Food Poetry In the Kitchen with Poets

Poets in the Kitchen: Ewa Chrusciel

in the kitchen with poets

The Food Poet: Food & poetry have certain commonalities. How do you describe the poetry of food?

Ewa Chrusciel: We are Infinite and we are made of our small cravings. Poetry of food implies that kind of contradiction and longing in us; the desire to belong; the desire to carry with us our childhood flavors. Food is often inseparable from our identity. The sausage poem was at the threshold of my Contraband of Hoopoe book. My book transpired out of smuggling a sausage (called kabanos in Polish, the name for lean, partially dried sausage) over the border. I was caught and the drama of the situation originated my first poem of smuggling, which led to the whole book. I got interested in what other immigrants carried with them or sneaked across the borders, so I went to Ellis Island and Tenement House in New York City to research the things the immigrants carried. (And sometimes they had live goats and barrels of pickles with them!)

Immigrants do not like to throw away cheese wrappers, glass jars with their favorite jam. They have meaning, even the food. The food is metonymy. It stands for something bigger, for a bigger longing in us.

We take great risks to smuggle our favorite food across borders.


TFP: How would you describe your cooking style and who has influenced it?

EC: I have an eclectic cooking style. Only for Christmas and Easter do I prepare traditional things – pierogi, borscht, etc. Otherwise I borrow from here and there – Asian, French—you name it. My husband, Eric DeLuca, made up this Polish-American salad after visiting my dad’s little farm in Poland where we collected black and red currants. He called it Borek Stary Salad, after the village where the farm is located. The ingredients are: fresh, in season corn—steamed & shaved, black currants and red currants, fresh-squeezed lime juice, and a hint of Vermont maple syrup. Simple, but incredibly delicious!

Today, I am thinking of cooking buckwheat grain with Feta and Zaatar (a spice mirepoix that’s universal) and for dessert: wheat spelt flour apple pie (recipe given to me by Polish friend Dorota Zając).


TFP: If we think of mirepoix, it is the essential building block of ingredients that form the foundation of flavor for many dishes. What would be the essential ingredients of your mirepoix?

EC: My literary mirepoix would be images and syntactical structures that cause bewilderment, a surprise. I was always drawn to a metaphysical conceit in which incongruous images are “yoked together by violence” (Samuel Johnson), and yet via these improbable images some metaphysical truth is conveyed in the poem. Another ingredient in my mirepoix would be metaphors (or images or ways of thinking about reality—which metaphors in fact are) smuggled from my native culture.


TFP: Are there any people, cookbooks, chefs or websites that are your go-to resources for cooking?

EC: For desserts, I go to the Polish food blog: Moje Wypieki (there is English version of recipes available there too.

I also like the cookbook Mighty Spice Express, by John Gregory-Smith.

I have a book in Polish by Bogusław Deptuła on literary dishes—dishes inspired by literary works, such as Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past—just to mention the most famous cooking inspiration for literature. I had a desire to bake madeleine cakes after reading Proust’s famous description of them. Madeleine cakes are a springboard for involuntary memory. They, in other words, are epiphanic.


TFP: In Contraband of Hoopoe, food weaves its way into your poems through the contraband sausage you’re worried about in customs or the idea of filling your belly with pierogi to your grandmother’s bigos that “smells of the Lithuanian woods and hunters.” Food is deeply connected to the place you are leaving. How does the food of your childhood ultimately make the journey with you to America?

EC: Food, again, is inseparable from the sense of belonging and from our identity. My grandmother used to chase my brother and me with huge chunks of peasant bread and honey. That’s how I remember love, as chunks of bread with overflowing honey and friendly nagging, “Eat eat eat!” To nourish somebody means to say: “do not die,” which in other words means, “I love you.” Here is a poem of mine written originally in Polish and translated into English by Karen Kovacik. This is, by the way, the only Polish poem that I smuggle—in mistranslated (by me) English form—into my book in English Contraband of Hoopoe, as my tiny act of contraband. Below is Karen’s version:

