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Why Poets Make The Best Cooks

alphabet soup kids pastaIn January, I set what I considered a very realistic goal of one blog post per week. I have been slacking in recent weeks, due to added work…

Like many, I picked the blog format for its aspect of community that encourages lots of active writing and reading, an exchange of ideas, a way for me to overcome the impulse to constantly revise and post something regularly. It’s also cool (and a little scary) that the blog format allows so much transparency about the writing process, allowing you to see your and others’ thought process unfold over time.

What I read about “how to blog” has to do with frequent posts of limited length, emphasizing the social nature of blogging. I know that all writing is a social endeavor. In teaching, the social aspect of publishing, reading, and peer editing is seen as highly effective way to motivate students. But if writing in the traditional sense is inherently social, the blogosphere is like a cocktail party full of highly caffeinated people. When I look at people’s “blogrolls” I think, wow, this is incredible! And my enthusiasm is tempered by a desire to shut off my computer and pluck an actual book off the shelf.

One such book is called Not For Bread Alone: Writers on Food, Wine, and the Art of Eating. I typically have lukewarm feelings at best toward “food writing.” Excuse me for sounding elitist, but it often seems like cheat writing. (Which may seem ironic, considering the culinary and literary emphasis of this blog, but to me they occupy separate camps.) Or at least I personally want to sink my teeth into something beautiful and cathartic if I’m going to read a book. Likewise, I’d rather experience food firsthand 🙂

In this book, Joyce Carol Oates writes a provocative and impressively unsentimental food essay called “Food Mysteries” in which she articulates food impressions and memories that point to the kind of sly, penetrating truths at the heart of her short stories and novels. One such “food mystery” is that

“For the writer, the writing offered to other people is a kind of food. Thus the writer’s peculiar vulnerability, risking rebuff, misunderstanding. What nourishment! some may exclaim. What garbage! others may exclaim.

Which is why, for sheer delight, writers turn to real food. Poets make the best cooks. Prose writers, the most appreciate friends of poets.”

Even for the half-hearted, trepid writer in me, real food has indeed been a source of sheer delight in these past few weeks of procrastination. In my preoccupation with other work, I’ve happily neglected writing to turn out herb baked eggs, sautéed kale flavored with mushrooms, onions, and cranberries, mini pies, a large, quickly consumed casserole dish of homemade mac and cheese…

However, I am resolutely abandoning my excuses, putting a hold on popping things out of the oven to recommit to that other kind of nourishment, the self-discovery and clarity of mind that comes from writing. I am still trying to figure out what I am writing about exactly, how to integrate writing into my life, whether it is worth doing… you get the idea.

In challenging myself to answer these questions, I’ve come to the conclusion that “doing what you love” is an overused, misunderstood phrase. Do I love cooking? Yes, given the amount of time I can spend making mini pies or chopping vegetables. Do I love writing? No. I wouldn’t call it love. But I feel compelled to do it, and this tells me that I need to stick with it. It’s a mysterious thing, figuring out what we want, questioning ourselves and managing our time accordingly. In “Food Mysteries,” Joyce Carol Oates writes that

“Appetite is a kind of passion… Borne along irresistibly by the momentum of both, we never question our destination, still less its mysterious source. Nor should we.”

18 responses »

  1. have faith in your art, your ability to matter, and tomorrow. oh, and bring your appetite. tony

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