Friday, August 23, 2019

Tobi Alfier - Something New, Something Borrowed

Last week was about digging out your oldest writing and giving it a facelift. Now let’s talk about trying new things, and borrowing. Here are some examples.


1.                  Borrow some books to read:

For those of you who live in the Joshua Tree area, do you know that Cholla Needles Publisher, Rich Soos, has a library of over 500 physical books, and close to 1200 ebooks? He just added Thomas Merton’s Collected Poetry purchased from Space Cowboy Books. David Chorlton just donated some books of his own writing and also some books by Galway Kinnell. I know Rich has books of mine too.

Getting into the library is easy. Just email Rich and tell him when you’d like to come. You can then browse to your heart’s content (Heart’s Content was the name of my hot air balloon back in 1980—a good omen!).

If you want to borrow something, you just make a note of it on the “Borrowed Book” list. He’ll cross it off when you return it. To quote Jeff…”done and dusted!”

Borrowing books will do a couple of things besides the obvious saving of money and not needing a library card:

First, it will acquaint you with authors you’ve maybe never read. This may give you ideas about what who you’d like to read next, and

second, don’t laugh. It’s almost September. Pretty soon it’s going to be Halloween, then Thanksgiving, and then whatever holiday you celebrate that includes giving gifts. You may want to start making your list now so you can start saving. Browsing, and borrowing from the library could help give you ideas for your list!

As a writer, how can wandering around among all those books NOT get your juices flowing?

2.                  Try a new form:

In the last six months I’ve read two or three poems that claimed to be Ghazals. I couldn’t write a Ghazal if you bribed me with bacon, but I know for sure those poems weren’t Ghazals. A beautiful one that Jeff and I did see, and publish, was written by Ricki Mandeville, a lovely poet and editor, author of A Thin Strand of Lights:

Rain Ghazal  
   Ricki Mandeville

At the station, I open my umbrella against the rain.
I tossed all night beneath a roof made of rain.

Standing motionless amid motion, I wait.
Your train pulls in on tracks made of rain.

You step down in your hat and city shoes.
Your gray coat matches perfectly a sky made of rain.

You see my lifted hand and turn my way.
Your stride is careless, your eyes made of rain.

I have been asleep between this moment and our last.
Conjure a Sleeping Beauty kiss made of rain.

All my recollections awaken, wear your face.
They run together as though made of rain.

I remember summers, falls and winter winds.
I remember long green springs made of rain.

With a thumb, stroke the salt from my cheek.
Remind me that your promises are made of rain.

(Previously published in San Pedro River Review)


You’ll notice the repetition at the end of the second line in each couplet. And the traditional form includes some rhyming. That’s all I know about Ghazals. If this sounds like a neat thing to try, google the form and you’ll learn more from that. Do the same with any other form that interests you. Even Haiku aren’t just 5-7-5 anymore!

3.                  Re-read some writers in your old contributor copies:

Not everyone has a library like Rich, but if you’re a submitting writer, hopefully you’ve kept your old contributor copies. Go back through them and read some of the other writers. You may read some flash fiction or prose poetry and decide to try one of those forms. If there’s an author whose work you really like, check out their bio. It may give you ideas for new places to submit.

4.                  While looking through your bookcase:

I don’t know if you have any books on writing, but it’s not the worst thing to revisit them from time to time. I have two go-to books, TheTriggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing Reissue Edition by Richard Hugo, and Ron Carlson Writes a Story by Ron Carlson. Those are the two that work for me (both available from the Cholla Needles Library). I have other books on writing and they’re very good. If you have some, and you like them, re-visit them. You will be reminded of something you’ve forgotten; your writing will be better for it.

5.                  What am I going to do?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Mexican opals. That’s my clue that I have either a Southwest poem in my head, or any decasyllabic poem. That’s a form I borrowed /learned from Jeff. I love the pacing of ten-syllable lines. Whether I’m writing about the bruised desert sky, or an almswoman in Poland, I’m not going to be satisfied until I write it.

Flight to Paso Robles

Wind arbitrates which runway is active.
The pilot reports the field is in sight
and banks his Cessna to final approach.
Condors corkscrew down and flank his descent –
those dour, airborne mongrels that have brought down
fighter jets, flak-riddled or bomb-laden,
in some faraway thick and weary air.
To condors, crossed asphalt runways are dark
brothers of their own lumbering wingspans.
They hover for snakes or rabbits they hope
have run shit-out of luck, crushed to fine meals
worthy of any carrion-monger
whose blunt claws, and blunter mind, go heedless
of men who trust in gauges, or blind luck
to grant them a flawless three-point landing,
a soft glide, that easy shudder of wings.

(previously published in San Pedro River Review, special Walt McDonald issue)


What are you going to do?



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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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