Rzeszów Ode I

Grandma of flower pots
dressed up in gold foil.
Designer of shabby interiors:
your hula hoop skirts lie
flipped up on the lawn.
Queen of the oven and drawers
stuffed with candy. Hysteric who scarfed
hunks of bread upholstered in honey.
Countess of church carnivals.
Czarina of household complaints,
cicada of suitors,
hippo of hypochondria,
curator of covert farts.
My posthumous bride
now interred in a vat of poppyseed:

How can I find you again
in the bog of this world?
Here is another poem from Contraband of Hoopoe, recently featured on Lauren Camp’s radio show Audio Saucepan on KSFR (Reprinted here with permission from Contraband of Hoopoe by Ewa Chrusciel, published in 2014 by Omnidawn).

Before I leave for America, my dad comes to the airport with a dish of pierogi. He entices me to eat them. His way of making sure I smuggle the whole of Poland in my belly. I am pregnant with Polish wheat, with poppies and goats. To feed others is to say “I love you.” Do not die. I sustain you. I give you a piece of my earth. The long tread of a farmer in a field? Furrows and raw wind? The hidden nerves inside each loaf? How this bread whispers. It rustles and creaks. A walk in the woods, the kneading and molding of your hands.

In another poem, about bigos, from this book, the food becomes a symbol of the liquidation of borders. Bigos is said to have been introduced to Poland by a Lithuanian Grand Duke who in 1385 became a Polish king, Władysław Jagiełło. He served this dish to his hunting party guests. Polish linguists, however, trace the word bigos to a German, rather than a Lithuanian, origin. The word bigos comes from the word begossen – to douse, as bigos was doused with wine. We also have an idiom: ale bigos – “What a mess.”

To quote a recent review by Karen Kovacik of my book, “The poem shows that what is assumed to be Polish can actually be the product of centuries of linguistic and cultural blending […] Bigos the word and bigos the dish challenge nationalist efforts to depict Poland’s past as monocultural and monolingual, when in fact, only after World War II, when Poland’s borders were shifted west, did the country approach cultural homogeneity. For centuries, Poland was home to Lithuanians, Jews, Ukrainians, Russians, Byelorussians, Prussians, Swedes, and more.” (Karen Kovacik, The Contraband of Culture: Polish Women Poets on Migration, Borders, and Language (Honest Ulsterman, 2016) 


TFP: You’re reading a book of poetry and stumble upon a poem that inspires you to create a dish. What is the poem and what is the dish?

EC: To continue the theme of bigos, if you read the Polish national romantic epic Pan Tadeusz (full title in English: Sir Thaddeus, or the Last Lithuanian Foray: A Nobleman’s Tale from the Years of 1811 and 1812 in Twelve Books of Verse), first published in 1834 in Paris, you might be more than inspired to make bigos.         

Here is an extract from Book 4, which features his masterpiece (translated into Polish by Marcel Weyland):

Pan Tadeusz Book 4: Diplomacy and Hunt

“In the pots warmed the bigos; mere words cannot tell
Of its wondrous taste, colour and marvellous smell.
One can hear the words buzz, and the rhymes ebb and flow,
But its content no city digestion can know…”

Another dish I would like to make is inspired by a poem and a movie. Osip Mandelstam, in one of his poems, mentions the Russian fish soup ukha. Here, ukha is the symbol of nostalgia for Russia.

This dish is also a powerful correlative for love and betrayal in the fantastic Italian film, Io sono l’amore (I am Love) by Luca Guadagnino.


TFP: When you think of food and poetry, do any specific poems come to mind?

EC: A contemporary Polish poet, Tomasz Różycki’s Dwanaście Stacji, translated into English by Bill Johnston: Twelve Stations. His description of a grandson taking a journey to see his grandma for a dish of pierogi is both hilarious and nostalgic, as well as allusive to the aforementioned national Polish epic by Adam Mickiewicz, Sir Tadeusz.

Also, there is a poem by Szymborska, Onion, in which that vegetable is an example of idiotic perfection and consistency that we humans, fortunately, as the poem proves, do not have.

A Scottish poet, Craig Raine, has a poem under the same title in which an onion evoked the memory of past love.

