Sunday, September 30, 2018

Cholla Needles - October Issue Released!

Cover by David Alfaro Siquieros

The fine writers in issue 22 are:

Juan Delgado 
Allyson Jeffredo 
Tim Hatch 
Tobi Alfier 
Dave Maresh 
Ashley Hayes 
mr. wildfire 
Bray McDonald 
Lilliana Conlisk Gallegos 
Jonathan B. Ferrini

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

Friday, September 28, 2018

Tobi Alfier - The Man in the Moon is Made of (Fill in the Blank)

This week made me think about prompts. And free-writes. Most workshops or classes I’ve taken start with some version of these. The workshop leader may read a poem, write a list of words on the board, show a photo, or take the class through a memory exercise. Then they say “You have twenty minutes to write whatever comes to mind. Your time starts NOW”. It’s amazing how a class of fifteen people can write fifteen totally different things. Those scribbles, when shaped and edited, titled and left to rest, may become poems.

We learn from them. We remember them. We collect and save them. We may even publish them.

My husband Jeff and I write from the same prompts all the time. When I traveled with him, if we went to Mississippi, we wrote Mississippi poems. Same with Portland, and Dallas, and even the Mojave Desert.

Now Jeff sends me photos and texts from wherever he goes. We joke that just because he’s in Krakow, who knows what either of us will be inspired to write. It could be an Italy poem. Right now, I can’t seem to leave Louisiana. The point is, we have the same prompts but we don’t write the same poems. And we don’t always write the same places.

James E. Lewis
The oddest thing happened this past week. James E. Lewis, a writer, photographer and Facebook friend, posted a beautiful picture of the Harvest Moon. Having no filter sometimes, I said the first thing I thought of, which was “This looks like an ultrasound”.

I’ve done this to Jim before. He uses my comments as prompts all the time, I feel so sorry for him, but all’s fair in love and poetry, and I’m honored that my comments inspire him.

Usually I think of the moon as a “she”. Luna, she controls the tides and so forth. I have many poems that include it—usually to define time of day, time of year, weather, or mood. None that I can think of that have it specifically as any gender. If I do, it’s a female for sure. The picture looked like ultrasounds I’d had, so maybe she had a planet in her womb, or stars, or the children of stars…I didn’t go anywhere with my comment, but Jim did.

Photo by Andreas
He sent me a 91-line draft of a poem entitled “The man in the moon gets an ultrasound” Say what???? Yes, I’ve heard about the man in the moon. Yes, I’ve heard that the moon is made of cheese. But to write a poem about a pummeled-face moon who couldn’t get his big fat round head in a CT- Scan, therefore requiring an ultrasound? I would never have thought of that!

At 91-lines long Jim was clearly on a roll. I don’t think I’ve ever written a poem that long, ever! It’s written in the form of notes taken by an attending physician. I loved the Prognosis:

“based on history, exam, and patient's continued
slow but steady pace, anticipate he will experience
additional facial trauma, without evidence
that such trauma will cause his demise
expected lifespan is unknown” - James E. Lewis

photo by James E. Lewis
Jim may have already moved on to other things, or he’s waiting for the next time I open my big mouth. I don’t know if I will ever write the moon as male, but I’ll never forget Jim’s poem. Take a look at his picture. See what you think—quickly—without a filter. Now spend twenty-minutes writing about it and see what you get. Your time…..starts…..Now!!!!

James E Lewis' collection of poetry & photography, is available  for yourself or as a gift by clicking this link: a clear day in october.

- - - -

Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Slices Of Alice. 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, September 22, 2018

October 7 - Poetry Reading & Issue 22 Release - Featuring Juan Delgado!

Our monthly magazine release party!

October's featured readers are Juan Delgado & friends. Juan Delgado is the author of Vital Signs, a powerful collection of poetry celebrating the streets of his community. The book is enhanced by beautiful photographs by Thomas McGovern. Juan will be reading along with friends he is bringing up from the "low desert" with him, including Allyson Jeffredo , Ashley Hayes, and Lilliana Conlisk Gallegos.

