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!).

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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.

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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.

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