Sunday, February 17, 2019

Brian Beatty on Richard Brautigan

Borrowed Trouble: Micro Tribute to Richard Brautigan  (1935-1984)
I wouldn’t write at all if it weren’t for myriad writers before me whose works showed me what was possible. The poems of this series are small offerings of respect, of thanks, to those muses. 

Richard Brautigan

Grocery stores
and bait shops

in Montana
though not Oregon
or California

sold your books
to curious tourists.

- Brian Beatty

Learn more about Richard Brautigan:

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Brians's most recent collections of poetry are Dust and Stars: Miniatures and Brazil, Indiana. Don't miss Brian's columns on the great poets: 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, February 15, 2019

Tobi Alfier - Insomnia

Overview of this Week from an Insomniac’s Standpoint

Last Wednesday night I was in bed listening to the rain, thinking about my blog post. I thought “I can’t write one this week, I have nothing to say”.  But heck yeah, I did do a lot of poetry stuff this week. And I think that you probably did too! Even on weeks where you think your life got in the way of all your writing, it didn’t. I bet writing had a place at your table. Maybe the kid’s table, but don’t sweat it, and don’t worry about it. Not every week can be the Super Bowl of writing.

Some of the poetry things I did this week were:

  1. Every day I check the LinkedIn group I moderate. It’s called “Poetry Editors and Poets”. There are 33,690 participants. I add new people, delete the posts that don’t follow our rules, read the comments and offer some of my own, when appropriate. It’s not “my” group. I am just the moderator. You are welcome to join if you’d like.

  1. Every day I check Facebook. Most of my friends are writers, editors, and family. Most of my posts are about writing, or family. I NEVER put anything political on my page.

I am also in some groups which have submission opportunities, list acceptances and rejections, and ask editing questions. I participate as appropriate, and get lots of ideas for places to submit.

  1. One rejection this past week, and two acceptances. An acceptable ratio.

  1. Five poems were up in Peacock Journal.

  1. Two poems were written, reviewed, edited, edited some more, slept on and still respected.

  1. One of the two poems has been submitted.

  1. Three submissions were done.

  1. I received an invitation to submit to the second issue of January Review

This is a very nice looking on-line journal. I know some of the poets in the inaugural issue (from Facebook), and I am very grateful to the editor for the invitation. It’s an opportunity for you too.  Note: an invitation to submit is not an automatic acceptance. The poems I send may not go with the others received. The editor may not like them. I treat an invitation as an opportunity, and consider what I send in the same way as any other opportunity. I may get a rejection, I may not. You may get accepted, so try them!

  1. Continued my limited research on ekphrastic poetry for a Facebook friend and for a discussion on LinkedIn. Although I would not consider writing this form very often, the photograph by Justin Hamm that I mentioned last week for the Rattle Ekphrastic Challenge completely captivated me. I had to write about it. One of the two poems I wrote this week was inspired by Justin’s photograph. My poem stands on its own though, so it can be submitted even without the photograph. Whether or not this poem fits the “true” criteria of ekphrastic, I don’t know.
I say all the time that Jeff’s photographs inspire me, (thank goodness because I don’t travel anymore).  The poems I write based on his photos and texts definitely stand on their own.

  1. Continued my limited research on ghazals for no reason.  They fascinate me intellectually, but I have only read a few contemporary ghazals that I like. “19 Ghazal Street” by Laura Kaminski has some lovely poems.
I’ll never forget, when Laura was putting her manuscript together, I had a poem published in The Galway Review. It inspired her to write a ghazal and she actually pulled a poem out of her manuscript, and replaced it with the one I inspired.  That was an honor I don’t think will ever happen again. My poem was:

The Cobbler

There’s stillness on the street.
Clouds vanish
as streetlights flicker
and nocturnals roam.

In his locked store, the cobbler
is at his bench with one desklight.
He hammers grommets onto leather
supple as a mirage.

Behind the darkened window,
his awls, his fingers, his craft.

He pours himself into Sunday wingtips
that will touch the grass beneath an arbor,
leaves rustling above.

The cobbler will know the steps
of their every dance.

