5 Reasons Poetry Matters, Now More Than Ever

5 Reasons Poetry Matters

“Poetry arrived
in search of me.”

This is how Pablo Neruda describes his intimate and mysterious relationship to the craft. His experience echoes many others—poets and writers who have difficulty explaining why exactly they write, only that they cannot not write. One day they went about their lives, when suddenly they were struck, compelled, or inspired to put pen to paper.

My experience was similar. As an assignment for my sophomore year, second period English class, we were asked to flip through the pages of a dusty copy of the Norton Anthology of Poetry and read the first poem our eyes landed on. That night, I went home and scrawled a poem into one of my notebooks. I didn’t know what it meant (and hardly had an inkling it would lead to a literary cookbook), and often wondered why writing, in particular, was the thing I had to do.

Poets are not strangers to doubt, fear, and the types of questions that link themselves and their work to a greater purpose. We struggle to find our place, see our inherent value, and embrace our unique set of experiences and stories that need to find a home on the page.

To this end, here are a few reminders of why poetry is useful, meaningful, and necessary to the world, now more than ever.

5 Reasons Poetry Matters via Eat This Poem

1. Poetry sparks meaningful conversations

When given a national platform—like the occasions when Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, and Elizabeth Alexander read poems at presidential inaugurations—poetry becomes an accessible medium conveying universal ideas and sentiments. It gives us something to talk about and a path to guide our conversations, particularly during a historic transition of power. But poetry doesn’t just make a statement in politics. You can find verse lining buses in Seattle, in Michigan’s national parks, and it’s even been used as a tool to help empower prison inmates.


2. Poetry makes us feel something

When I set out to choose poems to include in the Eat This Poem cookbook, I was looking for one thing: an emotional current. I wanted to feel something when I read the poem. I wanted to be moved, inspired, and connect to the story on the page. Like all art, poetry is subjective, and what might resonate emotionally with me may not resonate emotionally with you. But the point is, the best poems make our hearts beat a bit faster, or make our hearts swell just a bit when we arrive at the last line. Poetry has the power to do that—ignite our emotional lives and stir our souls, even if just for a moment.


3. Poetry gives us words when there are no words

Wherever there is chaos—internal chaos in our minds our bodies, or an occasion bigger than any one person can bear—poets become translators of emotion. The aftermath of 9/11 produced poetic responses now collected in anthologies. Poems also circulated during the 2016 presidential election, like “18 Compassionate Poems to Help You Weather Uncertain Times” from Huffington Post or Vox’s “Feeling terrible right now? Maybe some poetry will help.”

Poems tend to surface during life’s most important milestones and transitions, too, like weddings, births, and funerals. When we’re overcome with emotion, poems provide a sturdy foundation from which to express what’s swirling in our heart.

Don Share explains is beautifully: “You get this feeling that people can call on the poets when they need to, and that’s a great moment for poets—when they have an audience because we need to know how to go about reaching the next day of our lives.”


4. Poetry makes the mundane meaningful

“Someone who pays attention to the world” is how Susan Sontag once described writers, and it’s truly one of the most important aspects of the craft. Poets, in particular, tend to have a knack for this, identifying the fleeting flickers of our inner life we often brush past or ignore, delicately rendering the natural world, and putting words to emotions we have difficulty expressing.

"A lot of people might think that poetry is very abstract, or that it has to do with having your head in the clouds, but poets, actually, walk on the earth. They’re grounded, feet-first, pointing forward. They’re moving around and paying attention at every moment." This is Don Share again, explaining a common misunderstanding that poets might not be relatable, or that their minds flutter off to other, interior worlds. But poets and writers are here, today, experiencing life in all its richness and heartbreak. Then they tell about it.


5. Poetry satisfies our hungers

There’s a poem by Kathleen Lynch called “Appetite,” where she explains how we come into the world “hungry for milk and flesh,” how we are always looking for satisfaction, even when we are full. It’s a poem I eagerly included in the Eat This Poem cookbook because it speaks to a universal, somewhat mysterious and illusive need inside each of us—that is, having our hungers satisfied, both physically and emotionally.

Do we ask for the food lineage we inherit? No, I don’t believe we do. We are born into families who teach us to love the food in our blood from past generations. And yet, when we grow up and leave home, those cravings remain.

While we wait for meals to cook, poetry can help fill the gap with nourishing words, coating our hearts like soup on a spoon, or our grandmother’s tomato sauce. Whatever it is you need, there is always a poem to carry you.

