We caught up with Alfa Holden of alfa.poet and covered everything from the childhood hardships that drew her to writing, her creative process, and self-publishing lessons.
If you’ve been in the poetry scene for the past few years or have any form of social media, then it would surprise me if you haven’t crossed paths with a poem signed “- Alfa.” It’s fitting that Alfa was one of the first poets I ever followed on Instagram. Her poetry is unwaveringly brave, honest, and raw. She reminds her readers why being vulnerable takes courage, and why it is so powerful. Throughout this interview, the hope is that you will feel rays of unapologetic strength and talent shining off of Alfa, warming your mind. (That’s what we left the interview reveling in.) She inspires us to lean into our experiences, both euphoric and traumatic, to evolve our writing. Here, Alfa.poet gets real about her journey and finding poetry.
little infinite: You published your first poem online in January of 2015. What was the first moment you knew that poetry was going to be the writing style for you? What sparked it for you?
Alfa Holden: When I was very young I had speech difficulties, so I learned to write early as a child to combat my inability to communicate correctly. I started journaling, and I would scribble down anything that came to mind. I went through years of self-imposed silence and I believe this honed the writing pen of my heart. Later when I found my voice, I still continued to write. Fast forward as life moved along…I got married, had children, and attended college -in that order. I double majored in English and Radiological Sciences. My English professor told me she saw my heart when she read my work. (Something that thrills me today, but I paid no mind to then). Still, I stayed focused on my medical degree. I never did anything public with my writing until I left the medical field in 2015. I started following poetry pages on Facebook and then began my own. One day, I posted a quote from one of my old journals. The next day, another one. It took off. The feedback I received encouraged me to keep posting. I’ve posted on my Facebook writing page every day since January 1, 2015. I don’t think I fully realized until then that my writing style was a form of poetry. I’ve always categorized my work as poetic thoughts or quotes. I kept being asked for a book of my quotes and poems. So I took some of my most loved and well-received writings, and through a lot of trial and error, I self-published Abandoned Breaths in May of 2017. My readers made that book an Amazon bestseller.
“So I took some of my most loved and well-received writings, and through a lot of trial and error, I self-published Abandoned Breaths in May of 2017. My readers made that book an Amazon bestseller.”-Alfa Holden
li: Writing poetry and sharing poetry are two very different things. What made you decide to write AND share your poems? What drew you to sharing your poetry on social media?
AH: I inwardly beat myself into submission before I shared my first poem. I had been around the poetry community long enough to know that critique can be hard and brash and deadly to a spirit. I shared other writers poetry all the time on my poetry page, but I had so much fear about sharing my own work that I deleted the first post 50 times before I finally let it stay up. Yes, I was afraid of being judged by others. Yes, I was terrified someone would ask me “Did you wake up this morning and become a writer?” And they did ask exactly that. But for every person that tried to tear me down, I had ten others lifting me up. I realized that these thoughts I had, these snippets of past pain, were being read by others who had felt this way too. All those times I wrote down how I was feeling and felt utterly alone… I wasn’t. And I wanted others to know they were not alone either. I am so thankful that I did not let the words of a few readers stop me from sharing my writing.
li: You self-published your bestselling book Abandoned Breaths in 2017. What is the most surprising thing you learned throughout the self-publishing process?
AH: That it was actually possible. There were many surprises along the way. Everyone wanted to give me advice, but everyone does things differently. There are steps to publishing, and I had to figure out how to do what traditional publishers do. KDP (formerly CreateSpace) makes it easy for someone to self-publish now, but there were so many variables that a newbie like me was unaware of. I wanted creative control of my book, so I didn’t let CreateSpace create it, only publish it. I knew nothing about book formatting or cover design, or ISBN’s. It took a while for me to get it all sorted out. I’m very proud of the First Edition of Abandoned Breaths. I think, all in all, it turned out beautifully.
AH: Silent Squall is the first chapter of Abandoned Breaths – only expanded. I received so many messages from readers asking how Abandoned Breaths began, so I wanted to expand on how it all started. Silent Squall touches upon domestic abuse and divorce. I have received many letters from other precious souls who are survivors of abuse, and they are thanking me for telling my story.
li: When you’re working through your creative writing process, which step is the most crucial for you? What do you do to beat writer’s block?
