Thursday, May 30, 2019

Tobi Alfier - Get Ready for June

June is hopefully not all gloom and hunkering down waiting for tornadoes. June is changing the calendar on the first – if you don’t have a calendar that makes you happy to turn the pages, start thinking about a better one for next year. Sometimes it’s the little things.

I did not have a great showing in May. Your Queen of submissions only sent out four submissions this month, partly because a lot of journals were closed, and partly because I had nothing for the journals with themes. You all know I am a “plain-speech narrative poet of place”. In English, that means I write like I’m sitting on the front porch with you, chatting in words that are understandable. I didn’t have anything for some of the themes out there.

photo by Chelsea Ouellet
But some themed journals still take regular submissions too. If you want to submit to journals with some odd themes, and you have nothing for those themes, check their websites. If they don’t spell out “we only take poetry on theme”, contact them and ask them.

Be respectful and professional. This will do three things: get your name on their radar, and answer your question. Then, you can get on your social media pages and tell all your writer friends too. It’s a win-win-win.

If you’re a submitting writer, a lot of windows open June 1st. Get your work in shape. Do that final edit, find out the real spelling for that one word that’s been driving you nuts, or whatever you need to do.

Last June I did seventeen submissions. Seven of those poems were accepted. I’m happy if I have a 30% acceptance ratio; this was 41% and honestly? It doesn’t matter. I’m just happy there were some journals that opened, and they liked my poems. Keep track of what you send where – we’ve talked about that before.

Even if you don’t like to submit, you are still a writer. Let’s use glorious June to give us some inspiration. You may be going on vacation. Your friends may be going on vacation. There will be pictures to see, wildflowers in bloom, conversations ripe for eavesdropping. You’re hopefully not going to be bundled up, unless you go to Norway.

Trawler of the Northern Lights

There’s something about a love letter
delivered by the mail boat’s semi-weekly run.

First offloaded are haddock and cod— some flash
frozen miles offshore, some faltering in creels and traps.

Lobster, their tendrils winding through
the metal mesh like leaves tenderly climbing a trellis,

heaved up on deck by men in rain slickers
over thick wool sweaters knitted by wives—

home, by fireplaces, accustomed
to being alone while their men bring a piece

of their lives to the counties of Northern Lights
and endless darkness. Next offloaded,

the hardware. Boxes of screws, beams,
parts for cars once driven by our grandparents,

cars that found their way north,
drivable only a few weeks each year,

when the snow melts, ancient tracks uncovered
and dried in weak sun. Then medical supplies,

always needed, newspapers now weeks old,
books read by the crew and exchanged for the ones

from last trip, and finally, the mail. Soggy, fragile,
stinking of fish but never unwelcome,

a reminder of patience, mottled with raindrops
posing as tears, a checkmark on the calendar.

You will be together soon. Soon enough.
The boat of the bringer will take you home.

(previously published in Poetry Salzburg Review)

photo by John Huang
No jackets with hoods—your ears will be uncovered. And with sunglasses on, no one will be able to see what you’re observing to put in a future poem or fiction piece. Sunglasses are awesome! They help you study tattoos, watch people flirt and generally see how they treat each other. Even what people have in their shopping carts can inspire a poem or three.

Another great thing about sunglasses is they will help you master the art of secret espionage photos with your phone. You don’t want to be in a diner and obviously take a picture of an older gentleman in jeans and a regular plaid shirt, sitting alone, staring pensively into his coffee, the sun from the blinds striping his face, a poem just waiting to be written (or used as a “living woodpile” for a completely different poem later). But you can pretend to take a photo of the old car just outside the window. No one will know where your phone is actually pointing (I realize this will be impossible for some people, depending on their phone. Sorry).

Once the Dues are Paid

He worked in the mill.
Until he didn’t.
Now he works the chair,
inside the door, at the Alamo Bar.
It slouches in all the right spots
for his aching, defeated frame.

Light streaks in through the glass,
crosses his toes, lays a track
on the black and white tile.
A thin strip of sun shines
a stripe on the counter, just where
he reaches to pick up his drinks.

Beer in the morning. Boilermakers
at lunch. Whiskey straight, by evening.
He’s got coins for the jukebox, smiles
for the waitress, creaks and mutters
for everyone else. Booze and small
kindnesses. Till quitting time.

