Friday, December 14, 2018

Tobi Alfier - Not Every Subject Is Up For Grabs

I’m sure we’ve all heard that you should never date a poet, because your life can become a poem for everyone to read about. I don’t agree. I think we all have things we don’t want to write about, or feel we shouldn’t write about, and that’s okay. My husband Jeff inspires my poetry all the time, and I write about him all the time. Many of his books have poems written to me. We’re fine with that.

Listen, Tobi
by Jeffrey Alfier

We came to watch more than trawlers
drift stony miles north of our island—
all those slow clocks of commerce.
On the ferry over, nerves ran tight
when tall waves scaled the sheerline,

lustering us cold at the railing. We laugh
at it now, in this late light dimming
out of sky, trusting night birds to circle
back and hunt low—their gothic plunge
of wings, sudden wind to lift them,

like your hair, through this paling Irish
light. So let the white scrim of gulls loiter
above us. Let them screech like Cromwell’s
ghost. We’ll learn the Gaelic word for kiss
and glare at sea and sky till they dissolve

like remote music. Here, we need the stone
junctions of cemetery walls, rutted tracks
that flank them into darkened arbors of trees.
All the wildflowers that find our fists.
All the roads our maps find no name for.

For me, there are four things I don’t write about, or rarely do. The first is if something is told to me in confidence, my lips are sealed. There is no way you can change something enough so that it’s unrecognizable. Either be a trustworthy person, or write a memoir. I would like to be trusted.

I also rarely write about my divorce (2006), work, or my health. I’ll admit it, I have a poem that’s funny as hell about my divorce. It has been published, but you’re not going to read it here. It got laughs when I read it, but it is hurtful. I don’t want to be that kind of person. Maybe if I were a standup comic I’d riff on it for a while, but I’m not. I’m a poet. And that’s a subject I don’t consider poetic. The end.

Work? In forty years I’ve written probably five poems about work. And they are very well disguised. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what “Hostage Negotiation in Negative-Land” is about, but on the whole, it’s not poetic.

You’ve heard me talk from time-to-time about walking challenges, not traveling anymore, getting inspiration from Jeff when he travels and sends me photos and texts, and so on. If it ends in “-osis”, I probably have it.  Read the fiction book If Not For This by Pete Fromm. It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous love story with an element of illness that says it more beautifully than I can ever say.

But that’s just me. I rarely write about it. I’ll tell you anything you want to know, but not in a poem. Other poets do write about health challenges as a way of exorcising them, or explaining them. Maybe while they’re writing, they’re not experiencing them. If you are a submitting poet, there are lots of anthologies looking for your work. There are lots of journals as well.

A wonderful journal to submit to is Kaleidoscope Magazine. It’s published by United Disability Services in Akron, Ohio. The magazine “creatively focuses on the experiences of disability through literature and the fine arts. Unique to the field of disability studies, this award-winning publication expresses the experience of disability from the perspective of individuals, families, friends, healthcare professionals, educators and others”.

(Under guidelines): “The material chosen for Kaleidoscope challenges and overcomes stereotypical, patronizing, and sentimental attitudes about disability. We accept the work of writers with and without disabilities; however the work of a writer without a disability must focus on some aspect of disability. The criteria for good writing apply: effective technique, thought-provoking subject matter, and in general, a mature grasp of the art of story-telling. Writers should avoid using offensive language and always put the person before the disability.”

They accept previously published work, and they pay.

I really do believe everybody has something challenging. Not everyone writes about it. If you do, and you’d like to see it in print, Kaleidoscope may be an opportunity for you.

Under the Bridge

Sometimes she doesn’t have enough skin to cover her knees.
She can’t really explain it but they nod and say
“Yes, I know”, jotting notes to remember for next time
so she doesn’t feel so alone.  They always ask about her son,
and now they will ask about her knees.
Her legs hallucinate—static charges blossom
up her feet; they jump like marionettes.
She thinks she wears the “scarlet letters”
by the way she walks, but they are only
on the inside.  No one knows.

