Friday, February 7, 2020

Tobi Alfier - Writing Anything

Writing Anything

Even though I’m an editor, note that our submission window for The San Pedro River Review just closed. So this blog post is not just for submitting poets. I'm winding down, and after reading three thousand plus submissions, many things jumped out at me that I’d like to pass along.

First though, these are just my opinions. Rich, who reads just as many poems in order to put out a beautiful monthly journal has his own opinions. Likewise, so does every other editor in the world.

Whether you are a submitting poet, or write just for your own enjoyment, some of this will apply to you. Let’s go…

  1. Even if someone suggests a journal “that’s perfect for you”, read the guidelines. They may not remember to tell you the press reads blind, or there’s a theme, or send one attachment and no more than four poems. They may not know the window is already closed.  You need to know about those things, and using their name in your cover letter will do nothing (although, editors like if you mention something about a poem you read in the last issue, or a person who recommended them).

  1. Some guidelines have gotten crazy lately, particularly if a journal uses Submittable. Sometimes you have to log in to Submittable, and click the down arrow for “more” to find information that should be on the website, but isn’t. Important information that will cause your submission to be ignored if you don’t follow the instructions. This irritates me like nobody’s business; at least once a week either Jeff or I will miss something because we only read the website. Have your private eye goggles on and look for everything!!   (kwik note from Rich: rest assured Cholla Needles will NEVER join submittable, or any other silly organization of that ilk).

  1. The two things I say the most often when reading poems we’re not going to accept are “No more first-person poems”, and “This isn’t a poem, it’s a story”. Let’s talk about these two comments; they have an effect on everyone who writes poetry.

No more first –person poems:

I don’t really mean that. I love first-person poems, if that’s the appropriate narrator for the poem. But “I was lying in bed, listening to my husband snore” is like “I was sitting at the bus stop waiting for the number 93 bus”. It may be the way you have to get yourself into a poem, but it should not be the first line. Neither is anything about taking your dog for a walk, or that you were looking out any window. Also, even if the narrator is first person, the poems don’t have to be true. Consider the following poem:

Good Girl’s Escape

Let me tell you something:
I got a mason jar of Everclear
propped between my knees,
Annie Lennox blasting on the radio,
and I’m parked up on a hill, scenic
viewpoint of nothin’ but a ferris wheel
in the valley below, clouds teasing
across the moon above, a blanket
wrapped around my shoulders
and all the strength of no one
I ever loved in my heart.

Sweet dreams are made of this.
I smoke my last cigarette, flick
it miles out into the dirt, rummage
around to find the memoir of who
I should have been, read a few pages
by the light of the cell phone…
I got nothing owed to no one,
nobody waitin’ home for dinner
crying over the spilled milk
of me bein’ gone. For an hour,
for a day, for nineteen sunrises
and sunsets, it just don’t matter.

Mail piled up inside the door,
not leavin’ a clue for anyone that I’m
on a mission to find out what that label
of Johnny Walker ain’t tellin’. I’m
warm-souled but no fool.
I watch the ferris wheel seats rock
up top, some empty as my bed,
and others—who know whose paths
are crossing tonight and who cares.
I am the butterfly crossing paths
with this nighttime desert breeze,
and that’s all you need to know.

(Formerly published in Picaroon Poetry Journal)

Was this me? Well it could have been, about a hundred thousand years ago. Maybe yes. Maybe no. But it couldn’t have any other narrator. I tried it all ways and this was best.

Your husband (or wife) snoring is not poetic. Endearing maybe, or irritating, but that’s it. It’s not poetic. Write yourself into the poem, then lose that line for the next time you need it.

We’ll talk about “This isn’t a poem, it’s a story” next week. Please don’t get defensive about it ahead of time. These are opinions. Things to think about and hopefully help make you a stronger writer, whether you agree or not.


Have a great week. Enjoy the beautiful scenery. Be safe, write well, and turn on your side when you sleep so you don’t snore and become a poem! xo

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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. Great ideas from such a profound poet. Take it easy on yourself! No one is mad at you that reads your poetry. Slices of Alice, or everyone who you choose to point your pen at with such artistry, are lucky while knowing that you are unique, talented and wonderful.

    1. Thank you so much. I hope that's still true after next week's post. But different opinions are always allowed :-) Thank you so much for reading the post, and thank you for liking my poetry. Bless you xo


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