(previously published in Connecticut River Review)

photo in JTNP by Nightowl
If you love to drive around on back  roads taking photos of abandoned stores, old grain elevators, signs with no buildings, oxidized cars—the worn down Americana so dear to Jeff and to our wonderful poet and photographer friend Justin Hamm, BE SURE there are no lived-in houses nearby. No cars that actually work. You may be trespassing. This can get ugly, and very expensive. If there is any sign of life, ask permission before you photograph anything. And please be careful driving. Pull off the road if you need to, but be sure there’s a shoulder. The last thing you want is to be stuck in the middle of nowhere, with no signal on your phone. You’re taking photos for inspiration, not filming a Hollywood tragedy. And take water.

Welcome to June! Safe and happy writing 👩

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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, May 25, 2019

Brian Beatty On John Berryman

Borrowed Trouble: Micro Tribute to John Berryman (1914-1972)

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

John Berryman

Henry organized books
in tidy library rows.

Bones was the one
with their swept beard.

The water hit hard.

– Brian Beatty

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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, May 24, 2019

Tobi Alfier - On Simon Perchik

The Gibson Poems

Thank goodness I have a young physical therapist, because when I’m 95, I want to be spry, curious, have a great sense of humor, check my email every day, write every day, attend readings, and feature at some pretty high profile places, such as the KGB Bar in New York. When I’m 95, I want to be Simon Perchik.

Eleven years ago when we started San Pedro River Review (SPRR), we got a submission from Simon Perchik (Si, as he is called by his friends). Being about one nth educated on contemporary poets compared to Jeff being a whole solar system educated, I said “hon, all of his poem titles are asterisks. We need to ask him to title his poems”. Smart Jeff did not do that. I now know that Si is the only poet in the world who does this consistently, and who is allowed to do it.

We have been blessed to have published him often. He’s now “Uncle Si” to us. In our Tables of Contents we list the first line of each poem as the title, because we usually take more than one poem each issue. Done and done!

Simon Perchik
Enter “The Gibson Poems”. Published this year by Cholla Needles, this volume, written in Fierro’s Pizzeria, The Golden Pear, and various other cafés in New York, contains 216 poems numbered G1 through G216. In keeping with the convictions of publisher Rich Soos, there is no Table of Contents, just 216 pages of glorious poetry. Did I mention it’s only $10? Did I mention Uncle Si thanks the “owners, employees, and customers” of the two restaurants mentioned above? Did I mention he’s going to give copies to the people he sees and talks to every day? He is such a kind soul. I swear, I want to invite him for Thanksgiving!

I discovered long ago that the best way to read Si’s poetry is out loud. Sometimes I may not understand a poem 100%, but when I read it out loud softly to myself, the words are so beautiful it doesn’t even matter if I understand it exactly.

Take G44 (because 4 is my lucky number, a whole other story):

Not with the light itself
lifting this page closer
though the breeze already left

–you need glasses, the kind
crystal-gazers use
and for centuries would weep

to birds that go on living
–cockpit-glass! pressed
against your forehead

by wings and distances
–in the end the book too
will lose its slack, approach

with the window in front
closed and even its shadow
had no chance to escape.

Honestly? I don’t think this poem is about birds or pages of a book. To me, this poem is about airplanes (“cock-pit glass”), binoculars (“you need glasses”), radar (“crystal-gazers”), damage (“slack, approach”)…this poem is about war. This poem is about a pilot in a damaged plane in a war. Trying to get home in the early evening, with “no chance to escape”.  How do I know this? I don’t. I read it many times. I read it out loud many times. I don’t know. And it doesn’t matter. It is beautiful, and it made my heart hurt. I cried. And that’s what I decided it was about.

Did I pick the “hardest” poem in the book? Probably, but as I said, 4’s my lucky number. I feel changed by this poem and thankful I read it.

I asked Jeff to read it and tell me what he thought it was about. He said:

“I may be on a limb here, but this is how I read G44:

Light alone in his older years is not enough, nor the glasses so redolent of the “cockpit glass”, wedded in image to “wings and distances” – the war embedded in memory, where even war’s “shadow / had no chance to escape.” Glasses of increased focus are highly suggestive to the speaker of crystal ball gazers whose aim is to heighten their vision into future or distant things. But the past, the “shadow” that can’t escape, keeps him tethered to a personal history that won’t fall away from current life.”

Jeff, an Air Force Veteran, whose father is about the same age as Si and was a B-17 crew member, have had discussions about his poetry. Si told him the war is in all his poems.

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Even though Jeff and I both arrived at roughly the same conclusion, we did so in different ways. And that, in my opinion, is the wonder of Si’s poems. They’re not experimental. They’re not metaphorical. They are interpretable—he gives his readers credit, and knows that they will get there.