My point? We all have commitments and sometimes we can’t spend as much time as we’d like on our writing. Does that mean you’ve done nothing? I’m not campaigning for insomnia, but as long as you keep your eyes and ears open during waking hours…you’re going to hear that crackle of the tree as a squirrel climbs it in pouring rain. You’ll see the handkerchief-folded-into-a-flower name tag of the waitress who puts your food down on a perfectly symmetrical plate. You’ll notice a branch stuck in the gutter, and something shiny kept from being washed away forever by that branch. The poems may not come out today. They may not come out tomorrow. But they will come out. Make a list of what you’ve accomplished, or don’t make one, but don’t worry. The words are in the background, just humming along, waiting.

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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.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Lisa Mednick Powell - Pastures Of Plenty

In the fall of 2013, three months after moving to Twentynine Palms, I took an adjunct teaching job. Two classes, one at eight a.m. and the other at 3 p.m., twice a week at the College of the Desert's far-flung Mecca campus.

The southward rambling, mostly silent crossing between desert worlds did not enrich me monetarily but rather with revelations, beginning the first day when I started driving before sunrise and had to stop for a coyote rolling around in some puddle of putrefaction just at the entrance to Joshua Tree Park. Disturbed by my headlights, the coyote stood, ambled over to the shoulder, let me pass, then resumed wallowing.

photo by Rob Hannawacker
As I made my slow-winding way through the Park, the dawn was misty and cool. At the Cottonwood Springs junction the scenery began to reveal itself in charcoal shades, and I saw a desert tortoise enjoying the damp sand next to the road. I stopped, took a photo with my flip-phone, and moved on.

The third creature I encountered that morning was more mysterious. At about seven a.m., as I came around what I hoped was one of the final curves in the road to Cottonwood Springs, a tall, two-legged figure emerged from behind an ocotillo and held up a stop sign. You know, I had hoped to see maybe a hawk, a road-runner or two, at least a lizard. But no. What creature, exotic to these environs indeed, did I encounter deep in the wilderness of JTNP? A dude with a ponytail. Holding a lollypop stop sign. I stopped. The dude shuffled over. He leaned down and said, "pilot car will be here shortly to take you through the zone."

The zone…

photo by Bruce Tunget
Just then I had the sense— as I had often had in New Mexico, driving to and from Española, which was bordered by the Santa Clara and Okeh Owingeh pueblos, invisible borders which one routinely traversed while on the highway just going to work or Walmart—that I was preparing to cross one of those intangible, yet impossible-to-fully-permeate borders between cultures. For the moment, however, it came down to plastic: orange cones and caution tape. I had to wait. I was gonna be late. I got out and paced, trying to ignore the panic roaring through my skull, instead tuning in to the silence of the ages. The slumbering boulders and fuzzy chollas were surely not bothered with the passing time. I felt myself becoming a fossil…

photo by Marzena P.
After the time-warp in the Park and a roller-coaster ride over the Ten and through Box Canyon, I got lost in Mecca. The map I'd printed out made it look as if the campus would be waiting for me at the foot of Box Canyon Road. But Box Canyon Road, which wound through shadowy ravines and around various uptilted pink and brown strata—like evolution ham sandwiches—deposited me into a yawning plain of lush and sudden agriculture.

Here, with the doomed, glittering Salton Sea and its dank perfume as a backdrop, flourished grape vines, fig and citrus trees, cabbage rows--and date palms with paper bag ballerina skirts hiding their high, sweet secrets.

Only when I drove through a maze of lemon trees did I get a break from the ancient fish smell that permeated the area. Where was the college? Outside the Mecca Boys and Girls' club, I pulled over and called for help.

A student named Norma Flores was sent out to fetch me and lead me to campus. Another pilot to save the day. Arriving to class a half-hour late, toting a huge bag of books and papers, hair flying, make-up missing, and my sandals trailing high desert detritus, I whirled into room B6 like a dust devil from the outer limits. Maybe not the picture of credibility…and yet the students were there in rows, waiting for me to show up. They were dressed nicely too, and I made a note to mirror that. They laughed when I smiled and seemed to forgive me for being tardy. So I did my job: got their names down on day one, and became the part-time extrovert one must become in order to teach English 71. During the course of that long day the rain gushed down across the Coachella Valley, muddy rivulets spilling into the parking lot from the adjacent fields. By quitting time I learned that Box Canyon Road had washed out and I'd have to find another way home.

