Sunday, May 19, 2019

Book Review: Sanity Among the Wildflowers by Tobi Alfier

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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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