I can’t write like that. Reading the difference between Jeff and me above, it’s obvious I can’t write like that. Just another reason I appreciate the heck out of Si—what he can say with words, and the beauty and sound of his images. He’s amazing, and so are his poems. I love him, and I bet you will too.

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Link to a 2017 Perchik review by r soos 
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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, May 19, 2019

Book Review: Sanity Among the Wildflowers by Tobi Alfier

$5 : Click here 
Sanity Among the Wildflowers by Tobi Alfier

Originally published in 2005, Sanity Among the Wildflowers has the distinction of being reincarnated—finding a second life in a new edition published by Cholla Needles Arts & Literary Library. Over the past 14 years, Tobi Alfier has become a widely known poet with endless journal publications and books to her credit—but, this step back in time allows us to enjoy her very first chapbook, self-published and long out of print.

These poems are straightforward and straight shooting, full of the empathy and attention to detail that are hallmarks of Tobi’s later work as well. In some of these poems, we get to know a mother who may be like the poet herself. 

“Untitled #1 (Signals)” begins:

   She hangs three dresses
   and four small pairs of pants on the line—
   the signal that she is a young woman
   with a small son alone.

   The dresses are old,
   the cue that she has no money,
   faded flowers optimistic
   even as they absorb into
   the pungent sunlight.

We follow this young woman and her optimism—“the opportunities are endless in the morning”—traveling with her as she crosses paths with a handsome man in the supermarket, a stranger on a plane, watching as she redefines herself when her husband leaves his wedding ring on the counter—

   She tries on eyeshadow,
   and high heels,
   Wonders how it would feel to be free,
   and emancipated.
   She takes a drink,
   tends her garden,
   contemplates the 5:00 pm flight to Paris…

Tobi contemplates the lives of others as well—a family of skunks living under the house, a man whose lover’s teeth “are gray from lies,” a gnarled old woman in an airport—

   What can I do for you? What
   can I ever do for you? I
   do not look away, and then
   I smile. A friendly smile, not
   out of pity for you, but out
   of pity for myself, because I
   could be you in another
   twenty years, and that’s a hard
   lesson for me to know.

My personal favorite in this collection is “Red Plaid,” an ode to an old shirt given to her when she was sick by a special friend—

   …You gently draped
   it around and buttoned me up like I was a child…
   it brought comfort and something more.
   I never washed that shirt. I never gave it back.
   I carefully made sure to never sweat, never spill—
   I could smell your cologne for years after you left…
   I didn’t even know
   my soul was needy but you knew.

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As a bonus, Tobi ends the book with an essay that reveals how it came about: she attended a beginning poetry class taught by the legendary Jack Grapes, who required each student to create a chapbook. She also includes a number of tips for anyone wanting to publish his/her own chapbook. Coming from someone who’s been writing “since dinosaurs walked the earth,” Tobi’s words are worth reading, and heeding.

Tobi Alfier is a multiple Pushcart nominated poet and Best of the Net nominated poet whose poems have appeared in The Chaffin Journal, Chiron Review, Cholla Needles, Coe Review, Gargoyle, Hawai’i Pacific Review, Nerve Cowboy, Permafrost, The Los Angeles Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, Suisun Valley Review, Town Creek Poetry, and other print and online journals. Her poetry books include Carpeting the Stones, Romance and Rust, Down Anstruther Way, Slice of Alice, and Somewhere, Anywhere, Doesn’t Matter Where.

Find out more about the reviewer, Cynthia Anderson, at

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Saturday, May 18, 2019

Brian Beatty On Charles Bukowski

Borrowed Trouble: Micro Tribute to Charles Bukowski (1920-1994)

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

Charles Bukowski

I regret it never
once occurred to me

to turn my short career
as a hospital janitor

the women too distant
to be considered lovers

or those apartments
from hell I called home

into poems
with a paying audience.

– Brian Beatty

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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.

Tobi Alfier - Try Something New

How Was Your Week?

I always say everybody has something, and I’m not special, but holy cow, I sincerely hope your week was better than mine. 
Everything wise! 


You all met my friend Chuka Susan Chesney in my blog post of November 2, 2018. I talked about her again in my post about “Stretching” on February 8, 2019. I said (again):

“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.

You know the rest of the story, about how we approached a collaboration, but you didn’t get to read the poem. Well we checked the website for where we’d submitted, and it was down for three days, so we submitted elsewhere. I am happy to say that our poem, “Nanny Estela’s Padded Bra”, was published in The Galway Review on May 12th.