What are some of reasons you love poetry? Let me know in the comments!

*Some of these links are affiliate links, which means I receive a very small payment at no extra cost to you.


PRE-ORDER EAT THIS POEM: A LITERARY FEAST OF RECIPES INSPIRED BY POETRY BEFORE MARCH 21 AND RECEIVE AN EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT—18 PAGES FILLED WITH POETRY, STORIES, AND RECIPES TO INSPIRE YOU IN THE KITCHEN. LEARN MORE HERE

A Big Writing Mistake—Or, the Most Overused Word in My Manuscript

A few days after Thanksgiving, I received a note from my editor that the book was going to print very soon. Next week! That meant in early December, Eat This Poem was off to the press. I wrote back, exactly: “Eeek! (And also, pretty exciting!)”

Getting to this point was roughly a seven month process that included several rounds of revisions—from my editor, me, and a team of copyeditors trained to find inconsistencies like “Can we say yellow onion instead of brown onion?” or “Pepper is listed in the ingredients, but not in the directions.” There was also a line that said “bring out the earthy beer flavor,” which should have read “earthy beet flavor.” Thank heavens for them.

Way before this happened, though, I noticed a big writing mistake.

As I sipped my tea and read each chapter, words began rising up from the page. Familiar words. I decided to run a search in my Word doc, and discovered one particular word was used throughout the manuscript exactly 20 times!

Nudge

Once I realized the oversight, I went back and found a new way to say whatever it was I was trying to say. I left a few nudges, of course. I do love the word, after all, but decided three or four mentions was far better than several dozen.

That’s what happens when you read and re-read—you notice things you never noticed before.

Thanks to the wonders of technology, this kind of writing mistake is a relatively easy one to fix. A quick use of the search feature let me know exactly how many times the word appeared, and from there, it was just a matter of working through all the mentions and deciding which to keep and which to change.

Want more lessons from my book-writing journey? Catch up on past posts!


PRE-ORDER EAT THIS POEM: A LITERARY FEAST OF RECIPES INSPIRED BY POETRY BEFORE MARCH 21 AND RECEIVE AN EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT—18 PAGES FILLED WITH POETRY, STORIES, AND RECIPES TO INSPIRE YOU IN THE KITCHEN. LEARN MORE HERE

"Immigrant Picnic" by Gregory Djanikian + Warm Potato Salad With Yogurt Vinaigrette

Potato Salad with Yogurt Vinaigrette and Lots of Herbs (via Eat This Poem) #ImmigrantFoodStories

For the past several months, I've had a ritual at work. After arriving to my desk and pulling my computer from its sleeve, I snatch a tin of tea from my drawer. Lately it's been a robust black tea, but since I've recently finished every last drop, I've brought a green tea called Ventura Highway, with notes of meyer lemon and fresh grass. I walk the 50 steps or so to the kitchen and pour hot water into my pot, and while the tea steeps, I read the New York Times.

I scan the morning headlines, then make my way to the food section (naturally) and the style section, and sometimes I switch to the global edition to see what's happening in far away places. It's a nice way to begin the day. But these past couple of weeks—well, ever since January—the moment before hitting return after typing in nytimes.com into my browser makes me feel a bit anxious. What happened while I was sleeping, I wonder? What today, will shake me to my core? 

If you know me, you might know I'm a fairly non-confrontational person. I don't like shouting matches, and I try to listen before I speak. I know there's always more to a story. And since that day in January, I've watched friends and strangers grapple with the news. How to cope. How to move forward and do all those normal things in life we need to do when chaos feels palpable. 

For doers and givers, it can be hard to know what to do. Our voices are a drop in the bucket. Our actions might be small. We might still not know what, exactly, is the best course of action, or how we even feel about everything. We might have family members who share different beliefs and political leanings. 

On Inauguration Day, we drove up the coast to Santa Barbara. The trip had been planned for months, long before the election, but as we passed cars on the highway, I looked into the faces of everyone, wondering whose side they were on. Were they horrified, relieved, content, apathetic? Did they vote? Are they hurting? Are they scared? Are they wondering what everyone is so upset about? I couldn't tell, only guess, and assume I might not be the only one coming to terms with the events that morning.