Box Canyon Rd. photo by P. Bachelot
Many of the Mecca students live in the towns that ring the Salton Sea. Many are native Spanish speakers and speakers of tongues indigenous to whatever regions they pilgrimed from to get to Mecca. With their families, they might harvest your fruit or work at the manicured resorts to the west. The two ends of the same valley are a world apart. Water is life. Water changes lives. And, when hitched to fortune, water divides lives. So when you check in to that bougainvillea-draped villa in Rancho Mirage, walk past the sparkling water feature, and toss your Lamborghini keys to the valet, you are the flip side of a dusty row of field hands, their faces wrapped in bandanas, working under a fierce sun in those Mecca grapes.

The stories of the students' journeys north flooded my folder when I assigned that first personal essay. "…we climbed out the hotel window into the cold morning..." "…they sent us back to TJ so the next day we tried again." "…my mother was pregnant and we didn't have food…" "my parents weren't going to let me go with them, but I cried so much they changed their minds and brought me here…" These were the Dreamers. Remember them?

And when I asked them to write about something they knew how to do that I did not know how to do, and a student wrote about "working in the strawberries" and how at the end of her first day she vowed through a fog of pain to never do it again but then went back to work the next day because everyone else did—I recalled times I went strawberry picking just for fun. When another student, in her essay response to the Cesar Chavez film, wrote: "Why do we pick the fruit? Oh, that's right, it's because white people can't!" I told her, "You know, there's another movie you might should see. It's called The Grapes of Wrath..."

Box Canyon and Cottonwood Springs remained impassable for a couple of weeks, so I took various long ways back and forth and often wandered off the highway, finding date ranches with Arabian Nights iconography, murals featuring Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and the farmworkers' eagle flag, and produce stands selling fresh greens and Mexican cokes.

photo by S. Keeze
Once the Park route reopened, I commuted that way. The morning drive gave me time to wake up; the evening ride gave me time to think. No radio, no phone service or traffic, only a slow trip through sunset into dusk and moonrise with bats and nighthawks swooping through my headlight beams and, if I got lucky, a long-shadowed, high-heeled tarantula or two stalking across the warm asphalt.

This essay was presented at Desert Stories in Joshua Tree on January 26, 2019
Learn more about Lisa Mednick Powell at 

Friday, February 8, 2019

February 10 Open Poetry Reading featuring Katia Hage!

We are releasing the 26st issue of Cholla Needles! Katia Aoun Hage is reading from her recent beautiful book of art and poetry published by Cholla Needles - "After The War The Women Spoke". There will also be an open reading featuring you. Each open reader is asked to read one short poem. The event is free. The reading is located at the stage behind Space Cowboy Books, located in the Sun Alley Shops at 61871 29 Palms Hwy in Joshua Tree! Come enjoy the beautiful afternoon with us! Cholla Needles is supported by public donations.

Tobi Alfier - Stretching

Stretched My Writing So Much, I’m 6’ Tall!!!

I'm written many times that my husband Jeff and I don’t write the same, and it’s true. Some of you heard us read January 13th when we were the featured poets and heard how different we are from each other. But even with that truth, we had enough in common to actually have a book made of our poems woven together - The Color of Forgiveness, from Mojave River Press. (There are copies at Space Cowboy Books if you want to look).

My blog post of November 2, 2018 introduced you to my friend Chuka Susan Chesney. I said “She has a way of writing that is well and beautifully thought out, but in ways I’ve never seen”. I said “she writes like a Victorian Italian Carnival”. And that’s true. I love her writing. Weave Tobi and Chuka together?  I wouldn’t know where to start.

Well thank goodness I never said “never”, because you know what they say…”never say never”.

This past week Chuka emailed me with a question about 3:AM MAGAZINE (tagline – “Whatever it is, we’re against it”). They are having a series called “Duos”. Did I want to write a poem with her. Say what????

Even while I meant to type “no”, my arm was twisting and twisting, and not only did I say “yes”, but I said it enthusiastically.

Our process:

-First we discussed what we should write about and agreed on the point of view. I suggested that she start, and I would write “around” her.

