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) 👸

- - - - -

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.

Friday, January 11, 2019

January 13 Open Poetry Reading - Featuring Tobi & Jeff Alfier

Come help us celebrate the publication of Cholla Needles #25! January's featured readers are Tobi & Jeff Alfier. Tobi's recent collection of poetry is Slices Of Alice. Jeff's recent collection is  Anthem for Pacific Avenue. They are the editors of San Pedro River Review, and curators of Blue Horse Press. Start your 2019 poetry adventure here in Joshua Tree at this exciting event!  

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 25 will receive their contributor's copy at the reading. See you there!

We welcome your poems for future issues! Click on the submissions button to the right for simple guidelines. Your generous financial support has given us the ability to continue our mission of sharing great poetry with local audiences. Thank you!


Tobi Alfier - Editors are Essential

Editors are Essential for Publishers as well as Poets!

Last June 29th I wrote a blog about editors, and how I learned the hard way that having an editor review your work prior to submitting or publishing is good, and necessary.

I always thought that when you submit a manuscript to a publisher, it was assumed that you had dotted all the i’s and crossed the t’s. I thought a clean manuscript was a condition of being accepted for publication. Apparently that’s not always true.

I am in a publisher’s group on my beloved Facebook. Publishers ask interesting questions that, as a poet, I never considered (even though I am also a co-editor and co-publisher).

A couple days ago, someone asked:

“Is there any polite way to tell a publisher that the books he/she publishes are compelling, but urgently in need of copyediting/gentle line editing? This problem has cropped up with two small publishers I've bought books from recently, and it's just painful. Problems include typos, incorrect words that sound the same (e.g. "cubical" when "cubicle" is meant), massive repetitions of words/phrases (e.g. four occurrences of "conducive to" inside of a couple of pages), etc. It is very distracting…”

The comments back to this person were very surprising and actually made her feel bad for asking. Some publishers said they were small presses (true). They had no staff (true). They couldn’t afford to edit for free (true). Authors didn’t want to pay for editing services (true).

Still, these are publishers who build their reputations on the work they publish. As an author, you also build your reputation on your work. There are some things you won’t know until you see a proof – quirks of the software and so forth, but the words that are being printed…I think that’s on you.

photo art by mohamed hassan
How would you feel if someone returned a book of yours because there were so many errors it was distracting to read? I know how I’d feel. I know that press would probably never publish me again. That person might never buy a book of mine again. That’s money!

This is just a reminder to have your work read by someone else before you submit it for publication, especially if it’s an entire manuscript. It could be a paid editor or an eagle-eyed friend who will tell you the truth. Not many people can afford to buy whatever they want, whenever they want. If you want them to buy your work, it’s not enough that they like you. Make sure it looks good.

Note: For those of you in the Joshua Tree area, Jeff and I are very excited to feature for you this Sunday, January 13th at Space Cowboy Books. We look forward to the open mic and can’t wait to meet 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.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Tobi Alfier - And Now We Have 2019

We didn’t even stay up to watch the ball drop in New York. My husband Jeff was jet-lagged, I’m always tired. We didn’t hear a single firecracker, no one called us at midnight. We did what we always do – wake up, kiss each other good morning, say “Happy New Year”, then go check for acceptances and rejections.

Now you know why, after taking a “crossing genres” class with Mark Doty, I said “I learned that I will never write a memoir because I’m so boring, not even I would read it!” I hope your evening, and upcoming year, are everything you want it to be.

Did you make any resolutions? Real ones, not ones that were broken before the night was over? I didn’t even think of making any until the question was asked in my LinkedIn group – Poetry Editors and Poets. I could barely think of three:

  1. Submit to one contest a month. I never win anything. It’s my way of being a good literary citizen by making small donations here and there. If the contest fee includes a one year subscription to a journal I enjoy, it’s a win-win.

  1. Diligently continue this blog for the whole year. I appreciate those of you who read this. You help keep me focused on poetry. You remind me to write in a way that’s understandable and current. This blog is for me as much as it is for you, and I am very thankful to write it.