While we were up in wine country the next day, racing our toddler around the vineyards and sneaking in a few bites of cheese, I watched on social media as my fellow Americans marched in cities across the country. Andrew and I caught a bit of the news that night in the cozy living room of our rented cottage, eating leftover Italian food from the night before, stunned, really. It just didn't seem real yet. It still doesn't. 

Potato Salad with Yogurt Vinaigrette and Lots of Herbs (via Eat This Poem) #ImmigrantFoodStories

So, in an effort to come together around something we can all agree on (like our basic need to eat), and share stories of immigrants and those who have come before us, we food bloggers had an idea. It started with my friend Kimberley of The Year in Food, who launched an initiative called #ImmigrantFoodStories. Food bloggers around the country are using this hashtag to tell stories on their blogs and in their social media feeds, and we hope it fills you up this week (both literally and figuratively). 

In Eat This Poem fashion, I offer a poem. I ran across it years ago, actually, and sort of stored it away in the back of my mind. I guess now is the right time to share it.


Immigrant Picnic

by Gregory Djanikian

It's the Fourth of July, the flags
are painting the town,
the plastic forks and knives
are laid out like a parade.

And I'm grilling, I've got my apron,
I've got potato salad, macaroni, relish,
I've got a hat shaped   
like the state of Pennsylvania.

I ask my father what's his pleasure
and he says, "Hot dog, medium rare,"
and then, "Hamburger, sure,   
what's the big difference,"   
as if he's really asking.

I put on hamburgers and hot dogs,   
slice up the sour pickles and Bermudas,
uncap the condiments. The paper napkins   
are fluttering away like lost messages.

"You're running around," my mother says,   
"like a chicken with its head loose."

"Ma," I say, "you mean cut off,
loose and cut off   being as far apart   
as, say, son and daughter."

She gives me a quizzical look as though   
I've been caught in some impropriety.
"I love you and your sister just the same," she says,
"Sure," my grandmother pipes in,
"you're both our children, so why worry?"

That's not the point I begin telling them,
and I'm comparing words to fish now,   
like the ones in the sea at Port Said,   
or like birds among the date palms by the Nile,
unrepentantly elusive, wild.   

"Sonia," my father says to my mother,
"what the hell is he talking about?"
"He's on a ball," my mother says.                                               

"That's roll!" I say, throwing up my hands,
"as in hot dog, hamburger, dinner roll...."

"And what about roll out the barrels?" my mother asks,
and my father claps his hands, "Why sure," he says,
"let's have some fun," and launches   
into a polka, twirling my mother   
around and around like the happiest top,   

and my uncle is shaking his head, saying
"You could grow nuts listening to us,"   

and I'm thinking of pistachios in the Sinai
burgeoning without end,   
pecans in the South, the jumbled
flavor of them suddenly in my mouth,
wordless, confusing,
crowding out everything else.

Source: Poetry (Poetry Foundation, 1999)

Potato Salad with Yogurt Vinaigrette and Lots of Herbs (via Eat This Poem) #ImmigrantFoodStories

In the early 20th century (quite early, in fact), my great-great grandfather sailed on a ship from Sicily and settled in upstate New York. Even though by the time my generation came along my family was fully assimilated and settled in California, my grandfather still spoke in Italian and we ate meatballs at every family gathering, and he told stories about the time he went to Sicily and met with family who still lived there (who, he said, caught fish and grew grapes), and they treated him like a king. 

I don't know if the vineyards are still there, but I like to think so. I went to Italy the year I graduated from college, and it felt like a homecoming of sorts. I didn't speak the language or know how to navigate the streets (we once got lost in Florence), but I just had a sense I belonged there. Part of me, anyway. 

So many Americans are from somewhere else. A member of our family, likely at great personal risk but also holding onto the promise of a better life, made the life-changing decision to board a ship and make a great journey. 

There is conflict in this poem. The speaker embraces his new home, corrects his family members when they misuse American phrases. It's comical and sweet, but then there is the last stanza. Perhaps a gust of wind blew by and had the slightest scent of pistachio. A memory this strong usually doesn't take much to shake us, and suddenly, through food, a small green nut "burgeoning without end" we are transported to another place that is also called home.

Potato Salad with Yogurt Vinaigrette and Lots of Herbs (via Eat This Poem) #ImmigrantFoodStories

Warm Potato Salad with Yogurt Vinaigrette and Lots of Herbs

American potato salads have a long history of being laden with mayonnaise-based dressings, so heavy you have to pick through the bowl to find bits of potato hiding underneath. I've lightened things up with a creamy yogurt vinaigrette whose tartness comes from apple cider vinegar and mustard (softened with just a touch of honey), and a trio of herbs.

