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.

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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.


  1. You two are too fun! Now I am enamoured with his writing too. Wickedly funny, and a bit twisted, my kind of poets. Now I'm purchasing your books, Jeff's and Jame's when possible. Yikes. Of course, you are all short-sighted. It is a Hollywood dog with his sunglasses taking a meeting with yet another would-be writer.

  2. James does have the one book and it looks gorgeous. Jeff has a lot of books. "The Gathering Light at San Cataldo" is all Italy poems, and my favorite, but anything you pick will not disappoint you. You already have all of mine, I think. And thank you!!!

    It's hard for me to connect the dots at 6am but if you're calling yourself a would-be writer? Au contraire. You can write. You can write beautifully. So put the sunglasses on your dog and write something!!

    1. Ed just looked and saw an ultrasound too! How about that?

  3. Very cool!! I'm glad Ed saw it too!


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