawrence Welsh from University of New Mexico Press, 2011

·         A Romance by Bruce Weigl from University of Pittsburgh Press, 1979

Jeff has sent me passages from Cormac McCarthy novels that are so beautiful, they could be poetry. And he loves Richard Hugo, Yusef Komunyakaa, Joseph Millar and James Lee Burke.


·         Crescent by Diana Abu-Jaber from W. W. Norton & Co., 2003

·         Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver from Harper, 1998

·         The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx from Scribner & Sons, 1993

·         A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley from Alfred A. Knopf, 1991

I also loved Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl, Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison, The Bird Artist by Howard Norman and many many poems by contemporary poets who I go back to time and again. And I love Jeff’s poetry.

As Richard Hugo, Steve Almond and others have said, we write our obsessions, whatever the form. By reading we can learn: how chapter lengths help propel a story, the beauty of white space on a page, how the pacing of a poem with five-syllable lines is different than a poem with ten-syllable lines, the importance of word choice and punctuation, the calming look of couplets, the brilliance of rhyme …

Read poetry. Read fiction. Read short stories, magazines, your one or two favorite books on writing. Whatever is on your bedside table is there for a reason.

Whether you go to the library, read on a tablet, or have walls of bookshelves, your writing will be so much better if you read.


Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Somewhere, Anywhere, Doesn't Matter Where. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.