2 pounds red potatoes, scrubbed and halved or quartered, depending on size
1 tablespoon salt

1 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, grated
2 teaspoons grainy Dijon mustard
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup plain yogurt (not Greek)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
Freshly cracked pepper
Squirt of honey (optional)

1 cup chopped mixed herbs (parsley, dill, and chives)

Place potatoes in a large stock pot and cover by at least 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil and add the salt. Cook for 12 to 15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork; drain, then pour back into the pot. 

While the potatoes cook, make the vinaigrette. Add shallot and garlic to a bowl, along with mustard, apple cider vinegar, yogurt, olive oil, salt, and a few grinds of freshly cracked pepper. Whisk to combine, then taste it. If you prefer a tart dressing, it might be perfect for you. To mellow the flavor a bit, add a squirt of honey and whisk again, until it tastes just right.

Pour the vinaigrette over the potatoes and gently toss to combine. Finally, add the herbs and another pinch of salt and toss before serving.

NOTE: If you'd prefer to serve this cold, here's what I'd suggest. Add half of the dressing immediately so the potatoes soak it up, then chill. Just before serving, add the remaining half of the dressing, plus all the herbs. This will keep the herbs a vibrant green (otherwise, they'll darken a bit in the fridge.)


More Immigrant Food Stories

When You Must Kill Your Darlings

How to Cook a Book: When You Must Kill Your Darlings

Kill your darlings.

Remove what you are most in love with. Remove any words the story no longer needs. It can be the most heart-wrenching thing to do, which is why editing is best left to the daylight hours, after you’ve spent some significant time away from the page.

The phrase “kill your darlings” is most widely attributed to William Faulkner (although there’s evidence to the contrary). Regardless, it’s sage writing advice. While working on the manuscript for Eat This Poem, I killed many, many darlings. It’s all part of the process, but I never thought I’d cut the very first thing I ever wrote.


Winter 2013.

Having already eaten lunch at my desk, I tucked my laptop under my arm and drove a few miles down the road to Starbucks. Surrounded by teenagers and business meetings, I took out my photocopied page of “The Orange,” a poem by Campbell McGrath, and scribbled notes in the margins.

Then I wrote one sentence that was followed by more sentences, that became an entire manuscript.

“This poem is not about an orange, not really. It’s about every moment you’ve ever been blindsided by happiness.”

I didn’t know where the poem would fit just then. I didn’t know it would open the second chapter, or which stories I would tell for the recipe pairings. I only knew what the poem made me feel in that moment.

This was in 2013, early enough to know the road ahead would be long. It was the first poem of 40 others I would include in my book proposal, that was eventually cut down to 25 poems. There would be many more lunch breaks spent underlining words, taking notes, and drafting, but this is one of the first moments I can remember of really knowing this would happen. A book would be born. I just felt it. And it wasn’t a light caffeine rush from my tea, either. I simply knew it to be true.


The story behind the story.

As is the custom, we begin with a first draft that must be refined. The original commentary I had for this poem was much longer, and told the story of a Habitat for Humanity trip I took to Poland. It was the summer after studying abroad in London, and I was itching to travel. I convinced a friend to join me, and we found ourselves on a flight filled with Polish grandmothers making their way back to the mother country from Chicago. The plane erupted with applause when we landed.

Every morning we ate breakfast in the hotel restaurant, then filed into a bus that drove us to the construction site across town, in a quiet suburban village. One morning, I looked across the square, and at the edge of the park was a red, London bus. It had no business being there, as far as I could tell. What was a double decker bus from the streets of London doing in downtown Wrocław. I never did find out.

But what was even more curious was the number: 38. It was the same bus I took to school every day when I was living in Clerkenwell and studying at King’s College. The very same bus number! No one else seemed to notice the bus, and if they did, I’m certain it meant nothing to them.

I never forgot this. It was some sort of strange sign, something I alone was meant to witness.

 
An illustration from inside the pages of Eat This Poem, drawn by Cat Grishaver.

An illustration from inside the pages of Eat This Poem, drawn by Cat Grishaver.