AH: If I know I need to write something, but my mind isn’t cooperating, I sit at my desk and free-write on my typewriter. I collect typewriters by the way. I pull one out and just type. It might start with a grocery list, but if I keep going I will write out doctor appointments. And then before long I’ll write out conversations I want to have with the doctors. Then I will think about the waiting room and the people who are sitting there waiting for medical help. Before long I’m imagining what brought them there and what they ate for breakfast that morning… etc. etc. Just start writing or typing. Something magical will happen. You will look down and find out you’re not blocked at all.
“Just start writing or typing. Something magical will happen. You will look down and find out you’re not blocked at all.”-Alfa Holden
li: Is there a unique place you write, or rituals you have to get your creative process flowing?
AH: If I’m not typing for inspiration I am handwriting everything in journals. Before I type one word into a word document I have already written it in longhand in a journal. I have hundreds upon hundreds. They are possibly my most prized possessions. I know some writers who type directly via their laptops, but I have to write everything down first. I imagine the ritual stems from me writing everything I thought or wanted to say, down as a child. I write the entire time I’m sitting in carpool waiting on my son at his school. The time passes by so quickly. I even go early so I have longer to create. He said his class looked out their window one day an hour before school let out and wanted to know why I was there so early. He told them I was writing my next book. Ha!
“I write the entire time I’m sitting in carpool waiting on my son at his school. The time passes by so quickly. I even go early so I have longer to create. He said his class looked out their window one day an hour before school let out and wanted to know why I was there so early. He told them I was writing my next book. Ha!”-Alfa Holden
li: What types of poems do your fans love the most? What are some of the best discussions your poems have prompted among your community?
AH: I have to say I’ve learned over the years that my readers respond more to my darker poetry. The lines that drip heartache and angst vibrate on my Facebook wall. My writings can take on other themes, but the darker they are, it seems to strike a chord within those that have experienced pain to the point that they identify deeply with my words. I think it’s easy for us to write positive and meaningful, uplifting prose. I do that a lot, as I do not want everyone to think I live in a dungeon scribing dark words to bring the world down. I do not. But I do try to touch upon some past heartache, and I know when a writing is felt because my readers are great at giving feedback, I believe this is why my book I Find You in the Darkness has done so well. It contains writings that were very difficult for me to release.
li: How do you stay true to yourself especially now with social media impacting how poetry lovers discover poetry? Does it change the way you approach poetry at all?
AH: I have to keep myself in check. It would be easy to see what other poetry is doing well across the social media platforms and emulate my craft to satisfy the market, but I will never do that. I started out writing MY thoughts out loud, and I think I will always do that. It’s the way I silence the voices that are always asking questions.
li: Your Instagram has cultivated a community of over 100k and a collection of designed poems. From writing to how you layout your poems on Instagram, how have you found your personal style in poetry?
AH: Oh! I feel like I’m still working on my Instagram aesthetic. It’s been 4 years in the making! Some pages on there are so beautiful, and I’ve never been able to find the exact style that I want. Mine is a combination of typed poetry (that I take photographs of ) and pictures I create with photo software. I’ve always tried to keep my account purely professional with no personal photos, but I’m thinking of changing things up this year and sprinkling some personal posts throughout.
li: What are your goals for your poetry this year? Do you have a creative bucket list you’re working toward? What larger impact would you like your art to make?
AH: I have two new poetry releases coming this Fall. I Needed a Viking comes out August 20th, and The Salt in His Kiss comes out October 8th. These two books are based on poems I have previously written and were much loved. I will be doing some book signings this summer across the east coast and down south for the four poetry books I currently have available. On my bucket list is a children’s poetry book I have been working on. I have 3 granddaughters, and this will be my gift to them. I would also like to do my own collection of journals with motivational and inspiring quotes inside. I love paying it forward and I am striving to have more giveaways on my Facebook and Instagram pages this year. I also ‘drop’ books in public places when I’m travelling because I love surprising people with free books. When I receive a message from someone who has found one of my books at a rest area or an airport, it thrills me to no end. They are always so grateful, and they always promise to pay it forward.