Saturday, June 8, 2019

Tobi Alfier - Preheat Oven to 350…

I don’t know about you, but I am tired this week! Not tired of writing this blog, not tired of writing at all, just T-I-R-E-D!!!

A great thing happened this week though – our son Owen is home from college for about a month. And he loves to cook. Instead of thinking about the one very bad poem I’ve written, and whether it can be saved, I’ve been thinking about what he made for dinner last night and how delicious it was.

You know baking is like writing a poem in form. You have to be a chemist when measuring accurately, just as you have to stay true to a form (someday I’ll tell you about the time I used a half POUND of butter when making cookies, instead of a half CUP). Cooking however…Owen isn’t just the free verse of cooking, he’s the thesaurus! He couldn’t find lemons at the store so he got a blood orange instead. I would never think of that, and I cannot WAIT till lunch because I know we have leftovers.

Kate Braverman
Many years ago, a fiction-writing friend of mine and I took a weekend extension class taught by Kate Braverman. We had previously seen her on a panel at the LA Times Festival of Books. One of the cool things she talked about was writing poetry like a recipe. Start the title “How to” and then be as literal as you want.

You can “list” all the ingredients in the beginning lines of the poem and then explain how they all fit together in subsequent stanzas, or do anything you want. I really liked the idea, and the “permission” to do something different. Between Owen and Kate Braverman, I have a cookbook full of things to try.

How to Travel Forever

Have conversations with people you see
and those you imagine.  Position yourself
so the light bounces off the man’s glasses
and opens worlds back to you.  Wear clothes
that make everyone you pass shadow you,
hours later they’re still whispering about them.
When you appear in a dream you have tallied
the signposts, traveled far.  Eat cinnamon,
it will ooze from your skin like cookies.
Worry the Metro ticket in your palm.  In
your pocket.  Remember how you came up
the steps into the light, stood at a bar
and had coffee, the branches outside
stirring a soft orchestration upon your face.
Listen to old music, touch his hand.
The sum of you greater than each of you
unmatched, expand into the sky.

            (formerly published in Bacopa)

I only have about five “recipe poems”. I like them all. They’ve all been published. I forgot I had this arrow in my quiver until I started thinking about last night’s dinner. Thank you Owen.

It is good to have something to fall back on when you’re kind of “stuck”. I started writing my “Landlady” poems on purpose. I wanted to write a series on landladies. If that hadn’t been a conscious effort, whenever I had nothing to write, I could have written a landlady poem. If you have a copy of my book “Slices of Alice & Other Character Studies”, you’ll see the entire series of landlady poems, all in the same place.

One subject I write about often is “The Man”. He’s not always the same person. Sometimes he’s a real person, sometimes not. They’re fun to write because since he’s made up, I can give him all sorts of characteristics. He can be anything. He can do anything.

“The Man” turns up from book to book. Because he’s not a series per se, I write him whenever I feel like it. Lately I’ve been writing poems about “The Blind Woman”. I love the idea of her reading her lover’s face with her fingertips, or remembering a color. Again, she is not a series, not like the landladies or the twenty-one page Slices of Alice. She is a person I write about sometimes. And she will follow me from book to book as well.

Think about your body of work. Does every single poem stand alone? Do you ever wish you had written it differently? Or added more to it? What about writing a “Part Two” of that poem? And then a “Part Three”? Before you know it, you will either have a series that you can publish all together, or a subject you can write about when you feel like it.

Like the idea of the “recipes”, anything you have in your arsenal, that will give you something to write about when nothing new is coming, is a good thing. Anything that “gives you permission” to touch back on work you love, to make new work you love, is also a good thing.

Give yourself permission. Now go write!!

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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. Your words are like branches that invigorate my face, and make me feel like sitting down and writing!

    1. Thank you so much! I answered this earlier but it didn't take. I hope you had time to write, it's really awesome that you felt that way. xo

  2. I love this Recipe and will keep it in my hip pocket for days when poetry seems to have left town, run off with the gas meter guy or gal, live in the woods with foxes and no Fox News. (Who can blame her?!?)
    Thanks, Tobi! Maia

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Maia,I removed my comment with the typo. You are so welcome. Thank you for your kind words!!! xoxo

  3. If I started writing about food or cooking, I fear I would write about nothing else. Heh. Nice blog entry, Tobi.

  4. Thank you James! People said I used to write about "food, loss, and failing bodies" but I don't remember writing about food at all!! Do you know the current theme of Pirene's Fountain is food? See? I have nothing, but you should submit if you can. Do I remember you made a gorgeous paella? You posted a picture of something like that. Ooooh, that could be a wonderful love poem!! Thank you for reading my blog post!!!


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