-Then Chuka sent me the first draft. It was in her wonderful amazing style, with many neologisms, very little punctuation, and lots of Spanish. I don’t speak Spanish! I swear she sent me a complete poem, but reassured me that she wanted my input. Not my editing. Not my proofreading. My participation! I added my part (I had to punctuate. A little. I love my commas but let’s say I only used fifteen instead of thirty).

-I wrote wild. I wrote wacky. I added neologisms and I wrote in Spanish. Thank goodness for Google Translate. If it’s wrong, it’s a Spanish neologism and that’s that!

-We have both slept on it. The next day we both respected it. We both LOVED it. And Chuka is going to submit it on our behalf.

-I have never written anything like this before. I feel so happy!! And Chuka does too. What a blast!

This was a stretch of magnanimous proportions for me. I highly recommend you do something too. Consider it “poem yoga”. Besides a collaborative poem with someone very different from you, there are a few things being taught now in the MFA programs as exercises. Please remember, these are classroom exercises, not finished poems ready for publication. These exercises can be used to stretch yourself to prepare for some real work, but should not ever be considered finished product. I'll talk a bit more about plagiarism in a few minutes:

  1. Erasure poems – take a page of prose out of a book, erase all the words you don’t want, and what’s left is your poem.

  1. Golden Shovels – write a poem where the last word in each line is from a haiku. When you read the last words down, it’s the haiku.

  1. Poems written completely out of song titles, or lines from another poet’s work.

  1. Prisoner’s Constraint poems – pretend you are locked in a room. Someone hands you one sheet of paper and tells you to write your life story. In order to get the most from the page, you cannot use any ascending or descending letters. Use only a,c,e,i,m,n,o,r,s,u,v,w,x, and z.  You can use “o” for “oh”, and “+” for “plus” or “and”. See below. It looks weird, doesn’t it?

we savor our senses

memories…come in
an oceans occurrence of waves
we measure some ones + no ones
our amours + near misses
we crave answers

moonrise excesses murmur in our ears
caveman verses, simian coos
suave reviews,
we seem immune

u are a warm rain
a serious monsoon, a
massive universe
i am ur noisome sirocco,
a reservoir o’ music

i am naïve
i am so naïve
assume an air of assurance
as u rescue me, as neurons
soar unseen + unsure

crocuses are our currency
we are ravenous + raw,
we are a careworn woman,
a wise man, is romance near?
we savor our senses as we are.

There is a lot of discussion about some of these classroom exercises as "poetic forms". For example, if you write a poem using someone else’s lines, is it plagiarism? That’s not a discussion I want to have when we can’t look each other in the eyes. I think you should write what stretches you, but don’t submit it.  Anything that helps you grow as a writer, do it, even if it stays in your drawer as notes for a future inspiration. 

Do not send your MFA playground exercises to a literary journal, or you'll have editors like the editor of Cholla Needles put your email address on the "junque-mail" list - they will never see your future work because you seriously sent playground material in an effort to waste both of your time. Don't do it. 

Two opportunities for growth:

If you want to write a collaborative poem for the “Duos” prompt for 3:AM Magazine, the URL is This is not a contest.

My friend Justin Hamm, a wonderful poet and photographer, took the February photograph for Rattle’s ekphrastic challenge. If you’ve never written an ekphrastic poem before, now’s your chance to try. Two winners will receive $50 and publication in Rattle online.  The deadline for this is February 28th. The URL is Although this is a “challenge”, there is no fee to enter.

S  T  R  E  T  C  H!!!!

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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.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Tobi Alfier - Dog in a Red Sweater

Dog in a Red Sweater…Living a Pantoum

I used to work with a man who was brilliant. He wasn’t disorganized, but his attention was easily pulled away from what he was doing. You could be having a discussion with him; he would look out the window while you were mid-sentence and say “Look!!! A dog in a red sweater!!”

That is like living a Pantoum, a form where you often don’t know where your poem is going to end up, no matter where you start.

Example: You go into to the kitchen to put away the dishes. While doing that, you notice a few dishes in the sink to wash. Standing at the kitchen sink, you look out the window and notice the rosemary bushes are starting to grow over the window edge, and tender rosemary blossoms are delicious in your salad. So you go outside to trim the rosemary bushes. While coming back in the house, dang, when was the last time the window box in front was watered? So you water the window box, and come back into the house with fresh rosemary.