Onions makes me think about my uncle, who used to visit us and eat all our onions from the cupboard at night. Here is one of my first poems written in Polish and translated into English by Katarzyna Jakubiak:


An uncle from America paid us a visit

He was dressed in a tight blue container
Of a metallic flavor

It was the first time we’d seen him

Buttoned up, and the sight gripped us.

Right by our throats

Only his blue water lily

Drifted, unbuttoned, maybe somewhere

Else and not on time

Uncle would drop in unexpectedly

And in the night steal his way to the cupboard

To eat all our onions

This time, he dropped straight from his flight

In through the window and not without help

Because he was dressed in this tight blue container

He settled among the laborious

Plots of wreaths, maybe now

He was just an unknown

Instrument in its case

Later the men from the special brigade

Tossed him like a birthday boy

It seemed as if

He’d fallen from the sky straight

Onto a trampoline

Bounced off

And then got irretrievably


Here, the onion stands for my uncle’s idiosyncrasies and eccentricities; his ontological mystery, but also his mysterious death—viewed in terms of a musical instrument by the speaker of the poem, who is a child.


TFP: Do you ever find yourself influenced by food when writing poetry? Are there any foods or drinks that are part of your writing process?

EC: The ginger beer, Regata, helps me to be on my toes when I get tired. Sometimes a glass of good red wine in the evening is an inspiration as well. In mornings, mostly strong espresso, and a croissant or some other cake. From time to time when I want to reward myself for writing, I will have pistachio cream or Fat Toad Farm caramel sauce (made of goat’s milk) before returning to the ink well. If I am under the weather, but still want to work, Metta Tea (from Metta Earth Institute in VT), which has organically grown and wild-crafted nettle, milky oats, lemon balm, red clover, calendula, tulsi, sage, seems to help.


TFP: What books are keeping you turning the pages right now?

EC: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Polish book, Esther, by Stefan Chwin
Miguel Manara by Oskar Miłosz
Life Work by Donald Hall


TFP: Is there one dish that you’ve always wanted to make but haven’t quite tackled yet?

EC: The Russian fish soup called ukha that I mentioned before.

Also risotto, lamb roast, and Polish poppy seed cake (eaten during Easter in Poland). Cardamom Swedish rolls—I am a sucker for cardamom. Lastly, some of my husband’s grandmother’s recipes, for example zucchini bread.

Ewa Chrusciel - Bożena Boba Dyga

Author photo by Bożena Boba Dyga

Ewa Chrusciel is a bilingual poet and a translator. Her two previous books in English are Contraband of Hoopoe (Omnidawn Press, 2014) and Strata (Emergency Press, 2011) and the third one: Of Annunciations is forthcoming in Fall 2017 with Omnidawn Press. She also published three books in Polish: Furkot (2001), Sopiłki (2009), and Tobołek (2016). Her poems appeared in numerous journals and anthologies in USA, Italy, and Poland, such as Boston Review, Jubilat, Colorado Review, Il Giornale, La Freccia et Il Cerchio, etc.Her translations of American and Polish poets appeared in numerous anthologies and journals in USA and Poland, as well as in book publications. She translated :White Fang” by Jack London, “The Shadow Line” by Joseph Conrad, and “More Stories from My Father’s Court” by Isaac Bashevis into Polish. She also co-translated with Milosz Biedrzycki selected poems of Jorie Graham into Polish.

She is an associate professor of creative writing and poetry at Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire, USA.

In the Kitchen with Poets Poetry

Poets in the Kitchen: Jeff Friedman

When researching poetry MFA programs and poets I wanted to study with during my MFA, Jeff Friedman was on my short list. I found myself taken with his ability to weave together midrash poetry or narrative. He ended up being my second mentor in school and one I stay in touch with often. Our shared love for food became evident early on in our mentoring relationship as he would describe new recipes he had devised and then later he developed a food, dreaming class to help his students break out of their writing ruts. Join me “In the Kitchen with Poets” as Jeff Friedman speaks to the intersection of food, poetry and the writing life.

in the kitchen with poets

The Food Poet: I know you are a voracious cook. What is your favorite thing to make right now?

