Friday, June 29, 2018

Tobi Alfier - Editors

I Learned the Hard Way – Editors are Good!

I was sixth grade spelling bee champ. I also have Spell Check on my computer,
photo from 384-4328
and one of my favorite pastimes is finding spelling errors and typos on restaurant menus. Does that mean I don’t have my poetry read by a trusted reader/ editor before submitting it? HECK NO!

Editors do not “steal” your poems and make them theirs. They take your poems and help make them better!

I have no idea why I once wrote a poem that had “Morse code” in it, but I never got that badge in Girl Scouts. I did not spell “Morse” correctly; my editor told me. I had no idea that “zero’s” was spelled “zeroes”. An editor told me. I had a poem published that spelled “ponytail” wrong. Should it have been caught by the journal editor? Maybe, but it should have been caught by me first!

photo from 384-4328
An editor will unemotionally read your work, find things, and ask questions. They have not lived with your poems and read them sixty five times like you probably have – you may not even see errors anymore.

When you proof your work, you should:

Make sure there is a period at the end of each poem,

Make sure there is one space after a period rather than two, and make sure all your poems are consistent,

If you’re reviewing a proof from a journal, make sure the entire poem is included. It will be your responsibility to let the journal know if anything is missing. It does happen.

Editors will also do the following, which you may not do:

They will look for duplicate words very close together and ask if that’s your intention,

Look for typos — Spell check may not catch “your” vs “you’re”, “there” vs “their” and so on. It may not catch “Morse code”, “zeroes”, or “ponytail”. If you use a foreign language for any reason, it will not catch gender. I did this too —I ended a line of a poem in French. The poem was written from a female point of view, but unfortunately the last line was male. An editor may have caught that, and may catch other typos that you just don’t see,

Check for consistent tenses. It is okay to change the tense in a poem but it has to be done on purpose. An editor will ask if that’s your intention,

Alert you to words just skirting the edge of cliché. Particularly if your poems include lines about the moon, stars, angels, someone’s appearance or description of body parts such as eyes, the ocean, descriptions of the color “blue”, holding hands at sunset (just kidding). They will ask if that’s your intention.

Their questions will point you toward places that may not be clear. It’s up to you to decide if you want to re-write anything before they’re in a journal, or in your book forever.

photo from 384-4328
No one expects you to take 100% of an editor’s suggestions, but please look at them. Fix the obvious errors, and decide if you want to make any other changes. An editor will help you perfect your poems. They will help you make a beautiful book, and yes, they do get an editing credit.

Inner Passage, Coastal Route

The air conditioner whistles Morse code;
a mockingbird, a woodpecker, it taps
and all the room sleeps except for the girl.
She does not sleep well even in good times
and now, too many personalities.
She understands why people move away,
but wants a front-row seat to happiness.

She spoons her son while her lover spoons her.
Two hands touch her face, one small and one grown,
she knows she is the luckiest of all,
despite the headache, the mockingbird,
and all the grim mistakes she’s ever made.

Halfway to Halifax, the dawn breaks sweet
and gentle, pinkish clouds and placid sea
echo her insides, breathtakingly bare.

- - - -

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.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Tobi Alfier - Meaningful Book Titles

You have put together a manuscript. You are proud of it, sick of it, relieved, and ready to send it out. What are you going to name it?

What you name your book is as important as what’s inside.

Think about what entices you to buy a book by someone you don’t know. Because people who love your work will buy it, no matter what you name it. But if someone who doesn’t know you buys it, and loves it, they will go back and get everything else by you too. And they will tell their friends about you. I do this all the time.

Carrying this forward another step, if you are published by a small press, someone who buys your book and loves it will look at who else that small press has published, and they will find another book that sounds intriguing or by someone they recognize. And they will order another book from that small press, and one day, when they have a manuscript, they may submit it to that small press and the whole circle begins again.
ALL because you were thoughtful and wicked smart about the title of your book! Nice work!

  1. Many poetry books are titled after a poem in the manuscript. Go through your poems and find the one that best represents the content of your book. Or find the title that you love the most - that you would be proud to see on the cover. Remember that most of the time you are going to be responsible for most of your marketing and many of your sales, but poetry is also emotional. It’s okay for you to be both businesslike and emotional.

  1. Decide where you want to put the title poem inside the manuscript. If you move it, this will have an effect on the order of the Table of Contents (TOC). If you need to change that, do so before you send the manuscript out.

There are no fixed rules regarding any of this. For anyone who has my new book, “Somewhere, Anywhere, Doesn’t Matter Where” is NOT the title of one of the poems. It’s the last line of a poem. I chose it because the initials are S A D, which went with the cover photo. Also, since the manuscript contains poems of place, but not all the same place, it made sense to me. And I loved it in my heart. Business and emotion.