We will also have 50 minutes of open reading! Come early and sign up! We ask each reader to read one short poem so everyone who wishes to participate has an opportunity. All participants in issue 22 will receive their contributor's copy at the reading. See you there!

We welcome your poems for future issues! Poets and Writers ( are helping us to sponsor the featured reader with matching funds from our wonderful audience. Your generous financial support has given us the ability to match funds through October, 2018. Note that there will be no featured reader in November because we are planning 18+ hours of open readings spread through four venues. Keep your eyes peeled here for announcements and details in Mid-October. Thank you!

Friday, September 21, 2018

Tobi Alfier - Poets Are Like Sally Field In 1984…

In the old days I was quite a movie buff. The year before my son was born I saw forty-seven movies. Everyone knew—”don’t call Tobi on Academy Awards Day beginning at 3:00pm. She’s watching the arrivals”.

I’m sure everyone who was watching in 1984 remembers Sally Field’s acceptance speech for Places in the Heart. ”You Like Me…” (If you don’t, you can click here and watch it on YouTube).

My point? Unless you have more confidence than all the non-movie-stars in the sky, which I don’t, you probably live in fear, like I do, that readers won’t like your work.

Question: When was the last time you put a review on Amazon? (for the record, I’m not talking about Goodreads or because I don’t  know anything about how they work. If you do, and you can put a review on one of those, when was the last time you did that?)

Now I always think you should support your local independent bookstores, but they don’t sell measuring spoons. They don’t sell bicycle pumps or Vitamin D.

No matter what you buy on Amazon, you are considered a “customer”. And as a customer, you can put reviews on books you love, even if you bought them elsewhere. 

It’s a win-win.

You support your bookstore of choice. You tell an author some good things about their book on Amazon.

Other people who may not have access to local bookstores read your comments. They buy the book from Amazon based on the reviews. Or even better, they read your review on Amazon and go down to their local bookstore and order a copy. 

The writer walks a bit taller. The publisher gets royalties. And you did a good thing.

We all need validation. I would say that writers need it more than anyone. Not everyone has family and friends who do that, and sometimes it means more coming from someone you don’t know. It only takes a minute.  It’s funny. I talk about the book “Crescent” by Diana Abu-Jaber all the time. I love that book. Every page you open is magic. Have I ever gone on Amazon and written even that? No! For absolutely no reason. I just never thought of it.

You don’t have to write an “official review”. You don’t even have to write like a writer. You can just say you loved a book and were glad you read it.

Jack Bedell, the Poet Laureate of Louisiana and a really nice person, has a new book out, “No Brother, This Storm”. Just yesterday he posted on Facebook “Big thanks to everyone who's picked up a copy of No Brother, This Storm already. If y'all could find a minute to leave a review on Amazon & Goodreads, I'd truly be indebted”.

He’s a Poet Laureate!! In his case, I imagine he’s asking for validation, visibility, and sales. He has publishers he wants to keep happy. Eventually he’s going to go back to being just a regular citizen. And he’s a writer, just like us.

Call me the shoemaker who needs new shoes. There are so many books, and so many journals that touch my heart. I should say something nice on Amazon at least once a week. I would urge you to do that too. Note: I just did a review/comment about “Crescent”. It took no time at all.

And you know what else? Go on to Amazon and look at your own books. That’s not like googling yourself (which we probably all do, but never admit). When you see that someone has written a nice review about a book of yours, and you didn’t even know about it, it’s as good as an acceptance. Because it is an acceptance!

Look around the bookstore the next time you’re there. Think about all those ideas on all those pages, how some of those ideas are yours too. And somewhere, someone is reading your ideas, your poetry or fiction, and feeling a joy and kinship they didn’t know possible. Hopefully they will have the chance to tell you, either in person, or in a review. You will both be better for it.

