The Flapper Press Poetry Café: The Poetry of Elaine Alarcon-Totten
Updated: Sep 2, 2022
By Annie Klier Newcomer:
The Flapper Press Café presents the work of poets from around the globe. This week, we feature the poetry of one of my dear friends and classmates, Elaine Alarcon-Totten!
Elaine’s work has appeared in Solo, Orbis, Spillway, The TOPANGA Messenger, The Canyon Chronicle, The Denver Quarterly, Askew, Flapper Press, and Blue Light Press. She has graduate degrees in Creative Writing from the University of Denver. Born in Maryland, raised in Minnesota, educated in Colorado, and escaped to California, Elaine is happy to live by water in a temperate climate with sweet evening winds.
Orbis is a beautiful global publication out of Great Britain.
(Carole Baldock editor—firstname.lastname@example.org for submissions)
Elaine's poem ("Letter to Harry Clarke") was selected by the Orbis readers as a co-first-prize winner with another member of our Key West Cigar Poetry Workshop, Brooke Herter James.
AN: Elaine, it has been eighteen months since we first met in Billy Collins' Workshop in Key West. I don't think that I have asked you this before, but what brought you to poetry? Why do you write?
E: I’m not sure how it started. I was a liar. When I first learned to write, I read a little story I liked so well in school I copied it out and told my mother that I had written it. "The road unwinds like a spool of thread,” it went. Years later, I really thought I had written it and had it framed. But recently I was thinking about it, how I was too young at the time to be writing figures of speech, so I Googled it and wouldn’t you know—it wasn’t original after all! Then, after reading the Diary of Anne Frank, like a lot of adolescent girls, I started a diary. I began writing poetry at about the same time, silly stuff. I’d hop on my bike and go down to the river at dusk and write some poem. Later, I won a state contest for a poem I wrote about a sunset, seen from the roof of our house. I still like to write about water and sunsets!
Later, I enrolled in a creative writing program at the University of Denver to focus on
poetry, but I soon became frustrated with the form. It seemed too short for the narratives
I wanted to tell. I began writing more fiction after that. Then earning a living intruded,
and all I had time for was poetry, which I could do quickly but I really did not even have
time to work at it seriously. This went on for many years in a horrible cocoon, as I had
no time for anything else but living!
I love all forms of writing (except technical writing!), but poetry interests me because it lends itself to the moment and to nuance. And you can write such nuggets about any topic. Even a flea!
AN: Elaine, what do you hope people will come away with after reading your poems?
E: I hope they will enjoy my work. I hope it will touch them in some way so that they
keep coming back for more.
AN: Elaine, when I heard you read in our workshop in Key West, I knew that I was listening to a poet who possessed magical word powers. I believe that you have the ability to be a significant poet in our time. Thank you for stopping by The Flapper Press Poetry Café!
I wrote this poem for a young woman in my English class. She was always crying in class. I suspected but never had proof that she was being abused. Then the unthinkable happened. She was murdered, along with her brother (also one of my students), her mother, and grandmother. They were all strangled and their home burned. All because her mother was in a feud with another family over the right-of-way of a driveway between their two motels! Fortunately the criminals were caught.
“I was named for tea,” you said
at sixteen and you laughed,
a lark’s fluting,
the wind’s susurration in the banana tree
belying your tears in my classroom.
You said a man was bothering you
and then you denied it
and your best friend denied it too.
“No one is bothering Tulsi,” she said.
Still, you lingered
after class head bowed in sorrow
before skittering away from enormity.
The man your brother? Your father? Your uncle?
Someone else behind that implacable door
you feared to open?
I waited for a thread
to unravel your misery,
to see its warp and weft.
For something to give authorities.
Instead, you stood up,
threw off your toxic mantle
and chirped as you went out the door
for the last time,
“Have a nice weekend, Miss!”
Your words froze my blood
Sunday morning my phone rang:
you, your brother, your mother
and your grandmother
were murdered and your house torched,
while your best friend waited on the computer