Friday, August 30, 2019

Tobi Alfier - Sometimes Blue is Just Blue

There are 342 ways to say drunk, drinking, hammered, hung over, etc. on pages 221 – 224 of “Another Bullshit Night in Suck City” by NickFlynn. There are probably the same number of ways to describe the color blue as well.

Take a quick look at Google. The color of the water around Inishbofin in Ireland, is different than the color of the ocean looking out from Santorini, Greece. Both are different than the color of Louisiana bayous, and the caramelized sludge along the banks of the Mississippi.

Whether it’s water, sky, or anything else, be careful with the color blue. Your writing needs to be authentic and believable. It shouldn’t sound like someone needs to take your thesaurus away. Sometimes blue is just blue.

She was Always in Blue

She was always in blue,
in his dreams, late most every night
and toward morning, as shadows
tucked his room back into nightfall.

She was always in blue, while out on the street,
the slow downshift of an ancient
station wagon, as a mother ran
the paper route before dropping her kids

off at school. She was always in blue,
in his dreams, as the lowering moon
returned the early hours to dark
and he rolled over for one more hour.

They could be anywhere, together or apart,
she’d unlimber a quiet smile as she gestured—
something would break deep within him,
make a place to fill his heart

with her breathing. She was always in blue,
the color of sea there was no name for.
His waking eyes flickered like startled sparrows,
like rain, touching him everywhere at once.

(Previously published in Comstock Review)

When to use a thesaurus:

Of course if you lose a word, try and find it right away. I read an article with Jane Hirshfield in Poets & Writers. She said she loses words a lot. I lose words a lot. I know they’ll come back but it drives me nuts. Usually I yell “I need a word” from my office, but if no one’s home I go right to the thesaurus.

A day or so after you’ve finished a poem, you’ve slept on it and still respect it, and your trusted reader has approved it, look at it again. Now is when you’ll find the same words too close to each other (that both you and your reader missed), or words that seem too “common”. Neither is a bad thing; you might just prefer not to have duplicates one line away. In the poem above, I wanted “She was always in blue” to be duplicated, but if that is not your intention, now is when you want to see if you have other choices.

click here
I have two at my fingertips at all times. One is a gigantic print thesaurus, and one is The print book is more complete but the font is so small, sometimes I don’t want to use it.

Whatever you use, you can look up the duplicate word and just pick another word you like, or you can do a trick I learned from Jack Grapes:

Say you have used the word “angry”, two lines apart, with regard to the sky (angry stormy sky). First of all, the “duplicate police” are not going to come arrest you. I just prefer not to duplicate words unless they’re part of a form, or intentional.

Look up “angry” in the thesaurus. Oooh, “enraged” seems pretty cool…”enraged stormy sky”.

Now look up “enraged”. “Boiling” and “fuming” are both good. You might need to change the sentence a bit, but “a sky boiling with rage” is a great sentence.

Look up “boiling”. Anything you like better? No. Look up “fuming”. Anything you like better?  Not really. Now all you need to decide is where you want to put your original “angry stormy sky”, where you want to put “a sky boiling with rage”, or whether you even want to keep both of them. You may decide to rewrite that whole stanza.

Jack’s point, and one I always follow, is don’t stop at the first word you find in the thesaurus, keep going, and keep going. You will end up with a word you never thought of, that will make your work surprising, and stronger.

But as I said above, don’t use it too much. You don’t want your writing to sound like the “Synonyms” category in Jeopardy. Believe me, it is very obvious.

Now we have come to the end of our “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” quartet of blog posts. No, I did not have marriage on my mind. I just thought it would be a fun way to usher out summer. If you have any comments, or any ideas for future blog posts, please write them below. Rich and I both read them.

Good reading. Good writing. Have a safe Labor Day!!!

- - - -

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. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Sorry about the deleted comment. I love your blue poem, Tobi. I was trying to share that Truth Serum Press in Australia will be accepting submissions for Blue Poems (Indigomania) at the beginning of October. Just google Truth Serum Indigomania.

    1. Ooooh, that sound so cool!!! I'll see if they take previously published work. Thank you so much!!

      My mother changed my Google account to her, but this is coming from Tobi. I've got to get her to change it back, sorry.

  3. Tobi, great write up about building parts of poems using synonyms. I do what you described a LOT. Sukie, you reminded me about seeing some live indigo plants while touring a plantation a few years ago in New Orleans. Thanks for your blue submission call!

    1. Thank you so much Denise. Good luck with Indigomania. Please keep us posted. Tobi

  4. Thank your for the tip on Sometimes the print in my book is too small for me too.

    1. You're welcome. I used it today as a matter of fact!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.