Saturday, April 25, 2020

The Tobi Alfier Stream of Consciousness Challenge


Dictionary.com defines “Stream of Consciousness” as “a literary style in which a character's thoughts, feelings, and reactions are depicted in a continuous flow uninterrupted by objective description or conventional dialogue.” Dorothy Richardson was the first writer credited with the genre by May Sinclair in 1918. (Click here to download the first stream of consciousness novel,  Pointed Roofs for free till May 9, 2020). James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Marcel Proust are among its notable disciples. I don’t mean that. 

I mean think, feel, and react in a continuous flow, but then figure out how to write about it sensibly. “Shelter in place” issues are down the post a bit.

Tuesday night, lucky me, I had insomnia from 2:21am until after 5:00am. It would’ve been mean to wake up Jeff to chat, although I did try to stare him awake. The reading light is on the other side of the bed from me. Nothing was recorded on TV. I was stuck with myself.

The list below is where my mind went when it had nothing else to do. For anyone who’s heard any of these stories before, my apologies.

*It’s almost the end of April

*National Poetry Month is almost over

*I’ve only written four poems this month, the worst April ever. I hardly made any submissions and got mostly rejections.

*In April of ‘98, my favorite aunt and I took her daughter to Paris. Years earlier we had promised we’d take her when she turned 16. All of a sudden she was 16. I’d just turned 18 weeks pregnant.

Outdoor Shower built by Angela Mia Torres
*We went to museums and ice cream stores, but also spent hours in shopping malls looking for a particular pair of platform tennis shoes for my cousin. We finally found them, and I spent a good deal of time clunking around our room wearing them, and nothing else. I have no idea why.

Let me mention that I also got to this same point starting with the gorgeous photograph Susan Rukeyser posted on Facebook, which included an outdoor shower as well as lovely scenery, but to quote Robert Frost, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by”.

Back to Paris…

*We stayed at the Hotel des Grandes Ecoles, me clomping around naked in platforms, my aunt and cousin alternately laughing at me and planning our next meal that I was too queasy to eat.

*Once home and I really began showing, I took a profile picture in just underwear, my big belly showing, which led me to…

*I can’t sew.

*In junior high I was practically forcefully escorted out of home ec, where the one dress I made had the armholes over my boobs, into a drafting class. That is how I became the first girl allowed in drafting.

*Every week we had to practice and practice, and turn in lettering charts. This memory led me to:

What We Don’t Know About Jonah

Each morning Jonah packs
templates and paints in thoughtful
order in the bed of his grandfather’s
old truck, a daily memory of tough
but loving –

He drives at slow pace through
neighborhoods where curbs were
bruised by swollen waters and roughened
sticks, house numbers no longer visible,
not even in the broadest brush of sun.

For 10, 15, maybe 20 dollars he will
paint a numbered masterpiece on the naked
curb for residents who forget his name
the second they close the door, turning back
to lovers or laundry, whatever people
do in middle day when they’re at home.

Jonah is an excellent draftsman.
Born to be outdoors, he had learned
a skill to serve him well, turning
in the 4x6 cards filled with alphabets
and numbers each Friday at school.
He’d practiced his lettering week
after week, the concentration blocking
out his parents shouting in the kitchen,
his little sister playing dolls by his feet
to keep her from toddling into the war zone.

Nothing as satisfying as a daily routine:
flip through the mail, unload pockets
of crumpled bills and order them
in the same careful way he packs
his paints, grab a $20, put his brushes
to soak and head on down to Wiley’s place,
a beer always waiting, a woman
always curious and loving his paint
splattered clothes, a real artist to make
her feel beautiful after an ordinary day,
to go outside with her, watch the neighbor’s
lights coming on in the windows.

I’ve written many poems set in Paris. I’ll always write poems set there.

If I’d taken the other road there are even more poems waiting to blossom. And that is my challenge for you!!!

Love & Light by Susan Abbott
The elephant in the roomno, it’s not pregnant naked Tobi, it’s the damned pandemic. As a writer, with all the respect in the world, I’m sure you feel like I do: a responsibility toward writing about it. If you’re a submitting writer, you want your work published as well.

Right now we are still in the throes of it, have no history or context, and don’t know how it will end. We need to seek out the anthologies and journals currently publishing about it, and there are a ton of them. You may FEEL like Wilfred Owen writing about WWI while smack in the middle of it, but his poems today are read with time and history between then and now. They were probably received very differently back when written. We have to be conscious of that.

It’s the responsibility of journal editors to maintain the aesthetics of their journals, regardless of what’s going on in the world. They can’t sacrifice craft for opinion, and neither should we. So write your pandemic work, but send it to the appropriate places, probably anthologies.

My challenge?

Amor Fati, Mandala of embracing destiny by Susan Abbott
Write your stream of consciousness, insomnia work. Send it to the appropriate journals, whatever you write. Look at the blooms of springtime flowers against a pure azure sky, the outdoor shower, Susan Abbott’s bright drawings, some like Tarot meets Torah, some like the sun; all the memories they conjure up and land at your feet. Don’t feel guilty about anything you write that isn’t about the pandemic. We are allowed to write about beauty.

p.s. There’s not enough money in the world for me to send Rich the naked pregnant picture of me, even though I think everyone at the car dealership saw it when it was in my glove compartment for some God unknown reason. 

Be safe. Have a good week. Write well, whatever you write about. Write it to last. xo

- - - -


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.


2 comments:

  1. Sorry mom, that picture does not exist. Use your imagination.

    ReplyDelete