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


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you David. You know I always wanted to be a doctor. I guess now I have the best of both doctor and poet :-)

  2. Yes indeed excellent advice... Thank you ...

    1. Thank you so much Tracey. Thank you for reading it, that means a lot.


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