Nanny Estela’s Padded Bra

I knew they were mis hijas as soon as I cradled 
her Cuernevacan breasts
like juevos in a spoon.
I was to give glamour to mi Estela:
an underclothing arched eyebrow,
perfect eyeliner, Billie Holiday magnolia
or opals on the ring of a Talavera fountain.

The tentative flesh de mi jovencita
while she cuddled her smallest charge,
little doll-baby needing much warmth
and comfort from her running and running
family, climbing into the single bed each morning.
Estela’s pupusas no longer bare under flannel,
now kittened in my cupfuls, padded curlicues
transform her A-cups into steeples.

I’m her brassiere that snuggles and instructs
as she instructs her little family faerie niños.
She bought me with her salary—she babysits.
Ten dollars a week is enough to send home
and save up for small things like me
all stitched lovely, a rainbow Mobius strip
that makes her walk taller and talk bubbly
her fingers going round and round the circles.

Sometimes she nestles my lace in the cavern
of her drawer—no Iglesia for my intentions
says the madre de familia and I must lie
there all bored while mi Estela wears
the madres rotted cotton that’s better for God
so she says. 

But when I’m awake, I cantata Lady Luck,
my featherbedded geysers traffic cone her chest.
I string her chichis high like matching Astropops
suspended on the catwalk of scaffolding—
her shoulders also pulled back and daring.

We ascend switchback cielo to the stratosphere
until mi Estela went to another faerie family
so she could go to school but the man had
fingertips looking for romance and cooing;
el primero his nasty pointer stitched
around each nipple to coax them into tops
that tandemly rocketed her Vesuvius future
no bueno to the bad man come back to doll-baby. 

Sophia-shaded eyes on mi nanny Estela
I am the doll-baby. I watch as she
capsizes la luna with orgasmic jackpots
dios mio I love her es verdad
I love her bra a small planet in the galaxy
I want to be either of them— glorious lacy
on the underneath and Iglesias-sweet smile
on the whole unicorn outside.

Our combined bios. Mine is the standard “under 50 words” bio for submissions. Chuka’s is the interesting one. Some journals might edit it but not all of them. It often depends on the bios they’ve received from other poets, and if others are longer than requested in the guidelines:

Chuka Susan Chesney has a BFA in Fashion Illustration from Art Center College of Design and an MAT from Occidental College. She is an artist, poet, curator, and editor. Her award-winning paintings and sculpture have been shown in galleries all over the country. Her poems have been published on three continents. "You Were a Pie So We Ate You", a book of Chesney's poems was the winner of the 2018 San Gabriel Valley Poetry Festival Chapbook Contest. In October 2018, Chesney curated the "I Pity da Poe" exhibition at the Hive Gallery in Downtown L.A. In November, Chesney hosted a poetry reading with Don Kingfisher Campbell at the YEAR ONE exhibition featuring Loren Philip and Tomoaki Shibata's collaborative art at Castelli Art Space in Mid City. Chesney's anthology of poetry and art "Lottery Blues", coedited by Ulrica Perkins will be published by Little Red Tree Publishing in 2019.

Tobi Alfier is a multiple Pushcart nominee and multiple Best of the Net nominee.  “Slices of Alice & Other Character Studies” and “Sanity Among the Wildflowers” were published by Cholla Needles Press. She is co-editor of San Pedro River Review (


If you like submitting your poetry, submit (says the Queen of submissions)
If you want to stretch yourself, and you should, try something new.

But most of all, my wish for you all is to never have a week like I did this past week, keep writing, do kind things, and be happy!

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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.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

A review of: Surrender to Night (Georg Trakl)

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A review by David Chorlton of: Surrender to Night, Collected Poems of Georg Trakl, translated by Will Stone

256  pp., $20.00, Pushkin Press, London

As small a country as Austria is today, with its population of fewer than 9 million, it retains a cultural importance inherited from a rich past as the center of a significant empire, and no period was richer than the years approaching its eventual breakup. The end of the 1900s to the First World War was the time of Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, and Oskar Kokoschka, among other visual artists, and in music there were Gustav Mahler and the young Arnold Schoenberg. All important figures, and all tapped into the disturbing and fateful aspects of existence. In poetry, Georg Trakl fit right in with them. In the way we might pick up on a passage in Mahler’s Third Symphony echoing the force and beauty of nature before the hammer blows of ill fortune in his Sixth, we find Trakl frequently shifting from a lyrical moment, as “Oh the red evening hours!” to “Spectres of anguish nestle within.” within the first stanza of Thunderstorm Evening. His observations are generally more florid than this, but the tension between beauty and the anguish that was inescapable for him remains tautly stretched throughout his writing.