 

So when I read “The Orange,” where the speaker discovers an object where it is not meant to be—in this case, a heavy piece of citrus fallen far from its tree—I immediately thought of my London bus in Poland.

I wrote the story out and kept it there for a very long time. Years later, I realized it needed to be removed. The story simply didn’t fit, and wasn’t intimately tied into the recipes.

But it’s a special story, so I’m telling you. It’s a story behind a story. A layer. A fragment. Writing is full of these. When I’m editing, there’s a string, followed by a pause. I’ll come back here, I reason. I hope when I return, I’ll have figured out a way to keep what my gut knows should go.

Kill your darlings.

Writing is like this. A push and pull. An instinctual process, a grief in letting go of the words we may have fought hard to put down in the first place. A carving out.

Keep what you remove. Don’t discard it. You may find a new home for the words, the story, as I have here.

Tips for when you must kill your darlings

3 tips for editing your writing, when you're ready

1  Let it rest

When you pull a beautiful, seared steak off the grill, the first thing you should do is let it rest. Covered loosely with foil, juices redistribute and ensure they don’t run all over your cutting board. You also slice the steak against the grain. It’s like editing. First, give your words some time. Close your computer, put the pages in a drawer. When you’re ready to begin, you’ll be in a new state of mind, brimming with clarity. Have your red pen ready, and go against the grain.

2 You are not your words

Yes, you wrote them. Yes, the words are part of you. But once they’re on the page, detach yourself. Look for flaws. Look for repeated words… Look closely, as you would with someone else’s work. Try as best you can to leave emotion behind and focus on what you’re really looking at, seeing if it flows, where you have gaps, and what needs to be reworked.

Kill your darlings, if you must.

3 Read aloud

After you’ve done a round or two of editing, read your work aloud. You’ll catch things you didn’t notice before, and see how natural the words sound when strung together with the inflections in your voice.

Writing and editing are two distinct aspects of the creative process, and you’ll do well to separate them. Write first, edit later.

What are some of your favorite editing tips?


Pre-order Eat This Poem: A Literary Feast of Recipes Inspired by Poetry before March 21 and receive an exclusive excerpt—18 pages filled with poetry, stories, and recipes to inspire you in the kitchen. Learn more here

The Eat This Poem Pre-Order Bonus!

 
An illustration from inside the pages of Eat This Poem, drawn by Cat Grishaver.

An illustration from inside the pages of Eat This Poem, drawn by Cat Grishaver.

 

I love pre-ordering books because it means the day a book is released (and occasionally, a day or two before), the book will be in my hands. Isn’t there something special about sharing that moment with others? Checking the mail, walking inside with a box, and pulling the book out of its packaging materials…all of us simultaneously anticipating what we might find between the pages. Then, of course, there’s the moment when you can sit down with a mug of tea or coffee and begin reading.

When I started writing the Eat This Poem blog in January 2012, I couldn’t see this far ahead. I hoped to write a book one day, but it wasn’t until an editor emailed me asking if I’d thought about a cookbook that the idea really started percolating and taking hold (plus all the years of back and forth during the book’s development). Five years later, and being less than 100 days away from a real published book hitting the shelves, I’m having a difficult time removing the smile from my face.

On March 21, Eat This Poem: A Literary Feast of Recipes Inspired by Poetry will be here. I cannot wait for you to read the poems I’ve practically memorized, and try some of the recipes I’ve cooked in my kitchen for the past several years.

And because waiting is pretty much the hardest thing in life, I’d like to make it a little bit easier.

Eat This Poem Excerpt
Eat This Poem Excerpt
Eat This Poem Excerpt
Eat This Poem Excerpt
 

When you pre-order Eat This Poem before March 21, you’ll receive an exclusive excerpt featuring 18 pages from inside the manuscript. It’s one of my favorite poems—“Mushrooms” by Mary Oliver—and the three recipes that accompany it: Truffle Risotto with Chanterelles, Mushroom Pizza with Taleggio and Thyme, and Mushroom and Brie Quesadillas.

The reason I’m doing this is because bookstores use pre-orders as a gauge for determining how many copies of a book it orders. More pre-orders mean more copies of the book will be on the shelf when it releases. It’s a really easy and useful way to support your favorite authors!


Here's how it works!

 
 

1. Pre-order the book from your favorite bookstore (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, Powell’s)

2. Fill out this form and submit the receipt or order number 

3. Download the excerpt and start reading!

 
 

Note: When you pre-order, you will not be automatically added to my mailing list; the weekly newsletter is optional, only if you’re interested.