This is your book. Choose a title that works best for you. Don’t hesitate to ask people you trust for their opinions, but in the end it’s your decision.

- - - -

He’ll Tell You Once He Knows

He comes in from watching the chiminea,
smells like woodsmoke and olive branches.

Your wandering man—adventure in his mustache
when he kisses you. Could be Puglia, could be Crete,

if next time you smell sage, you’ll know he’s decided.
The orange tree in the backyard could point him

toward Spain. He’ll tell you once he knows.
There will be laughter, desiccated barns reduced to earth,

trains and sky, that much you know without doubt.
A shy waitress who remembers he loves reds,

a dried horse hoof in a rutted road—the picture
will be worth five thousand miles. For the both of you—

every night you will hear his adventures
and share yours back, while the music in the wind

is your guide for tomorrow. The dawn,
a coffee kiss, you watch as he strides away,

then follow your own song until reunited,

two travelers, somewhere, anywhere, doesn’t matter where. 

coffee kiss photo by Dimitris

- - - -

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.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Tobi Alfier - The Pros and Pros of Chapbooks

photo: Washington State University
In the “old days”, a chapbook was an easy way for a poet to get some of their work “out there”, acquaint the book buying public with their name, and hopefully generate interest from a publisher. They were often a few mimeographed pages with a staple up top, easy to read and easy to recycle. Today most chapbooks are more professional, just shorter than a full-length collection.

Not every poet wants to publish, and that’s okay, they are still poets. But if you feel you are ready to begin publishing, you may wish to start with a chapbook.

A couple things to consider:

  1. If you have poets you admire, buy their chapbooks and see how they were formatted. You will see things you like. Consider those same things as you assemble yours.

  1. Color is expensive (I learned this the hard way!). If your front cover is color, your back cover can also be color (it’s the other side of a piece of paper folded in half). So if you want a picture of yourself on the book, and that picture is in color, put it on the back, on the outside. I’m shy, and I hated having my picture on the outside back cover. Do what works for you!

  1. Are you going to self-publish? There are many more options now than when I made my first chapbook. I went to a local press, made a hundred copies, and when those copies were gone, they were gone. I still have three copies. If you use one of the newer “print on demand” options, you will have the ability to be on all the Amazons – US, UK, CA, etc. and the book will always be available. Likewise if you are accepted by a publisher.

My first chapbook was called “Sanity Among the Wildflowers”. It was put together in 2005. My Aunt Debbie’s beautiful artwork was on the front cover and the back cover was blessedly blank.

I had two measly publication credits. There were twenty poems, and for some reason that was logical to me at the time, I did not put page numbers on it. No intended theme, although I subsequently heard that most of the poems were about “food, loss and failing bodies”. No bio, black and white picture of me on the INSIDE back cover.

I gave most of them away with heartfelt gratitude toward anyone who wanted one. When I heard the publisher made a copy for himself, and read it during his lunch breaks, I almost cried.  I still love every poem, ancient punctuation, bad line breaks and all.

Since then I have grown, and so has my poetry, but I will always remember “Sanity” as the start of it all.

JUST DO IT!!! You will learn something new every single time and you will never regret it.

Sanity Among the Wildflowers

My lover’s teeth are gray from lies,
spitting the poison out has darkened
them around the edges.
Her smile reminds me to be wary.
Remember the doctor smiling,
holding some vaccine behind his back,
that is how it feels today.

Our neighbors destroyed a
row of cypress trees
between our properties. I
am helpless in the blinding 
spotlight I cannot ignore she is
untruthful, her thoughts a mosaic
I cannot parse and so it goes.

I am an uncomplicated man I
am not a hero.
I spread a blanket in the field,
ease into her journals.
There is no epiphany I know
I will never make her happy.
Only temporarily, as an orphan waits
anxiously along the edge of
a darkened train station for
rescue she waits with me.

She squeezes an orange
her hand shakes, how long
will this farce be played out?
It is very quiet in our house, civil
to the casual eye, never joyful,
her teeth are gray from lies.

So many lies.

- - - -

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.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Tobi Alfier - Classic Does Not Mean Boring

Tobi in Ireland, near the grave of Yeats

What is your wish for your writing? Do you want it to be a commentary on our current times, or do you wish for it to be able to stand on the page long after the drama of current events has moved on to become a paragraph in the back of a history book?  Being “generic” is a way to ensure your work will be timeless, but that does not mean it will be boring.

One of my favorite poems is “When You Are Old” by William Butler Yeats.