Jeff Friedman: My favorite thing to make is this new penne with tomato carrot sauce, my zucchini garam masala soup and my balsamic chicken recipe. These would be my three favorites.


TFP: Mmm. Next time I come to your house, I’d really like to try the Zucchini Garam Masala Soup. Food and poetry have certain commonalities you are teaching in the classroom. How would you describe the poetry of food and your approach to intermingling them in your Eating, Dreaming class?

JF: Food and literature go way back. For example in The Odyssey, almost every place Odysseus goes, there’s some kind of feast or wine. In many of the mythic or epic pieces, there’s usually some feast involved, showing what we eat, how we fight, how we make love.

Of course in the Bible, in the Tanakh, the Jewish Bible, you can see how wine and food are laced throughout the different stories. Food is mentioned quite a bit in the Bible: what the Jews should eat and how they should eat. Throughout the story of David or Solomon, they will tell you what he eats. It’s always been a part of our literatures. I don’t think of them as separate.

You look at a great short story like “The Dead” – it shows what they were eating at this dinner they have regularly every year and Gabriel is coming back for the dinner. I’m thinking also of Proust remembering the Madeleines.

People don’t think about it as starting with food as the subject matter, food appears in a lot of literature. The Jews of course see the act of eating as a blessed experience.  When you’re teaching writing, often times, the focus is on working on certain things like how to work with an image or write a line, so the exercises tend to be writing-oriented.

In my class, most of the students think, “Food? What kind of subject for writing is that?” They’re kind of put out by it. Giving food as the starting point for the exercises like putting a piece of chocolate in your mouth and thinking of what it reminds you of takes your mind off of writing and leads them directly into the fact that the class is ultimately about the pleasure of the senses and exploring the sensuousness of language and breaking away from an A-Z logic of writing a poem. Concentrating on the food gives an experience to take an unselfconscious approach directly into the language.


TFP: Sounds like a fun class. I wish I could take it.

JF: It was actually really fun. We held different international days, like international salad day, international soup day, etc… I divided everybody into groups and they had to cook. They formed a community very quickly. All the groups tried to come in with something really good and make something everyone would like. They also became better cooks. A poet friend loved the idea and is thinking of teaching something similar.


TFP: How would you describe your cooking style and who has influenced it?

JF: Besides my mother, the person who’s been the biggest influence is my closest friend Charna Meyers. She also did the cover of my last book. She’s a great photographer. In the late 80’s was when I really got into it. I had some health issues in 2001 and took over all the cooking in the house since my wife was so busy. I was still on the clumsy side and started trying things out based on what I liked. I would keep adapting until I liked it, just like with the Balsamic Chicken recipe.

I’m an eccentric cook and like to experiment. A lot of it has to do with my limited diet of avoiding dairy and eating minimal legumes, and my wife is vegetarian. When Ross (Gay) comes over, I cook solely vegetarian. I think I’m a student of it.

To learn to cook Indian food, I went into an Asian store in this little mall and asked how to cook lentils. The female owner cooks a lot and cooks all the time and doesn’t go to the Indian restaurants in town because they are too Americanized. She talked about building layers with mustard seeds and cumin seeds until they pop, then adding oil, onions, and turmeric. I went and talked to her, took copious notes and now I make a few Indian dishes. They tasted good the first time and better the next.

With my friend Charna, we have a treadmill recipe club and talk about what recipes we’ve cooked. She has a bad memory and I tend to remember her recipes and she will call me to get the recipes.  I’ve been getting recipes from her and also from cookbooks. We trade and evaluate all the time. Anything I get from her, I change and anything she gets from me, she changes. There’s a woman named Maria in town who worked at a gourmet deli and would also give me advice on cooking. I do a lot of roasting because I like the way vegetables taste roasted.


TFP: If you could have dinner with any chef, who would it be?