  1. Have you heard of the “30/30”? During April, National Poetry Month, the idea is to write 30 poems in 30 days. My goal is to write ten good poems that I can submit and that will be published. I don’t care about writing 30 crummy poems just to say I did it. If you’ve ever done this before, or never tried it before, start thinking about whether this is a challenge you want to try in 2019.

You have three months to get in the habit of finding poetry in everything, from the beauty of a hawk flying in a cloudless sky, to the person buying Spam, cat food, and asparagus in line behind you at the store. Everything can become poetic; practice observing. Practice eavesdropping. Practice writing. Get ready for April!  

Those are the only resolutions I made.

As you may know, January 13th Jeff and I are the featured readers on behalf of the Cholla Needles Magazine poetry reading series at Space Cowboy Books. There is also an open mic. I am very much looking forward to meeting you and hearing your poems!  Those of you who read this blog and who are local have an advantage over us: you’ve been to these, we haven’t. Any comments or suggestions you can offer below will be gratefully accepted.

We’ve seen pictures of the readings but don’t know the audience. We don’t know if there will be kids there. We rarely have curse words in our poems, just so you know. The reading will be G Rated.

I currently have copies of three books: “Somewhere, Anywhere, Doesn’t Matter Where, “Slices of Alice & Other Character Studies, and “The Color of Forgiveness. They will be available at Space Cowboy Books. The same will go for Jeff’s books.

Full disclosure – I used to only cry in Texas. Even though I practice and practice, something will make me cry and my poems aren’t even sad!!! My apologies in advance. Please bring Kleenex if you are easily influenced.

Slices of Alice & Other Character Studies” was published by our very own Rich Soos and Cholla Needles Press. Our other books were by different publishers.

The Color of Forgiveness” is the only collaborative book Jeff and I have ever made. There are some poems by me, some by Jeff, many where our stanzas are woven together to make new poems, and many of Jeff’s beautiful black and white photos. You cannot tell who wrote what. The compilation was done by Michael Dwayne Smith, editor of Mojave River Press and Review.  A sample poem is below.

See you on the 13th!!

How Jo Beth Came to Love
the Sabbath Crow Sky

Clouds are the lecture hall of God.
High cirrus wisps are tears of women
walking the Widow’s Walk, waiting
for their men to come home from sea.

[ Immersed in the distance, her
serrated wings are stained gray
by the marine layer trundling in
off the morning ocean surf.]

Cumulus are the beefy bullies in
the football uniforms of the universe.
If they had sound, and sometimes they do,
they would be the drum line announcing their
arrival, daring anyone not to notice.

The broom of wind, sweeping dust off
the hearth of heaven, sometimes a promenade
of sociability and others a run for cover. And always
the birds, riding the highs and lows, gliders over invisible
peaks caused by air, the hidden sea, from below.

[ Like the rest of us, she breaks the Sabbath,
dark semaphore of Hebrew wilderness,
glutton of sea and earth, living and dead,
aloft in the damp solitude of air above
houses lining my street.]

Birds don’t take meteorology class, they just know.

[ She eyes my pale lawn
that grows anything but green.]

Gray or any shade turning toward dawn,
or blue, she would lie on the grass, red
velvet blanket wrapped around her for warmth.

She would climb
into the stories
of the sky.

From squirrels jumping
from roof to tree,
to a web shining

with droplets of dew,
to the helicopter heard
but not seen until long

past overhead,
destination unknown
and wide-eyed.

[ All day I’ve watched as she and kin
glide toward dusk, fallen light
having faded their wings, as if

to take them back, blackness melding
with black, like meteors that would burn out
those times I’d lay on my back as a child

watching summer night sky.
I had crawled out my bedroom window
to stare in peace, as now, I sit
on the curb, the ember of my last smoke
burning holes in the dark.]

There’s a lot you can imagine.

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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.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Cholla Needles 25 - January Release!

Cover by Kim Martin
The fine poetry & stories in issue 25 are by

Tobi Alfier
Jeff Alfier
Noreen Lawlor
George Howell
Dave Maresh
Kim Martin
Jody Azzouni
Simon Perchik
Thomas Plank

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