[Side note from r soos: Tobi is super great at lauding the work of others, and she will be mad at me for telling you this, and that's okay. Tobi has a brand new book of wonderful poetry available that explores depths of personality: Slices of Alice. You should both buy her book AND write a review on Amazon.]

- - - - -

Literary Love 
photo by Lubos Houska

He held my hand
in the bookstore,
and all the words
in all the books
Even dark books
by dark authors
put aside their
gothic, graphic
anger to smile,
and the inserts
in periodicals made
a tent to shelter us.

When he kissed
the inside of my
wrist, the music
section played
Ravel’s Bolero.
My salty words
gave way to
sweet, and thoughts
of honeysuckle
and brilliance beamed.
I was mesmerized
by the shadows
and shapes of
light from the
domed ceiling
as they spelled
out what
beauty means.

Time stopped
photo by Leigh Jieun
in the bookstore
as is fitting, as
all those thoughts
were written
and stopped ages ago,
stopped long enough
for us to read
and again.
That is you,
holding my hand
as we read
from the poetry section.

I cannot
pass a bookstore
without entering.
I would
never want
to not
the two of
us on
facing pages,
echoing the
pen and ink
of the past,
and writing
a future.

-Tobi Alfier 

Previously published in Bellowing Ark

- - -
- - - -

Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Slices Of Alice. 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.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Tobi Alfier - Don’t Kill Your Darlings

Don’t Kill Your Darlings, Tell Them to “Shut Up and Color, and Wait Their Turn
photo courtesy raw pixel 
How many times have you started a poem “with the perfect line”, and when you finish the poem, you realize that your perfect line doesn’t belong? What do you do with that line?

My husband used to say he “dissolved it in solution”. NOOOOOOO!!!!! To quote poet and teacher Brendan Constantine, “put it in your woodpile”.

Do you have a woodpile? It could be a notebook, a file on your computer, anything. In our case, it’s a 66-page word document! We use it for lines, for prompts, or just good old inspiration. It is an invaluable tool for reclaiming your trash and your treasures. I couldn’t live without ours.

Sometimes, especially if I’m not feeling excited about writing at the moment, I’ll go through the pages. I might find a perfect place to start, or a perfect place to end. Often I’ll find a couple words, taken completely out of context with the woodpile line, but perfect for the poem I’ve now decided I want to write.

My husband’s woodpile lines are generally written from a male pov (point of view). Sometimes I’ll leave them that way; I write from a male pov all the time. Sometimes I’ll change the woodpile line about the down-on-his-luck guy with the twenty-five year old car—and now, that line is about a waitress with a twenty-year-old car, who gets a flat driving over glass and gravel in the parking lot of the diner where she’s late to work. Again.

by Lizi Rudolf
We laugh about this all the time. We do not write the same, but we can take inspiration from the same place and write two completely different poems. And for the record? If a line includes “bourbon”, it’s not necessarily his. If it includes “grace” or “mercy” it’s not necessarily mine.

When we went to the Catamaran Writer’s Workshop last year, we both workshopped with Joe Millar. Every day Joe gave us a list of words to use, or refer to. NONE of our poems were remotely similar. We each wrote three. Every one of them was published. I am all for inspiration.

I love the dictionary. “The Synonym Finder” by J.I. Rodale never leaves my desk. Neither does the stack of woodpile pages. And even though my desk looks like a storm swept through, I know where these references are (The Triggering Town by Richard Hugo is on the table in the living room. I know where that is too).

If you are not currently keeping lines, words, thoughts, ideas, scraps of overheard conversations, observations, descriptions of colors you’ve never heard before (especially blue, the most ridiculously described color in the human language), anything…please keep them!!! I guarantee it won’t be two weeks before you refer back and find exactly what you want for what you’re writing.

*     *     * 

Poem written about 85% from some version of our stockpiled lines:

Out of My League in Honfleur

Try as I might, I’m tainted,
shamefaced and lowbrow,
a face at the window
that leans into absence.