5 Poems for the New Year

5 Poems for the New Year #poetry #poems

Of the many things poetry is good for, marking occasions is one of them. Lauren F. Winner calls it “decorating a life-cycle event,” noting how people whose “last encounter with a poem was tenth-grade British Lit, grasp for a poem when their child marries, or dies.” Jim Morrison—The Doors late frontman, and poet—wrote “If my poetry aims to achieve anything, it’s to deliver people from the limited ways in which they see and feel.”

He’s right about that. Poetry provides access to emotions we cannot express, new perspectives, and as I often say, brings meaning to the mundane. It’s why I read “The Bight” by Elizabeth Bishop on my birthday every year—to center myself in the “awful but cheerful” routines of the day.

In January, I read poems for the new year. In Pablo Neruda’s ode on the subject, he reminds us that the day does not know the difference. We are the ones who give such prominence to the occasion.

“Yes,
even though
you’re
only
a day
a poor
human day
your halo
beats
over so many
tired
hearts,
and you are
oh new
day,
oh forthcoming cloud,
bread unseen before,
permanent tower!”

—Pablo Neruda, from “Ode to the First Day of the Year”

On January 1—this “poor human day”—we mark the passage of time by staying up late, drinking champagne, resolving to do better, to grow and change. We want to start fresh, clean, like the unblemished layer of snow that covers the ground each January.

To usher in a brand new year (and all the possibilities sure to unfold), here are five poems worthy of a read.

5 quiet, reflective poems to celebrate the new year #poetry #winterpoems #poem #eatthispoem

1 | “To The New Year” by W.S. Merwin

With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning

Read the rest of the poem here


2 | “Burning the Old Year” by Naomi Shihab Nyes
 

So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
orange swirling flame of days
so little is a stone.

Read the rest of the poem here

OF NOTE: "BURNING THE OLD YEAR" is featured inside the Eat This Poem Cookbook alongside a recipe for the short ribs and celery root puree I make every New Year’s Eve. Get your copy!


3 | “Snowfall” By Ravi Shankar

Particulate as ash, new year’s first snow falls
upon peaked roofs, car hoods, undulant hills,
in imitation of motion that moves the way
static cascades down screens when the cable
zaps out, persistent & granular with a flicker
of legibility that dissipates before it can be
Interpolated into any succession of imagery.

Read the rest of the poem here


4 | From “New Year’s Day”by Kim Addonizio

The rain this morning falls
on the last of the snow

and will wash it away. I can smell
the grass again, and the torn leaves

being eased down into the mud.

Read the rest of the poem here


5 | “The Passing of the Year” by Robert W. Service

My glass is filled, my pipe is lit,
     My den is all a cosy glow;
And snug before the fire I sit,
     And wait to feel the old year go.

Read the rest of the poem here


What are your favorite poems for the new year? Share them in the comments!

Celebrating 100 Literary City Guides

Back in 2013, I emailed two of my friends—Shanna and Stacy—and asked if they'd be willing to help me with a new project. A couple of months later, I launched Literary City Guides with three destinations: Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Nashville.

It's been three years and we've hit a pretty celebratory number—100! I haven't been able to travel nearly as much as I'd like to this past year, so I've been living vicariously through the beautiful guides our community has offered. If you're looking for inspiration, I dug through my analytics to find out which destinations you've loved the most, and here they are. Time to book your flights (and maybe pack your passport!).


Top 10 Literary City Guides


I've lived in Los Angeles since 2008, and the city has charmed me more and more each year. Perhaps it's because I've finally made peace with the things people tend to dislike, like traffic and confusing parking signs. But the more you get to know each neighborhood, it's easy to embrace the real gems from restaurants to bookstores, and my favorite paper boutique. 


This quote From William Saroyan sums up the city nicely: "San Francisco itself is art, above all literary art. Every block is a short story, every hill a novel. Every home a poem, every dweller within immortal. That is the whole truth." For evidence, look to its coffee shops, museums, winding streets, and impeccable food. 


Shortly after Eat This Poem began in 2012, I told you about a trip I took to London. It was a nostalgic trip for me, walking familiar streets (and sitting in the same squares as Virginia Woolf), seeing favorite museums, and stopping by the building where I took most of my classes while studying abroad. One thing was certain: I loved the city just as much as when I first arrived. Elena is from San Francisco, but moved to London in the late eighties and has never left. She brings a thoughtful perspective to the guide, from her favorite local coffee shop to the best way visitors can follow in the footsteps of London's famous writers. 