You started out putting away dishes, and ended up with rosemary for your salad. That is like living a Pantoum. Just like Thursday morning. I started writing this post—unexpected thunder and lightning was my dog in a red sweater. I had to stop writing and go watch.
If your attention is easily waylaid, it might be hard to focus on writing. In the book Ron Carlson Writes a Story, he says “The most important thing a writer can do after completing a sentence is to stay in the room”. He goes on to say “The great temptation is to leave the room to celebrate the completion of the sentence, or to go out in the den where the television lies like a dormant monster and rest up for a few days for the next sentence, or to go wander the seductive possibilities of the kitchen”.

Ron is talking about fiction writers, but the same applies to poets. You’ve written the first line, or the first stanza. Maybe just a great title. You have to stay in the room. My husband Jeff and I agree that no matter what we’re doing, our kids always come first. I do think that applies to writing, but that may be the only interruption allowed. As Ron says, “Now would be a great time for a cup of coffee. I might be able to do some better thinking out in the kitchen with Mr. Coffee and Mr. Refrigerator, and oh, there in the other room is Mr. Television, and there’s Mr. Bed. And others. No, we won’t go there."

So let’s write a Pantoum. It may be the only form I’ve ever written besides free verse and prose, although I recognize others. I have to look up the instructions every time I write one. In other words, a Pantoum is a deliberate act for me. The instructions are in the hyperlinks above. Use the one that works best for you.  

Somewhere Between Doubt and Hunger

A priest cleans his nails with a pocketknife,
rubs his thumb over its scrimshaw mermaid.
There’s a blonde outside he hopes catches his eye
like most of his prayers, this one is wasted.

He rubs his thumb over the scrimshaw mermaid
an old man, he tilts his head as he listens.
Like most of his prayers, this one is wasted
more shaky than dreams, his bones are tired.

An old man, he tilts his head as he listens
to traffic and rain on the northbound freeway
more shaky than dreams, his bones are tired
face gaining in years but the eyes are the same.

Traffic and rain on the northbound freeway
“come in” she says, “sit anywhere you want”.
Face gaining in years but the eyes are the same
as the wonder-haired boy’s many lifetimes ago.

“Come in” she says, “sit where you want”
she misnames him “Dave” like somebody’s ghost
the wonder-haired boy from lifetimes ago
pulls at his collar and acknowledges hunger.

She misnames him “Dave” like somebody’s ghost
her pale hand stirring a whirlpool of stillness
he pulls at his collar, acknowledges hunger
settles into eggs with ham and burnt toast.

Her pale hand stirring a whirlpool of stillness
the bar-closers come, let the perfect stay home.
He settles into eggs with ham and burnt toast
with grace and sly glances, he leaves them all be.

The bar-closers come, let the perfect stay home
there’s a blonde outside he hopes catches his eye
with grace and sly glances he leaves them all be
he, the priest, cleans his nails with a knife.

Previously published in Bellowing Ark

The poem goes all over the place. I had no idea where it was going to go when I wrote the first stanza.

Important Notes on Pantoums in my opinion:

  1. They can be as many stanzas as you want
  2. The repeating lines do not have to rhyme. Mine rarely do
  3. The repeating lines can change a little. They don’t have to be exact (see the first line and the last line of the poem above as an example)
  4. Don’t panic reading the instructions. Go slow. They make sense.
  5. Dogs do not wear red sweaters. Get your coffee, trim your rosemary, put away your dishes, sit down and write!!

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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.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

February Issue Released - Cholla Needles 26!

Cover by Steve Braff
The fine poetry and stories in issue 26 are by

Katia Aoun Hage
Peter Jastermsky
Anastasia Jill
Greg Sevik
Dave Maresh
Allie Rigby
ayaz daryl nielsen
Sarah Soos
Alan Catlin
m. r. wildfire

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, January 25, 2019

Tobi Alfier - First Person

First-Person does not have to be Me, Myself, and I

More and more I’m reading a lot of first-person submissions that are stories, not poems. Cover letters and bios are forgivable, and they can wait. But if you’re a submitting poet, or any kind of writer of poetry, you need to be aware of the “first-person Writer’s Sketchbook notes risk”.

