Friday, March 29, 2019

Tobi Alfier - April = National Poetry Month

I don’t know about you, but I think of poetry every month of the year. Full disclosure – this past week I had some things to do. All of it not poetic and therefore doubly irritating. I also wrote an 1100-word piece of short fiction. It was not poetic enough to be a prose poem, but I had to write it. It would not let me go. It’s done, I respect it, and I’ve already submitted it. The rest of the week was spent on poetry.

You’ve probably heard poets talk about the “30/30” in National Poetry Month. You may have even tried it, or accomplished it yourself. The “30/30” is writing thirty poems in thirty days. As a submitting poet, I don’t think I can personally write thirty poems good enough to submit in thirty days. When a poet friend made a Facebook post that said “I threw out a haiku before work so I’m good for today”, it confirmed that the “30/30” isn’t for me.

I do like writing every day to keep my fingers nimble and my thoughts sharp, but that’s like cardio for me. To “throw out a haiku”, just for the sake of ticking off a box with the least amount of syllables required? That’s like bench-pressing fifty pounds when you know you can bench-press twice as much. Or three times as much. In my opinion, it’s not worth it.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t stretch yourself. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a goal. What about this? Try a 15/30.  My husband Jeff tells me that if you were a baseball player, that would be a batting average of 500, which is stellar! Write about baseball, or any sport, or leisure activity, then submit it to Sport Literate Magazine. Sport Literate is a literary journal focusing on “honest reflections on life’s leisurely diversions.” They accept up to three poems in a submission, so write and submit three. 

Katie Caldwell Meets a Plumber at the Muscle Car Dance

Squat-bodied Chevys plant themselves
like a garden of boiling colors –
the red not seen in 50 years
and a green so old it makes nostalgia
feel young.

She follows the hood ornaments to the dance floor,
a blues band tuning up, that particular
beat that says I’ll sing about anything and you’ll
crave it. All the longing you’ll ever need.

You can awkwardly dance to it,
or look around. And look around she does.
He’s got 10 years on her if a day,
graceful in that dirty torn t-shirt kind of way
that says he’s a working man,
taking a break from the present to drift back
to his past,

when Saturday nights meant shine her up,
race her reckless, then get the girl.
And she wants to be that girl. Cherry-red
lips and a yellow dress match anywhere
she ends up.

Life was more unhardened then, the danger
more in their minds, adrenaline
churning and a pack of smokes hiding
in the glove box for later.

She can still do that high-school sidle,
she is by his side in a heartbeat.
The blues makes him talkative; the ex
and his girls live three states away, he’s
been here all his life, has a good business
left from his father, and a dog.

She takes his hand, dances gracefully among
the clowning tourists, visitors to this world
in plaid shorts and wrist bands. And in that dance
she becomes everything to him. Don’t matter
nothin’ ‘bout tomorrow. He knows she’ll be there,
sure as the dice hanging from the rear-view.

(previously published in Sport Literate Magazine)

Will Wright is an amazing poet and professor who lives and teaches in Mississippi and other universities in the south. Living in Southern California, there was no way I was ever going to be able to take any of his classes, but he offered to do an online mentorship with me. It took me about two seconds to get up off the floor and say “yes”. For my first lesson, Will said “write a poem with the words "sap," "starling," "hex," and "marl" in it. Make it in tercets. Free verse”

Why don’t you do the same thing? What the heck? If you’ve never worked with prompts before, this is a favorite technique of many writing teachers, and a LOT of fun! I had to look up the word “marl” but who cares? It took about ten seconds. The poem I wrote was published in the Western Issue of Hobo Camp Review. But you don’t have to write a western poem, and even if you do, it can be published anywhere!

April 18th – National Poem in Your Pocket Day. I didn’t even know about this. My friend Denise Buschmann, who you all met in my October 20th blog post last year, told me about it. According to, “On this day, select a poem, carry it with you, and share it with others at schools, bookstores, libraries, parks, workplaces, street corners, and on social media using the hashtag #pocketpoem. 
Poem in Your Pocket Day was initiated in April 2002 by the Office of the Mayor in New York City, in partnership with the city’s Departments of Cultural Affairs and Education. In 2008, the Academy of American Poets took the initiative to all fifty United States, encouraging individuals around the country to participate. In 2016, the League of Canadian Poets extended Poem in Your Pocket Day to Canada.”
Honestly? Every single day, if Jeff reads something wonderful, or I read something I know he’d love, we read them to each other. He often puts a short poem or a stanza of a longer poem on Facebook to accompany one of his photos (I know I’ve mention Facebook twice now, but social media is part of marketing, as you know). I love the idea of cutting out short poems and passing them out. Why just do it on April 18th, why not the whole month of April? But I am as shy now as I was at the eighth grade dance – glasses, braces and flat-chested, waiting for my mom to pick me up. I don’t know if I could pass out a poem to everyone I see, but I sure can try.
Denise sent me three short poems that she passes out. If anyone needs some, please put your email in the comments below and I’ll send them to you. I will probably print one of my favorite poems in the world – “When You Are Old” by Yeats. You should print the best poems for you.
When You Are Old
             William Butler Yeats
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
National Poetry Month is more than doing the “30/30”. Read more poetry. Buy some poetry by a poet you like. Write some poetry, and pass some out if you’re not shy. There’s a lot you can do, a lot you can try, and have a great time doing it. In the next few weeks I’ll include some lines as prompts from the woodpile Jeff and I share, and more ideas for making this a joyous month…one you can celebrate every day of the year.
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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.


  1. Love your poem! Especially this line: "graceful in that dirty torn t-shirt kind of way".
    Also loved Yeats' poem: "and of the shadows deep". Makes me think of a river in the mountains. I went to Glacier once and sat in a rowboat in a lake. Reminds me of that time.

  2. Thank you Sukie. I carry that Yeats poem with me everywhere. After all these years, I've never memorized it, but I read it all the time. I'm glad it brought you a good memory. And thank you for liking my poem. xo


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