Friday, November 2, 2018

Tobi Alfier – When You’re Stuck

“Stuck” is not writer’s block. “Stuck” is when you’ve had a horrible week, you don’t want it to invade your poetry but you want to write. Five years from now, you don’t want to look back at your poem about jumping off a bridge and think “oh yeah, that was the week I fell twice, slammed my hair in the car door and got four rejections”. Nuts to that.

You don’t want to watch TV until you fall asleep, you want to write. Give yourself permission to try something different! You may surprise yourself. You will grow as a poet. You will take your mind off your anger/madness/sadness. And you will not drink all the bourbon!

Years ago I went to a reading by Beckian Fritz Goldberg at the Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference at ASU. Holy cow!!! She read from her book The Book of Accident and her poems brought me to my knees. They were powerful. They used raw, nasty language, and they were absolutely great!! I bought that book immediately after the reading, and transcribed “Twentieth-CenturyChildren (5): Blood-Kissingwith just my thumbs into my phone. I sent it to my (now) husband. His reply? “Please get me a copy of the book tomorrow”.

I still say that Beckian Fritz Goldberg gives me permission to write brave. To say things I would normally never say. The first couplet of the poem I transcribed is “The boy in the girl’s ear says, Kiss me until/   you draw blood.” The poem ends “The way desire is—/   live rat sewed up inside us.”  The whole poem is scary, and great, and dang! If I could write like that, I’d forget EVERYTHING!

But do I write like that? No. Trying does take my mind off being stuck and cranky though.

Lately I have been captivated by the poetry of Chuka Susan Chesney. She has a way of writing that is well and beautifully thought out, but in ways I’ve never seen. I told her she writes like a Victorian Italian Carnival, which doesn’t even make sense, but it’s the only way I can describe her. You know if Peacock Journal has found her, her poetry and art is outstanding (ed note: a great sale on a beautiful copy of Peacock Journal you can hold in your hand right now - $2.54 per copy - you can even see me reading it on the sales page). Here is one of her more “sedate” poems:

Coffee with Jesus

Jesus drinking coffee
inside her heart,
camellias reach,
embracing the barreled ceiling with
mystery. The cups
line up with the
sandwich plates; and
she, a stranger, looks on as
Picasso’s dove
flies blithely through the kitchen window,
sent and invited.

Patterns waltzing with the sunlight
flutter above their heads,
starfish spin in tight circles,
adorning the room with Byzantine
heraldry. The dishwasher
hums itself to sleep; and
she, a stranger, wearing a white robe,
floats sublimely through the air,
blessed and beloved.

originally appeared in Peacock Journal

Almost without realizing it, I have found myself writing—still like me—but incorporating words in ways I never would have before. There is a wacky exuberance to Susan’s writing. I feel in my heart that she must wake up every day and turn pirouettes on her way to brush her teeth. I can’t explain it.

Another thing to try when you’re feeling stuck, but you definitely want to write, is a new form. I love Pantoums. The form isn’t hard to remember, but I have to look it up every time I write one at Poetry Net. You never know where they’re going to lead you. You’ll be so enthralled by the journey, you’ll forget you feel like hell. When the form doesn’t work, which happens to me all the time, “un-Pantoum” it and make it a regular poem.

Pantoum Gone Wrong

I will take a vodka tonic and some chips.
Please tell me that my smile lights up the sky.
Make me blush and make me think of you
even if tomorrow I’ll be asking myself why
and kicking myself for being so stupid.

I will know you are lying but believe you anyway.
I will only halfway question your motives and sincerity.
Wearing my heart with longing for our conversations
I will look for you, and I will find you.

It makes me want to taunt you and test you,
all the time my leg inching closer to yours.
I flirt with an eye to mapping your limitations,
my agenda is one of maximum sensations—I
don’t even know if you have an agenda.

A kiss in the old days was a ticket to freedom.
Now most encounters lead to a chasm
of disappointment and emptiness.
Lord knows, I carry my own share of baggage,
disheveled and dangerous, I order another drink.

Please find me beautiful, I have a passion for you.
Make me blush, and make me think of you fondly.
Lord knows I carry my own share of baggage
so I will settle for vodka tonic and chips.

appeared originally in Hot Metal Press (permanently closed)

So try a new form and do keep your eyes out for Chuka Susan Chesney. She has poems and art in Peacock Journal, Inklette Magazine, Claudius Speaks, and Rogue Agent Literary Journal, and her art graces the cover of Issue #13 of Picaroon Poetry. She will make you smile. Your Pantoums will take you strange and wonderful places. You’ll totally forget that the fog kept you from seeing the meteor shower, your house is freezing, a raccoon came in through the doggie door and ate all your dog’s food…and all the other junk that can make you stuck—will just disappear!
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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. How do you come up with these wonderful words, poetry, stories and even a way to thwart being stuck? Let me know. I may just stick with you and your blog and writings too! Whoops, did I rhyme? Well, if you were here to share some wine I would never be adverse to learning how to blank verse!

  2. Usually something happens during the week that gives me a way into writing something about poetry. For example I did fall twice and have a generally humiliating week. I didn't want to do anything but stay in bed, but that's not poetic. I'm not special. If it happens to me, it probably happens to other people. So I think about how I can connect with them - I never want anyone to feel alone.

    Now I don't know very much about rhyming. I do use "off rhyme" occasionally, but not where the line endings rhyme. That's just not me, but if it's you, i'll support you 100%. And if you, or anyone, wants me to write about something specific, just let me know. I'll do my best.

    As for wine, I would trade candy for a lovely glass of Bogle Phantom, but my pain pills don't allow for much alcohol. I'll toast you in spirit!!!


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