If you look at a map of Montana, you'll find Missoula on the western edge near the border of Idaho. This gem of a town is home to Erika, who played hooky in California before returning to the city where she was born and raised. Here, seasonal pizzas command lines out the door every fall, readings inspire in the prestigious creative writing program at the University of Montana, and local coffee roasters will keep you caffeinated all afternoon. 


Jenny's recommendations are spot on for anyone looking for an independent bookstore, good cup of coffee, or salted caramel cupcakes. From a library that will make any Harry Potter fan swoon, to coffee shops with deconstructed lattes, Seattle is filled with experiences to fulfill any literary craving. 


6. Portland, Oregon

From libraries with stunning views and week-long literary festivals, to beer-filled mason jars and small-batch ice cream, Portland epitomizes everything there is to love about a good literary destination.


The summer after my junior year of high school, we took a family vacation to the east coast. Boston was a highlight, and in addition to immersing yourself in American history, there are plenty of cant-miss literary stops like the oldest antiquarian bookstore in the country.


I've been to Spain also, but not to Barcelona (sadly). The three days I spent there were based in Madrid, with a train ride to Seville in between. Our guide lived Barcelona since 1998 before relocating to the Bay Area recently, and her local perspective is one to rely on during your next visit. There are plenty of good bookstores, cafes for tea and coffee lovers alike, and more pastry shops than you probably need. Luckily, Barcelona is a walkable city, so all will balance out.


Ashland sits just north of the California border, making it a favorite and frequent destination of tour guide Katrina Neill, who has been visiting since 2001 when she first made the trip with her book club. A hallmark of Ashland's literary scene is the annual Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and in between plays you can find plenty of cute coffee shops and eateries to enjoy.


10. Chicago, Illinois

When it comes to offering tips for places to eat and read in Chicago, I knew Amina would be a fantastic tour guide. She's a fellow literary food blogger and the editor behind Paper/Plates, a blog devoted to all things food and literature. As a native of Illinois, her recommendations come from years of getting to know the city she now calls home. 


9 Non-Book Gifts for Literature Lovers

9 Non-Book Gifts for Literature Lovers

I can’t think of an instance when giving the gift of a book is not a good idea. From graduations to birthdays, or major holidays like Christmas or Mother’s Day, a good book is always thoughtful and appropriate.

Over the years, I’ve been on both the giving and receiving end of many literary gift exchanges, like the time when everyone who came to my baby shower arrived with their favorite children’s book, or unwrapping the latest cookbook releases under the tree each Christmas. I’ve given people books just because, mailing them almost as soon as I closed the back cover.

But when you’re looking for something extra special for a bookworm in your life (or want to treat yourself to something, too!) look beyond the page. These non-book gifts for literature lovers are just the thing!


1. Book Lovers’ Soy Candle

If you love getting close to a book’s pages, inhaling that musty, inky smell, here’s a candle that actually smells like old books.

2. Poetry-Inspired Tea

Skylark—a green sencha tea blend from August Uncommon Tea—has notes of strawberry and tangerine, and is inspired by Shelley’s lyrical poem by the same name.

3. Literary Tea Towels

Obvious State makes a variety of literary gifts, from prints to mugs. For bookworms who enjoy spending time in the kitchen, literary tea towels are the perfect cooking companion.

4. Cozy Throw Blanket

One of the best parts about reading is having a cozy blanket to snuggle in. My favorite right now is the plush cable knit throw from Pottery Barn. 

9 Non-Book Gifts for Literature Lovers

5. Kindle Cover

E-readers are here to stay, so a sleek Kindle cover is essential.

6. A Fresh Notebook

You can never go wrong with a fresh notebook. Moleskine is my favorite, especially the red version. 

7. Stamped Teaspoon

This clever little spoon will stir cream into coffee, or honey into tea.

8. Banned Book Tote Bag

A reusable tote is a must-have nowadays. I use one for groceries, carrying snacks to work, and even to hold dog toys when we’re out and about with our pup.

9. Literary Pillows

Fans of Virginia Woolf keep her front and center on their favorite reading chair. If that’s too much, try a minimalist pillow featuring the War and Peace cover.