Friday, March 20, 2020

Tobi Alfier - Last Week’s Promise

Already last week seems like a year ago. Things have changed fast - for all of us. I’m aware of everything going on around us, and so are you. I’m going to leave this blog as it always is—about writing. There’s plenty of other information elsewhere.

Last week I said “Stay tuned next week, when I introduce you to a man who writes mostly fiction, but just came out with his first book of poetry in years, is a voracious reader, and a huge inspiration to both Jeff and I.”

On that note, I’d like to introduce you to Frank Reardon. Frank is a Facebook friend as well as a personal inspiration. Jeff and Rich are my trusted readers. Frank is Jeff’s trusted book critic. He’s my trusted poetry and fiction inspiration.

Frank Reardon
Jeff says “What attracts me to Frank’s literary interests is his appreciation for well-written gritty stories, not simply excellent story-telling by the authors, but the poetic strength of their writing that gives me a redoubled appreciation for the novels Frank recommends. When he posts a book recommendation on Facebook, I almost always check the book out myself and see if I can read a few paragraphs online with the Amazon reader feature.”

Needless to say, we have a lot of poetry and fiction in our house. I’m sure all delivery services have our address on “replay”…Every time we open the door there’s a bunch of “stuff”. Just the way we like it.

More info
Frank is a 99% fiction writer, but every once in awhile the extra 1% sneaks in. He just published his first book of poetry in years, “Loud Love on the Sevens and Elevens.” 76 pages of working-class poetry, dedicated to “those of you who punch the clock, work the line, and roll the dice.”  Full disclosure, this book was published by Blue Horse Press, i.e., Jeff and I. But Jeff doesn’t just publish books for friends, just like Rich doesn’t; these poems are stunning gut-punches of poems. And God bless these people, who may not be working at all in these troubled times.

Something about the way Frank writes and writes about his own jobs inspires me to write poetry and fiction over and over. I’ve talked about this before—how I’ll be smack in the middle of reading something and I have to put it down and go write? I don’t question it. I’m grateful for the inspiration!

One of my butcher-inspired poems played a huge part in my "Landlady" series, and therefore in “Slices of Alice & Other CharacterStudies” published by Cholla Needles Press.

Landlady #1

It’s a particular shade of pink
carbon dated with years
of stale coffee and cigarette smoke.
It’s a pink that invites shuffling,
television in the background
and old ledgers on the plastic-covered
kitchen table.

Somewhere in the blue sequins
of the flickering across her eyes
she hates her reduction to light bulbs
and plungers, and “you’re two
days late, when am I going
to get my check?”  It sounds
like the old days.

It sounds like women she hears
on the bus, and she was one
of them once. Christ,
three kids and a cell phone
but no money for milk.
The butcher saves bones
for her watery soup. How does
a life become so small?

23 one-bedrooms stacked
like empty blocks and hers,
number 24, vacant
as a ghost ship in moonlight.
Nothing but the crossword
and furled calendar
to keep her counsel, her hands
dusted with time and words.

(previously published in Loch Raven Review)

It may seem the butcher played a small part in this, but actually, it melded right into stories my grandmother told me about her life after my grandfather passed. We all know there’s at least a tiny bit of truth in most poetry—this is a perfect example.

I’ll spare you my completely made-up 960- word piece of short fiction about a butcher whose girlfriend was a vegetarian. That piece I 100% could NOT have written without Frank’s inspiration.

Trusted readers are people who help us with our own work. This could include suggestions about all kinds of things, from title changes, to words that are just stepping on the verge of being clichés, to dropping that last stanza—the one you had to write but shouldn’t publish. Trusted readers don’t have to write like we do, they just have to have good eyes, and not be offended when we only take 80% of their suggestions. But anything they point out is probably a place you need to consider. Either re-write it, drop-kick it, or leave it as is. It’s your work.

Trusted critics are like human versions of the Amazon reviews I’m always reminding you to write. If you have similar tastes in words, music, movies and beloved Amazon crime dramas, they are a goldmine of helpful information. They are a walking “wishlist”. Treasure them.

Trusted inspirations? I personally can’t explain what triggers me, but I’m so thankful that I have those people and those moments in my life. I hope you do too.

Dear Readers, things I’ve learned from Facebook posts this week are along with everything else, make sure you have enough coffee, kitty litter, and enough chocolate. The jury’s out on Spam. My mom says to rinse your mouth several times a day with an antibacterial wash, and yes, gin counts.

Take good care. Be safe and write well. Artists—make sure you have tons of supplies. If you’re going to participate in any online open mics, practice reading out loud. Look up, and as FrancEye once told me, “E-nunc-i-ate!” 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.

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