Friday, February 8, 2019

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!!!!

- - - -

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.