What Eat This Poem Is Really About

  Photo by  Peter McEwen

Photo by Peter McEwen

In elementary school, I always cringed whenever I was assigned a group project. I was the kid who believed she could do the report/presentation/research better, faster, and more successfully than any of my classmates.

I wanted to work alone.

This remained my guiding philosophy for years until, slowly but surely, I started embracing the benefits of creative collaboration.

I can probably thank adulthood for this. As kids and as students—even with part-time or summer jobs—life is decidedly more simple, and time more abundant. As I’ve honed in on what I’m good at (writing, mostly), and what I’m not (photography, website design, etc.) I’ve enjoyed the benefits that come from doing my thing, and letting others do theirs.

My first clue was in high school, when I edited the literary magazine with a friend under the supervision of our creative writing teacher. For months we read submissions and put them in just the right order, then we worked on the layout, and finally, our teacher took the pages to Kinko’s and had the issue printed and saddle stapled. We were so proud! We made this! 

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By the time I started writing for Life & Thyme magazine, I knew what I was good at. I remember spending one morning sitting inside Providence restaurant, across the table from Michael Cimarusti, a chef with two Michelin stars to his name, talking about fishing and sourcing ingredients.

I asked questions while a photographer roamed the restaurant, then I walked back to my car feeling so… light. So happy. It was a warm day in February, and I had the windows rolled down and was looking at the bright blue sky feeling like I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing.

The best part was after finishing the story and sending it off, photographers, editors, and designers went to work creating the issue. All I had to do was contribute my part.

The 11-year-old me never saw it coming.

  Photo by  Peter McEwen

Photo by Peter McEwen

And now, there is a book. A cookbook. The one I’ve been telling you about for the past year.

The more time I’ve spent on the other side of writing, and focusing more on marketing and promotion these past few months, the more I’ve realized just how amazing it is to publish a book at all. But not for the reasons you might think.

A book is a collaboration.

There are artists, designers, editors, agents, publishers, publicists, librarians, bookstores. Without all these people and their talents and shared visions, the book would still be a word document on my computer. In 12 point Times New Roman font.

It wouldn’t be able to do what all books are meant to do.

Whether it’s to teach, encourage, instruct, or inspire, books are beginnings.

Books are an invitation, the start of a relationship. They are meant to live in your homes and form to the rhythms of your life. They last.

There are lots of ways to describe Eat This Poem, and it’s always a copywriting challenge to choose just the right words to print to the back of a book or copy and paste to an Amazon profile.

The book is, in fact, about food and poetry, and the intersection of these two mediums. It's also about bringing more meaning to our meals.

But it's also about this.

Eat This Poem is a call for more stillness.

Reading a poem and cooking a meal are, quite simply, acts of self-care.

This is especially true on days that are full, sometimes rushed, and peppered with to-do lists. 

So let's be quiet, just for a moment.

Let's read, let's stir, and let's see how our hearts feel afterwards. 

We have three opportunities each day to pause, savor, eat.

Poetry forces us to slow down. Food does too, when we let it.

The combination of the two is, I hope, is permission to take a few minutes out of your day and truly enjoy your meal, the spiritual nourishment of poetry, and the physical fullness of the recipes paired with it.

As always, thanks for reading. Thanks for for letting me onto your screens, and now your bookshelves.

The Day the Books Arrived

I want to tell you what it felt like to hold a copy of Eat This Poem in my hands. I wanted to tell you sooner, right when the box of books arrived at my door, but I needed to think. Process. Absorb. Gather my thoughts.

So, let’s start at the beginning.

The books were scheduled to arrive at my publisher’s warehouse in Colorado on February 17, so you can imagine my excitement to receive an email a week early saying the books were here (!!) and UPS would be picking them up in a few hours (!!).

It was Friday, and I was expecting them Monday, so all weekend I tried to distract myself. I bought champagne and chilled it in the refrigerator. I brought my dog to work on Monday to help the time pass more quickly. But when I got home from work, both my dog and my son in tow, the books were not there.

Of course, I was disappointed.

I made soup for dinner, and every time I opened the fridge to pull out stock or half an onion I’d saved, I saw the champagne bottle, reminding me of the occasion I was waiting for to pop the cork.

The next day, I realized something.

As excruciating as it was to wait (also, for two nights in a row, I woke up at 3 am and tossed and turned before falling back to sleep, plus, I had a perpetual knot in my stomach), I found tremendous peace in one small and obvious detail.

The book exists.

Even though I don’t have my box filled with the proof of my years of work, the book exists. I told myself this over and over as I walked after lunch. The book exists. It will be published. It is published. You made this. It exists.

It’s worth noting I’m not the most patient person.

I’ve softened over the years, but usually when I want something or I’m ready for something, contentment is not always my first instinct.

Waiting the extra 24 hours was excruciating and anxiety producing, but it forced me into learning yet another lesson about creativity, which is, everything in its timing.

So even though I couldn’t hold it (yet), I knew it was out there in the world.

And on Tuesday, the book did come. A small package rested against my front door when I came home, again, with Henry in my arms. I still had to wait for Andrew to get home from work before opening it. I couldn’t have this experience without him, so again, I busied myself, first playing with Henry for a few minutes in his room, then scooping a pile of food into Emma’s bowl, then starting to pull leaves off the chard I was planning to saute with garlic and oil before swirling with spaghetti.

I pulled out the champagne glasses.

As soon as the keys turned in the door I screamed “Ok, let’s go let’s go!!” and started tearing into the package. Andrew came over and picked up Henry, holding his phone with one hand to try and take a few pictures.

Slowly, I pulled out two copies of Eat This Poem, then ran my finger over the raised cover. I pulled open the flap, looked at the photo and bio I had submitted months earlier. I flipped the pages, smelled them, and saw the words I’d nearly memorized after years of writing recipe after recipe, story after story.

One day I was sitting in Starbucks, writing notes next to a poem, and now I was holding the book I hoped for so long I would get to write. I want you to curl up on the couch with it, underline it, dog-ear it, use it.

Strangely, the publication of a book is both an end and a beginning.

The end of one writing journey, but the beginning of a relationship between my words and everyone who might read them.

So as much as this book is mine, soon it will be yours, too.

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!

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