Requiem for the Tree Fort I Set on Fire, Tim Tomlinson

Yolanda: An Oral History in Verse by Tim Tomlinson

Each work in Tomlinson’s Yolanda stands like a bare tree in a devastated landscape, starkly beautiful. At once oral history and found poem, Tomlinson’s document retains the shock and numbness of those who survived while whittling their accounts to profound poems of dignity amid the anguish after disaster.

– Robin Hemley, A Field Guide for Immersion Writing: Memoir, Journalism, and Travel

With his unerring eye for detail and ear for rhythms of the spoken and unspoken, Tim Tomlinson orchestrates here a chorus of voices of Yolanda survivors that relive the moment when death looked them in the eye and death blinked. A small epic of human terror and losses, and of the instinct to survive to keep the gift of life alive against the fury and force of an unearthly nature.

– Ricardo de Ungria, Mem’ry Wire

Tomlinson’s Yolanda is a gripping account of a massive yet under-examined natural disaster in the Philippines, told through a series of voices from the frontlines of the superstorm. Here are awe, horror, heroism, sacrifice, survival — conveyed with the unflinching immediacy, vitality and humanity that only the best poetry can impart. It’s a heartbreaking read, but an essential one.

– Alvin Pang, When the Barbarians Arrive

In Yolanda, the reader lands in the eye of the storm, then is pulled even closer into the grit, the grief, the very hearts of Super-Typhoon Yolanda’s survivors. In twenty-seven poems fashioned from first person accounts, Tomlinson salvages from the dark wreckage, then polishes to a fierce shine as only a poet can, these narratives of courage, faith, the goodness of strangers, the bonds of family and friendship, and ultimately, the defiant hope of the Filipino people. As William Carlos Williams has said, “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack /of what is found there.” Read this book: tread the deep waters, cry out, sing with the voices, grasp a hand, and live.

– Angela Narciso Torres, Blood Orange

The Portable MFA in Creative Writing


How do you get plot into a story? Easy: create a routine, then disrupt it.

1. Every morning for ten years, Jim Dorsey ran through his well-manicured suburban neighborhood for exactly six miles. One morning, closing in on mile five, something in the area of his ankle snapped …

2. Betty Indick never saw her mother in midtown, until one afternoon, on her lunch break, there her mother was, looking into the windows of boutiques.

3. Joan Comfort hadn’t had a drink in five years. Then, one night, she met an intriguing man with a tempting bottle of [name your poison].

In the three examples, a routine is established in line one, or clause one, and then it is interrupted. What does routine-disruption do for the plot? It creates it. It makes the protagonist struggle to restore the order that’s been disrupted, or it makes the protagonist accept that the order can never be restored. It makes the protagonist make choices and take actions and the actions characters take define them.

Example #1 John Cheever’s “O Youth and Beauty.” Example #2 Edwidge Danticat’s “New York Day Women.” Example #3 Kate Braverman’s “Tall Tales from the Mekong Delta.”