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.


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