Sunday, February 24, 2019

Brian Beatty On Lorine Niedecker

Borrowed Trouble: Micro Tribute to Lorine Niedecker  (1903-1970)

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. – Brian Beatty

Lorine Niedecker

I once roused a wild 
turkey out of the woods  
behind that Burger King
on the edge of town.

Time stopped as we faced off 
in the drive-thru lane, both convinced 
the right of way belonged to us. 

I’m plenty aware how ridiculous 
this must sound.

But I was hungry.

– Brian Beatty

Learn more:

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Brian'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.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Tobi Alfier - Prepping For Being Published

INSERT /Page Break vs. Enter Enter Enter

The goal for this post is to get our work accepted and published more often. If you’re a submitting poet like I am, you want to be published. I doubt you spend your discretionary time submitting just for the fun of submitting. (NOTE: if you write poetry and you do not submit, you are still a poet. I wrote for years, and the only thing I submitted before 2005 was a letter to the Los Angeles Times food section about ice cream in Paris).

I’m putting on my publisher’s hat today. Let’s talk about what things we can do as writers that may make our work easier for journals to accept, format, and publish.  I can speak mostly just for Jeff and I as editors, and for myself as a submitting poet. If I know anything about other journals/publishers, I’ll include that below.

Most important of all, read the guidelines. I cannot stress that enough. This is where you will learn not only the aesthetics of a journal, but what they are expecting. If they ask for three, five, or seven poems, send them three, five, or seven poems. If you just send one, you lose out on possibly having more than one accepted. The journal also can’t get a feel for how you are as a writer.

If there’s a theme, some journals are 100% on theme, some aren’t. We are 100 % on theme and will not even consider other poems. If the guidelines don’t say, you can always drop a quick email under the “contact us” tab and ask. That’s what that tab is for.

If the journal uses Submittable, check Submittable first. There may be information under the “more” drop-down than what is on the website.

Embarrassing digression: I recently emailed a publisher to find out when their window opened for reading poetry. He said they read poetry year round, and it was on the website. No, it wasn’t. When I went to Submittable and clicked on “more” next to poetry submissions, it said they read year round. I felt like an idiot. Not the first time I’ve asked this publisher a dumb question.

You may have a writing style that’s unusual, and may be perceived as difficult to understand. In particular, lack of punctuation, and allowing Word to capitalize the first word in each line can leave people scratching their heads in confusion. Hard to read, means hard to accept for publication. If it’s your style, it’s your style.

Occasionally we see poets who write completely in lower case but the poems are punctuated so they’re understandable. That is also a style.

Ampersands (&) instead of “and” is a style.

Oxford Commas are an unusual animal. For those of you to whom this is new, it’s a comma between the last two items on a list. I use it. Not everyone does. Whatever is submitted to us, we’ll use. Some journals change all accepted work to include Oxford Commas. We don’t.

San Pedro River Review (SPRR) is an international journal. Some of our contributors use different spellings, i.e. “favour” vs. “favor”, “colour” vs. “color”. We leave the spellings as submitted. I know some journals change all spellings and cite the Chicago Manual of Style. Again, we don’t.

Remember, as poets, we submit poems with 8 ½ x 11 formats. Most journals are 5 ½ x 8 ½, or 6 x 9. If your poems have long lines, they’re going to wrap. You might not care, but if you submit a poem that’s in couplets, you will now have a couplet with three lines. Again, you might not care, but the publisher won’t know that. You have just brought things to a grinding halt until the publisher finds out what you want to do. On the bright side, they’ve probably already accepted your poem, but now they have to wait for an answer from you. Be aware of your line lengths.

Prose poems are a bit different because it’s understood that they’re margin-to-margin, and whatever those margins are, that’s how long the line will be.

Dialog is not something you’d necessarily expect in a poem, but sometimes it’s appropriate, and still poetic. Some poets put dialog in quotes and some use italics. I like to use italics. If you use italics, be sure you use a font that works well with them, especially if you’re putting a manuscript together. For example, I love Garamond, but if I have any italics at all, I use Times New Roman 12. It’s what most publishers like anyway, it’s easy to read, and italics work well. Even when my son does essays for school, he writes the text in Garamond and the italics in Times New Roman. Remember, you want your poems to be as readable as possible so they’ll be accepted.

The Man Exercises His Bounteous Creativity

Before they met she would write him
you are the artist, pose me.
He would drape her with words
on eggplant couches against pale walls,
everything in “one’s” –
one knee up, one reddish curl
over white skin,
one extra button opened to lay bare
one collarbone that signaled
come here, touch.

Those keyboard strokes
became his photographs,
every exposure a love
letter to somewhere –
the impossibility of imagination
or ancient bricks that used
to house a hive of life, its clock
stopped a hundred years ago,
train stations longing for the lovers
who met there and bridges
where stories came alive.

He photographed the smell of figs,
shades of blue beyond
comprehension, other buildings
and broken angels.  He painted
new words in unfamiliar language,
walked miles, taking in magnolia
after blowsy, overblown magnolia
and webs of long-gone spiders
luminous in twilight sun.
He dreamt that the red front door
of an empty house opened
just for him, and that music
was playing.  The next day
he bought a clarinet.

Previously published in Illya’s Honey

I could keep going for ages; maybe part two will be next week, but I don’t want to cut into your writing time any longer. I hope you have some submissions to do (or snowmen to build). So for this week I’ll close with this:

Most journals either want submissions in the body of an email, or as an attachment. With attachments they usually ask you to start each of your poems on a new page. This makes them easier to read, and keep organized.  Some writers hit “Enter” over and over again until they get to a new page.

Please try not to do this.  Often, they hit it one time too many so the poem doesn’t start at the top. When publishers copy and paste the poem into a journal, the “Enters” can mess up the formatting. It’s frustrating. Not a mortal sin, but frustrating. We know how to fix it, but sometimes we don’t see it until we’re reviewing the proof. Everything that takes time means your Contributor Copy is that much later.

When you want to get to a new page in Word, the best way to do it is to hit “INSERT” on the ribbon at the top, then “Page Break” at the far left of the ribbon.

Pretty much everything is forgivable, but remember, the goal is to make it as easy as possible for your work to be accepted. Write well, and send in kick-ass, consistent submissions. I love being in journals with my friends. I want to be in journals with 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.

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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Brian'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.