Will Stone’s book begins with a Brief Biography and his study of the work, to which I can only add that if you ever visited Salzburg in good weather the beauty of the city and its surrounding landscape will be clear to you. With lakes and mountains and the times of day marked by the sun’s light effects on rock faces, water, and woodland it was an area I always found idyllic. Yet Austrian art and life were (and one could argue have once again become) anything but that. In our age of special effects in movies and violence as everyday as breakfast cereal, we might look to Trakl’s work as the product of a sophisticated culture addressing the dark side and doing it with an aesthetic; one that strains but never breaks. If anyone could imagine violence inside a flower, it was Trakl in his scented, tortured environment. That said, the introduction establishes the mood of his time and prepares the reader for a colorful if painful journey through cocaine, longing, and the outbreak of war. 

Turning to the translations, the undertaking of the whole oeuvre is an accomplishment, but these versions are spoiled by the mechanical approach and the resulting awkwardness in language that fails to deliver the natural qualities of the originals. German always presents word order problems when compared to English language versions. From any language, where lines end in rhymes, a translator has to decide how much to sacrifice natural flow in favor of keeping the rhymes. I think Will Stone made the correct decision in generally not forcing rhymes in English where they exist in the German, and Trakl’s poems often rhyme, though not always. Here is a stanza from Luminous Hour in which the English successfully mirrors the form of the original:

In the pond’s mirror-glass
Golden butterflies are in rapture,
Quietly a dual-backed creature
Stirs in the velvety grass.

The difficulties in Trakl extend beyond the rules, with his expressionist sense of color and the way he expressed feeling through describing landscape. A side-by-side set of originals and translations would have been be useful even to readers who don’t know German, but there may have been economic considerations as the book as it is runs to two hundred pages. The disappointment here lies primarily in the pedestrian tone that emerges in the English, often with archaic sounding phrases such as this one of many instances, from one of Trakl’s better known poems, the beginning of which is reproduced here with my italics:

To Bessie Loos
Truly he loved the sun, as crimson it sank behind the hill,
The woodland paths, the blackbird singing
The joy of the green.
Even arguing in favor of line-by-line precision doesn’t carry weight here as an “And” is missing from the third
line for no apparent reason. Referring to the final poem in the collection, The Sunflowers, we
find the language flowing uncomfortably from Trakl’s lyrical German into a stilted form of English:

Then with kisses grows pale
His dark brow
Amidst those golden
Flowers of melancholy
By silent darkness
The spirit determined.

This stanza isn’t even accurate, as “trunkne” (in the original) does not mean “dark.”

With Trakl it isn’t always easy to find the right bridge connecting mood with meaning. On the whole, that bridge remains elusive in this book, especially as a good deal of Trakl is available in English already and a new version should attempt more than these do. Yes, a translator might take liberties with certain lines but to make the point that it is the overall sense of a passage that counts, rather than the words simply delivered into the new language. When little is done to make poems that sound poetic in English, the suspicion arises that the idea of a Collected Trakl prompted the undertaking, which reads as though rushed through for a deadline.

One needn’t play fast and loose with the material to keep hold of the original qualities, but it does take the willingness to look at multiple, and sometimes provocative, options. Surrender to Night brings the substance of Trakl but little of the style. I shall end by considering this poem and an alternative:

On the Moor

(version 3)

Wayfarer in black wind; softly whispers the withered reed
In the stillness of the moor. Against grey skies
A flight of wild fowl passes;
Cross-wise over dark waters.
Pandemonium. In a derelict hut
On black wings, putrefaction flutters up;
Crippled birches sigh in the wind.
Evening in the deserted inn. The gentle melancholy
Of grazing herds enshrouds the way home,
Apparition of night: toads dive from silvery waters.
                (Will Stone)

I suggest:

Wayfarer in a black wind; the thin reed whispers soft
In the moor’s tranquility. A flock of wild birds
Flies across the grey sky;
Diagonally over gloomy waters.

   Uprising. Decay with black wings
drifts up from a ruined cottage;
Crippled birches groan in the wind.

Evening at the abandoned inn. The gentle sadness
Of grazing herds lines the homeward path,
Appearance of night: toads jump from silvery water.
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