Friday, August 10, 2018

Tobi Alfier - A One And A Two

How do you feel about music when you’re writing? Does it soothe you into a mood where you can coax words easily onto the paper? Does it drive you nuts?

Do you have specific writing music? Or do you put on noise-cancelling headphones and pray your writing coffee shop isn’t playing show tunes?

I cannot listen to music while writing. I have no problem with conversations going on around me, but songs? I either start singing them or listening to them. Or writing about them.

I love Joni Mitchell, but put her on? My poem changes:

The Blind Woman Hears Music as She Reads Her Love’s Face
                                    You are in my blood like holy wine-
                                                JoniMitchell, “A Case of You”

She knows when dim light throws shadows across them
she’ll wake from a dream of color as he grasps her hand,
brings it toward his face. He’ll sleep deeply those last few minutes
as the hedgehogs of his bristles pleasingly scratch her knuckles.

She knows by his breath-beat when he wakes, turns her hand around,
cups his face toward hers to kiss him with every good morning
of promise, quiet and simple. The coffee pot churns
in the kitchen to verify this, their morning truth.

She adores that face, knows in an instant
he will do a quick shave, comfort for him,
sadness for her. Tomorrow this will happen again,
so the sadness is bittersweet, and short-lasting.

This is a Joni Mitchell moment, as are the times he
quietly lets her read his face, the way he reads
his beloved books. Her supple fingertips savor a start
at eyebrows bold, thick brushes for sun protection.

His nose compass-straight tells of an unaffected adolescence,
his lips, the upper hidden under an enviable mustache,
the lower plump and delicious to bite, to gently suck,
together they aid the formation of a voice masculine and true. 

She checks the pirate scar on the side of his neck,
and other scars older, well-healed, hardened to touch,
still felt and remembered by them both,
her by the stories he’s told her.

She knows his “devils and his deeds” as surely
as she has fingerprints. As surely as she heard
his whispers. She could most definitely drink
a case of him and still be on her feet, no question.

(previously published in Suisun Valley Review)

I have no idea what I was writing before that. Quite honestly I don’t care. But it is sabotage in a way, and I can’t write all my poems about songs. So even though I like everything from Dire Straits to Kugleplex, and have an affinity for instrumental video game music, I keep my speakers off and do not have an iPod.

Below – some music I love but cannot write to. It does cheer me up so maybe that means my poems aren’t all depressing. I could argue that’s a good thing.

My husband is just the opposite. His go-to writing music is Hearts of Space. It’s at  The artists he primarily listens to are Steve Roach, Harold Budd, Marconi Union, Constance Demby and Loscil. The type of music goes by several names, but it’s usually called ambient atmospheric music, or soundscapes, and he especially loves the haunting pieces.

He can, and often does, write all day to it. I can read, and I can edit, but I cannot write. How do you like to write? With music, or without?

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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.


  1. At last, someone else who cannot write with music playing. Like you, I either start singing or just listen to the lyrics. I don't mind conversations, which I find easy to tune out. Everyone else I know listens to music as they write.

  2. We just have to be sure we don't sing with headphones on, unless you sing better thank I do Ann. I might be banished from many coffee shops and the entire state of Texas!!!

  3. I love to write in the early morning silence of my big comfy chair, but will write with all sorts of sound distractions. I have even written a good bit in bars while live bands played and poetry open mics, but to put on music, i cannot write while i have put on a song t listen to. i think the difference is, i do not listen to music as background. I either want to focus on the music or turn it off! oddly, i compose a lot of my poems while driving, the road sounds tend to help me with rhythm, and i usuallly sing the poems to myself, though i would never sing them or anything else in public. i can barely stand to hear myself talk, much less sing! Great piece, by the way!

  4. Thank you Anthony I totally get it. I wrote a poem on a napkin at a coffee house. I write on airplanes. And I can finally listen to myself read poetry but STILL hate my voice on the answering machine!! Thank you for reading this. I'm glad you liked it. :-)

  5. Thank you very much. I've answered more to you on the posts above. Thank you.

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