I don’t remember in what class we discussed the “Writer’s Sketchbook”, but it’s basically a way to write down everything you see, do, hear, etc. “I’m sitting at the bus stop waiting for the Number 93 bus. The bus comes, I get on, pay and sit down”.  That is not a poem. They are notes to help inspire a poem, or part of a story.

This is something I worry about myself—when I am writing a poem, there’s a time to make it first-person, and a time not to. And just because it’s written in first-person, that doesn’t mean that it’s written about me. It means the narrator of the poem is “I”, instead of “He” or “She”.

Joe Millar, wikipedia
The question about what narrator works best for a poem came up in a writer’s workshop last year with Joe Millar. Joe said, “write it both ways, then read it, then read it out loud. You’ll know which narrator works best.”

I’m grateful that I write on a computer! Just last week, I started to write a first-person prose poem that had a lot of inspiration from our being featured on January 13th in Joshua Tree. It was true. It was poetic, it was not “Writer’s Sketchbook”. After a few lines, I changed all the “I’s” to “She’s”, and realized third person was a better version. The poem is still true. It is still poetic. But the reader won’t know it’s written about “me”.

Some of you will recognize the inspiration, and please God, if it ever gets published, I’ll print it here so you can read it, but “I” being the narrator wasn’t the best thing for the poem.

Consider this first-person poem:

We Know Winter in Our Bones

Winter lights the streets a pale eggshell grey
the cold is deep, I’m the one who shivers
to the front room, starts the fire to make tea –
pomegranate and blackberry for you,
I warm last night’s bitter coffee quickly,

drink it with too much sugar as I touch
your face, not yet wanting to speak and yet
wishing I could kiss the plains of all the
Midwest browns and beiges into your heart
so you would know some things are forged deeply,

they just are, no explanation.  Know I
am your constant, your compass.  Wild poppies
in a field of flawless green do not
consider the bloom of orange to red
they simply live their beauty, much as you.

I saw the moon from our shared bed, full of
face, splintery shadows lighting us as
we made love with all that makes us human.
Takes away the pain of being a man,
grants us the answers to ancient questions.

Consider this first-person poem:

Wrong Turn Ronnie

Rain lacquered streets rise and fall
in cracked pavement. My weed-addled skull

takes a wrong turn off Route 66,
ends at Willie Mac’s House of Spirits.

I do a double-take, a high-school friend
selling crystal ice in the lot, his life an anthem

of money and malt liquor. He never could
hold his rot-gut and decided to cut out the middle man.

An uneven sun smokes creosote off the asphalt,
lights the oxidized red of my ’71 LeMans,

lights the rust of a half dozen junkyards and railcars.
The hooker leaving Willie Mac’s pulls down

her shades, half to hide the bruise from some idiot
who didn’t know she’d once offed a john

with a splintered pool cue, half to shield sub-glacial eyes
so dead, yet sensitive to light and going blind.

I’ve been in love with her for half of forever,
she just works hard at swearing she owns me.

The hour leans into a limbo of where the hell am I’s?
Mussed hair, torn shirts all over town.

Throwing my horse-piss of warm beer out the window,
I opt for pancakes and a hangover Bloody Mary,

pray Sister Sweet and Self Righteous
ain’t at the communal table, pray that the hooker is.

I’ll be home soon. If I can face it.

Did the same person write both poems?  Yes of course, I wrote both of them. Well how can that be possible because a woman wrote the first one and a man wrote the second one? EXACTLY!!! Because point of view has nothing to do with the narrator, and neither have anything to do with the Number 93 bus, whether or not your husband (or wife) snores, the names of your cats or dogs, or how many parking tickets you have!!!!

First-person does not mean you are writing a story, or a memoir. First-person means that “you” are the best narrator for your poem. But please make sure it is a poem. “Write it both ways, then read it, then read it out loud. You’ll know which narrator works best.” It doesn’t have to be true to be you!!

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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.

New Book! The Stony Embrace by George Howell

George Howell has a wonderful sense of place in his poetry. We want to embrace the stones with him. And in our mind we can see the young rooster with his "yellow and gold plumes." George brings his words to life in this fine collection.  