       When You Are Old 

       When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
       And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
       And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
       Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

       How many loved your moments of glad grace,
       And loved your beauty with love false or true,
       But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
       And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

       And bending down beside the glowing bars,
       Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
       And paced upon the mountains overhead
       And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

This poem was written in 1892. It has stood the test of time and I think it will still be timeless and lovely in 2092.

Does anything date this poem? Not the fire. Electricity had been in homes for over fifteen years. We use fires today for warmth and comfort — the fire in this poem is doing the same.

The first word of each line being capitalized is still used by some poets today. The punctuation is correct. The rhyme is subtle and correct.

Poster courtesy of Writers & Authors
The poem says “take down this book”. It doesn’t name the book.

Did Yeats think about this while he was writing this beautifully unself-conscious, sincere love poem? I don’t know. It is classic. It certainly isn’t boring.

I want my poetry to stand the test of time, but I also like specificity, so this is something I struggle with. I don’t write “he lit a cigarette”, I write “he lit a Marlboro”. I don’t say “she flirted with the guy at the old car show”, I say “she coyly bent her head from side to side/ keeping time with her feet in their ballerina flats/ out in front of the black ’62 Chevy/ belonging to who she would later describe/ as “the hunk in the white t-shirt”.”

Photo by Brigitte Werner
In a hundred years, I doubt anyone will be describing anyone else as a “hunk”. A pack of Marlboros might be relegated to those “do you remember these?” quizzes along with pictures of VCR’s and Brownie cameras. Who knows? I think about this all the time.

Keep this in mind when you write, and be thoughtful. If you write about war, you may want to leave it generic and not specify which war. Likewise Presidents, musicians, television shows, some types of clothing, current political hot issues, and so on.

“Take down this book”…

- - - -

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.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Our Non-Profit Status is Official!

Cholla Needles Arts & Literary Library is officially a non-profit organization, and we have been certified by Guidestar with their highest level Platinum Seal Of Approval. Things are happening!

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Tobi Alfier - You are the Surgeon

Concision is the Scalpel, 
You are the Surgeon

Have you ever read a poem that really began at the third stanza?  Have you ever written one? Particularly if you write narrative poetry, maybe the first two stanzas HAD to be written to get you to where the poem lives. The trick is to know this, and delete those first couple stanzas before submitting, or publishing.

I have done this, we probably all have. I have missed it, we probably all have.

I do edit my work before submitting. I make sure the punctuation is how I want it, the line breaks are how I want them, there’s a great last line, a period at the very end, and I like it. I read it out loud. I sleep on it to make sure I still respect it in the morning. Sometimes I get up all night, read it, whisper it so I don’t wake up the whole house, and change things. Delete words and add others. Pretty quickly I am ready to submit.

What surprises me, and what I know, is that in about six months I will look at that poem again. I will “slash-and-burn”, I mean edit, the heck out of it. Things I couldn’t originally see. But I don’t have the patience to wait that long before submitting my work. Was it publishable when I wrote it? Yes. Could it have been better? Yes.

That is why on Acknowledgment pages of books you often see a caveat “some of these poems were published in the following journals in a different form …”

Know yourself and your writing, so when you submit, and when you put a book together, they contain the best poems possible.


Needles and sunflowers
one pierces the finger
one pierces the heart
a blinding light
reflects one off the other
until there is nothing—
a drop of blood burned
white on the table
a glass of water
too still to keep life.

- - - -

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.

Artwork this issue from Wolfgang Eckert and Piotr Zajda

Friday, June 1, 2018

Cholla Needles - June Issue Released!

Cover by Kendall Johnson

The fine writers in issue 18 are:

Ernest Alois
Heather Morgan
James Marvelle
Tamara Hattis
Mitchell K. Grabois
alyssa hanna
Mark Evans
Lauren Gombas
David Chorlton
Kendall Johnson & 
John Brantingham

We encourage our neighbors to buy Cholla Needles books at Rainbow Stew, Space Cowboy, and Raven's Books. Support our local distributors!

New Book! Seven Stars Anthology 1973-1998

Seven Stars was one of literally a thousand literary magazines published in the Nixon Era and beyond. The magazine formally ended in 1998 after 260 issues & this small anthology will highlight a few living moments of the history in the small press movement. The magazines are literally falling apart from age now and this new selective release will give audiences a chance to visualize the many poetic movements that were active in those years. 200 different poets were selected from the over 3000 who appeared between the covers of Seven Stars. A short history of the press and the movement is included.

Available locally at Rainbow Stew, Space Cowboy Books, and Raven's Book Shoppe. 

Click here to purchase on-line.

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