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The BTS Interview: Tobi Alfier

poetry magazine, interview, Tobi Alfier

BTS: I noticed that rust seems to be a "thing" with you, at least in your poems. I recently wrote a poem about the smell of chrome and there was a bit of rust in it, but you wrote a whole collection titled Romance and Rust. What gives?

Tobi Alfier: I could say that rust is a way to tell time without saying “days later” and other phrases that I personally don’t appreciate. It shows age, the same way a red car oxidizes in the burning sun. Rust allows a poem, and a person, to move forward in their lives, sometimes gracefully, sometimes less so. But truly? Jeff loves old cars. He loves trains, the desert, cracked pavement and rust. Those have become my loves as well. I want to be clear that we do not write the same way though. For example, I love train cars that smell like old pennies and have graffiti up one side and down the other. He hates graffiti. He may write about the Union Pacific chasing a fiery sunset in Arizona. I write about the sound of the wheels thudding on the tracks as it goes over a trellis high above a river the color of dirt. “Romance and Rust” was made as a celebration of our marriage. It was my first book published with Jeff’s name. The cover is one of Jeff’s beloved old cars. The poems are new and selected romantic, but not mushy. The bio has a picture of us both and it’s not a “standard” bio. It’s very special to me, but as in all things writing, it has an ISBN and is available on Amazon. I’m proud of it.

BTS: I read the Color of Ashes, set in a port city in Japan. Have you spent much time in Japan and the Far East? If so, what effect has it had on your writing?

Tobi Alfier: Actually, “The Color of Ashes” was really written about San Pedro. Not the San Pedro of San Pedro River Review, but the San Pedro, Long Beach, Terminal Island area of California. Gravel Magazine published it with a gorgeous picture of Mt. Fuji – that worked fine for me but that was their artistic choice. I have not spent any time in Japan and the Far East. If given the choice, I’d go the other direction (France, Spain, Greece and so forth).BTS: I noticed there almost seems to be a theme of emptiness internal as well as physical emptiness in a lot of your poetry. Is that a fair statement? If so, where do you think it comes from?

Tobi Alfier: I suppose the obvious answer is I have some mobility issues and that must account for the physical emptiness, but I refuse to accept that. I have been told that my poetry is a lot about “food, loss and failing bodies”. Over the years I have included “sex, music and doors”. I think a lot about redemption, and a lot about grace and mercy. Maybe that translates into internal emptiness, I don’t know. Maybe that’s why I can’t get through a reading without crying, because the emptiness is so sad. At the same time, an editor friend said I write the best love poems he’s read this century. My reply was “I don’t write love poems”.

Maybe they are, and the internal emptiness is like the yellow-flowered wallpaper peeling in the kitchen where a cup of coffee is getting cold at the only place set for breakfast. Who knows where that coffee drinker is? Where’s the rest of the family? Whoever they are, they appreciate the beauty of the wallpaper, even though it’s peeling. I really don’t know. Maybe I subconsciously include emptiness to give the reader room to fill it up, to allow the reader to become invested in my poems. I’m not smart enough to think about that on purpose, but maybe that’s why. “Dear reader, please help me fill my poems with your beauty”.

BTS: I would be remiss if I didn't ask" the San Pedro River Review publishes a spring and a fall issue with an occasional special, correct? What are you looking for as far as submissions?

Tobi Alfier: Our spring issues are themed, and our fall issues are unthemed. The theme for spring, 2017 is “Backroads and Byways”. Our website ( has very clear guidelines, so I would recommend that anyone interested in submitting should take a look. Because Jeff and I don’t write the same, we see different things in the submissions. We always agree on the poems we take, but the issues are beautifully well-rounded, in my opinion, because of our differences. One thing we do, that many journals don’t, is we accept previously published work. If we love it, we want it. Why should a gorgeous poem only get to have one life? We give full credit to the prior journal, we are happy to do so. We do have an occasional third issue. We have had one contest and are planning another in a year or so. We occasionally have a Feature Poet – their name and picture are on the cover, we publish eight to ten poems as opposed to one or two. Coming up we are having a special interview…because we are the only two publishers and editors, we are not beholden to anyone, and we want the journal to grow.  SPRR is published by Blue Horse Press. The press also publishes chapbooks and full length collections of poets we love. But we can leave that for the next interview....

poetry magazine, interview, Tobi Alfier
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