She holds her breath in the tunnel under the covered bridge,
wishes for good fortune for those who surround her.
The bridge is long, she passes out, wakes up in an ambulance.
The nurse recognizes the pendant she is wearing
from the last time. She is identified and given an ultrasound
before fully alert. She nods and says “Oh no, not this again”.

There are berries at home, she must eat the berries.
There is a whole quart of milk, and messages to return.
The gardener waits for his check, shirt unbuttoned
to the belt, the cowboy hat shading his eyes and smile.
Mundane trivialities do not want to wait,
but the IV means she will be here for a while.

Could someone please turn up the light
and bring her some books?

- - - -

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.

Friday, December 7, 2018

December 9 - Open Poetry Reading, Featuring Dave Maresh

December's featured reader is Dave Maresh. Dave is the author of Garage Band, a fun collection of short stories sure to fill your holiday spirits with joy. Dave is also the author of  A Book That Turned Up One Day, poems guaranteed to tickle your funny bone.  

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 24 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 December, 2018. Thank you!


Tobi Alfier - Errors, Quirks, (and Oxford Commas)

I mentioned in my blog on editors that I was the sixth grade spelling bee champion. My husband and I still read each other’s poems before we finalize and submit them, both for edits to consider, and typos. Thank goodness we do this. I didn’t know I had no idea how to spell “Morse Code”.

I have also mentioned that I have a dear friend, Ricki Mandeville. Ricki is a beautiful poet and brilliant editor. She calls herself my son’s “Oxford Comma Mama”. I think only the two of them understand it enough to explain it, although many of us use it correctly without knowing. If you have a chance to read Ricki’s work, stop everything and read it right away at Gravel. 

Anyway, that blog post was about editors. This post is about errors. The goal is to help you write the best poems possible, and capture your readers forever.

In my opinion, spelling is a fatal error. Almost everything else can be rationalized as style. If you punctuate like hell, you should pay more attention to it, but it could also be style. If you write in vernacular— that’s style.

I have a couple of personal peeves, but would I reject a submission because of them? Not if the poems were great. It’s style.

If you use neologisms, for example a word like “whisperwinter” to describe falling snow, or use nouns as verbs or vice versa—you will find your niche with readers and editors. Some people will love you, and some won’t. Newsflash—it will be that way no matter how you write.

If you use foreign words or phrases in a poem, you may wish to include their translation at the bottom. They may not always be easy to interpret, and you don’t want it to cause your readers to give up on you. Time spent googling a phrase is time away from reading your work. You don’t ever want that to happen. The poem below, written by my husband, is not his usual subject matter. He spent a long time deciding whether or not to include a translation. He’s glad he did.

- - - -

The Partisan
Belgrade, 1944
            by Jeffrey Alfier

The soldier, too long in the wreck of years,
stands now with his arms raised,
weapon jammed, Ich gebe auf
rasping its way out of his dry throat,
meeting the tunnel of his captor’s eyes:
a young woman of indeterminate years,
chambering rounds with her small fingers.
He’s fast against the flaking cement
of the wall behind him as she pins
the wrists of his upheld hands,
her fists feeling his bloodbeat there
so she will better know the musk
of his breath, homesickness on his skin,
the soft remembered thud of her bullet.

Ich gebe auf: German: I surrender

The Partisan was previously published in CopperNickel

- - - -

If you try something special or different in your writing, and you should, at some point you’re going to make an error. Make sure you have good linebreaks and your spelling is perfect. Everything else is style, voice, or can be explained. Sometimes…often…errors make a poem the way it was supposed to be all along.

- - - -

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, December 1, 2018

Cholla Needles - December Issue Release!

Cover by Susan Abbott
The fine poetry & stories in issue 24 are by

Dave Maresh
Pat Anthony
R. K. Singh
Bonnie Brady
Christopher Greer
Tamara K. Adelman
Mike Green
Alan Catlin
ayaz daryl nielsen
Mitchell K. Grabois

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