I contemplate the blue/gray
of enamel sky, compare
it to the bleu-noir of the rented
room, I turn numb,

follow a trail made of instinct.
Lacking in grace. I’ve drifted
far out of my league,
I am the late snow’s thickening

silence, the tick of a metronome
behind walls crackled with time.
I need a belt of something
ill-advised, and a man to drink with me.

Dump those dying wildflowers out
of the jar and pour. Don’t claim
my icy words are foreign, warm my
non-drinking wrist with your breath.

(Forthcoming in Picaroon Poetry)
- - - -

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, September 7, 2018

Tobi Alfier - My Life is NOT Poetic. Is Yours?

How did I become a poet? Do you ever wonder that about yourself? I say I write because I can’t not, and that’s true. But poetry? My life is more like the Three Stooges Married Lucy and Ethel, and were directed by Fellini.

photo by Serge Lussier
Picture sixth-grade graduation. Little Tobi in her blue and green flowered skirt,
matching jacket with the Nehru collar, white fishnet stockings for the very first time, and blue harlequin glasses. Graduation was outside. As part of the school orchestra, I played “Roll on Columbia” on the upright piano wheeled outside for the occasion.

Wheeled outside, but with the brakes not secured. There is a certain irony to playing that song, while slowly sliding across the one-butt-wide piano bench, as the piano starts rolling. But is it poetic? Have I ever written about it? Not poetry. Not fiction.

Multiply that times sixty years and we’re up to last week, my poor husband heaving me up into his jeep because my car hadn’t started that morning and we were late for the dentist. His back finally feels better. I’m still sore and horrifically embarrassed. Will I ever write about it? Not poetry. Not fiction.

I think we all know that “poetry” is not synonymous with “diary”. It’s not synonymous with “journal entry”. I am very grateful that I can write about things I see, things I hear, ideas that come rumbling around in my head. I am thankful that I can write poems, not comedy routines. I am guessing — hoping — that you may feel the same way too (about your work AND about mine!).

We should all aspire to keep growing as poets, in whatever direction our love for writing poetry is taking us. I always say “this poem has a story behind it”, and I do think that every poem, written by anyone, has a tiny bit of autobiography in it. But if we’re calling them poems, let’s write poems.

They are not memoir. Not fiction. I do love writing short fiction, or short-shorts, micro-fiction, whatever you like to call it. Occasionally. It is a good way to get more of any story out. Maybe next week we’ll talk about that. But now…

Picture high school Tobi with her hair in ninety little braids, hitchhiking down Sherwin Grade in the middle of the night, getting to Bishop just as the bars closed. Did I write about it? This is exactly why you should never explain your poems before you read them (the story might be better than the poem!).

       *       *       *

Alternator, Generator, Voltage Regulator

Pretty much sums it up—
Sherwin Grade,
late at night,
new moon dancing dark
between the slow cadence of cloud,
summer leaning into fall,
smoke in the air, dust devils
quietly whirling grit, altitude
thin as gossamer,
not a light to be found—
on the roads, in the valley.

Our talk chopped,
strung on a low trellis,
whispers barely heard
above shadows,
jagged and still.
Smell of sweat, and cold,
lock the doors,
pray in silence.

We’d not yet learned
what brave meant,
only knew a dead engine
doesn’t click as it cools,
it just stops.
Even now,
as we let the hours
turn to pale pink,
the sleepy family,
dad at the wheel,
window open to keep awake,
warm tea in a plaid thermos
and a ride down the mountain—
places no veil of ease
across the scene.

- - - -

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, September 1, 2018

Cholla Needles - September Issue Released!

Cover by Clonard Thomas

The fine writers in issue 21 are:

John Sierpinski
Tim J. Nelson
Rose Baldwin
Brian Beatty
Rajathi Salma
ayaz daryl nielsen
Kelsey Milano 
Lisa Mednick Powell
Jon Christopher

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