Where is our place on earth?
In the distant horizon line,
that calls you like ambition and high hopes,
or someplace buried inside the skin,
in a dialogue with the shadow
that follows you on your morning walk?

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

Friday, January 18, 2019

Local Creative Youth - we want to see your work!

Tobi Alfier - There are Readings, and there are READINGS!

Photo by Mark Evans
First, many thanks to Rich Soos and Cholla Needles for inviting my husband Jeff and I to feature last Sunday. Space Cowboy Books provides a wonderful venue, and some of our books will remain there for anyone who’d like one.
Photo by Mark Evans

For those of you who were there, you know it wasn’t beach party weather. HUGE kudos to Rich as host – he makes the readings so supportive, safe, enthusiastic, fun, and transparent in terms of financial status, upcoming events, etc., that even though the open mic is first, you beautiful, wonderful, talented, funny and serious readers stayed to hear Jeff and I. And even though I wore layers as instructed by Rich, my overwhelming gratitude to Cynthia Anderson for the “red blanket from heaven”. Without that blanket, I would still be there waiting to thaw out!!

Thanks to those of you who bought books. Thanks to our Facebook friends for introducing yourselves…it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see why I rarely go anywhere anymore. I feel so blessed, and so thankful that we read for you (and I didn’t cry too much) 👸

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Now let’s talk about Mary Oliver. Full disclosure, I’m not very familiar with her or her work. She passed away this week at the age of 83. I know she has had a great impact on lots of people, both as writers, and humans.

To quote Al Maginnes, a Facebook friend and then some, and a beautiful poet often published in San Pedro River Review (SPRR):

“In fall of 1984 I was in my first semester of the MFA program at Arkansas and things were not going well. My poems were not well received and in desperation, I was floundering, trying to be WS Merwin one week and Anthony Hecht the next. The nights I was sober (there were one or two) I wondered why I had uprooted my life in NC, my wife and our dogs to live in this strange town. Our visiting poet that semester was Mary Oliver, who I had never heard of and who had just won the Pulitzer Prize.

Since I was in the poetry workshop, I got to have a private conference with her about a few of my poems. Because of the timing of my conference, my friend LuAnn Keener-Mikenas and I had lunch with her as well. I don't remember much about the lunch, other than being mildly surprised that she ate a burger rather than a salad or something vegetarian. At our conference, I had revisions of almost all the poems I'd sent her for the conference a few weeks before. She looked at the revisions, then at me and said, "Did anyone tell you these revisions were better?" I said no (I'm not sure now that anyone had seen the revisions) and she smiled and said "Good." Then she talked about how important it was to trust one's instincts and to learn what criticism worked and what didn't.

In workshop the next day she talked about trusting the place poems came from. One of the recurrent tropes in that workshop was someone or another saying, "Maybe you should save that line for another poem." She heard someone say this and said "Or maybe forget about the line and trust the place the line came from." My month was made when she proclaimed the poem I had submitted as "almost there." Later, Jim Whitehead told me that she had talked to him about my poems although I doubt I was unique in this. She probably talked with him about everyone's poems.

I never saw Oliver after that and I did not read all of her books. But she was very important to me because she gave me the confidence to trust myself and my poems when I was writing. At the time I had been writing poems with any degree of seriousness for just over a year, so I had and still have tons to learn. But I will be forever grateful for meeting Mary Oliver and for her kindness to a young student's work.”

One more quote from Luke Johnson. Luke is a Facebook friend, a personal friend, a friend of SPRR, and sometimes I feel like he’s part of our family. Luke says:

“Love you Mary O.

Thank you for standing firm against all the hate, for never backing down. For writing poems about nature when everyone thought you should write angry political poems. Thank you for teaching us that beauty is sharp and double sided and in its nuance, is worthy of our gaze.”

Many of Mary’s poems are online, and she has a jillion books if you’d like one, or you’d like to fill in your collection. What I took most from the comments about Mary was how good she was as a human. I don’t write a lot of nature poems and I never will. But I always strive to be kind, caring and human. I want to make a difference in people’s lives any way I can, particularly in their writing lives. Not for me, for them.

R.I.P. Mary Oliver. May you be looking down from the stars, finding new types of beauty to inspire us to write about.

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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.