JF: I like some of the recipes in Chloe Coscarelli’s book but her bakery goods have won awards. I want to know more about them. I’ve never tasted a good vegan dessert- they’re either too dry or just don’t have a good taste. Supposedly hers are great. I think it’s difficult to limit the ingredients and be able to make cupcakes and brownies that are really tasty. You know I’m a big dessert person… though I’m trying to get a certain amount of sugar out of my diet.

I like Deborah Madison. Her vegetarian cookbook is one I’m using more because I’m trying to cook more vegetarian. Since my wife is vegetarian, I’ve gone to Madison’s book so many times to learn how to cook things so she would be someone I would ask a lot of questions. I would want to sit with Mario Batali and ask him how he makes his amatriciana so good at Lupa. It’s hard to choose just one person, but I’ll go with Mario Batali because I want to learn about that sauce. There are other people I’d like to talk too, but I really like that dish of his.


TFP: If you could make dinner for any poet dead or alive, who would you invite and what would you make for them?

JF: I think I would want to invite Zbigniew Herbert and I would definitiely make him my Curry Zucchini Soup. Louise Fishman, the artist was documenting the creation of the soup and people always really like it. The sure-fire winners are salmon or actually, I would make my broccoli orecchiete, but I can’t make the soup because that’s too green. I would then make a salad with my modified dressing with Boston Red Lettuce and then I would serve my sweet potato soup with roasted pumpkin seeds. I would have to see if he has any health issues.

The Broccoli Orrechiete is essentially a broccoli sauce on orecchiete- it’s kind of spicy and pretty good. The sauce is pureed and folded in. We discovered it in Rome where Colleen (Friedman’s wife) had a grant to go study. When we came back I tried making it- it’s not the same but my sweet potato soup has its own stock- I’m not cheating. I’m getting too obsessive about making my own stock. Soup is really time-consuming. A lot of my friends think I’m crazy. Vegetarian stocks tend to have after-taste and it’s not difficult to make your own stock. It’s got a cleaner taste and holds the flavor nicely.


TFP: You’re reading a book of poetry and stumble upon a poem that inspires you to create a dish. What is the poem and what is the dish?

JF: A lot of times in ancient literature, they had roasted meats in them. I haven’t been inspired too much by literature to cook something, but I became obsessed with shallots. I used to put them in everything I was cooking and then wrote that poem, “Shallot”. A lot of poets have written poems about onions like Naomi Shihab Nye or Szymborska. Wilbur has a famous poem about shallots too. I can’t think of anything I’ve read that’s made me want to cook something.

I wrote a poem about Ross – he was at the house eating all these Athena melons and that inspired me to write a poem. Because I became obsessed with shallots, that inspired me to write a poem about them. When I read essays about cooking, it makes me want to cook but not write about it. Being absorbed in the process of cooking has inspired me to write in a certain way, just as walking so much has created a different kind of movement in my poems. I like the idea of improvising as well as having something written down. There’s a sense of ritual about it like writing a poem. You go to get a cup of coffee and then go to a certain place. Can’t write? So, then you move. Then you settle down. With cooking it’s a matter of how do you line things up.


TFP:  When you think of food and poetry, do any specific poems come to mind? What are some of the books you require for your class?

JF: I’ve written a lot of poems about food myself, like those in my book Working in Flour.  Neruda has all those wonderful odes- like “Ode to Watermelon,” “Ode to Salt,” “Ode to an Artichoke” and “Ode to French Fries.”  “How to Stuff a Pepper” is a good example of a poem that speaks about food and sex. I’m sure if you look in many poems you’ll find food.

I think of Sylvia Plath, Louise Glück. I do different things with my class like having them write a poem that unfolds like an onion and then show them a series of onion poems. An orange is at the center of “The Mercy” by Philip Levine where his grandmother eats an orange for the first time and “A Simple Truth” has a potato at the center of it.

The anthology I use for the food part of the course is Sustenance and Desire, a food lover’s anthology of sensuality and humor.” This anthology also contains Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Lunchtime Poem”. I like Sherman Alexie’s poem “13/16”, Szymborska’s poem “The Onion”, Simic’s “Cabbage”, and Derek Walcott’s “Sunday Lemons,” as well as a wonderful poem called “The Creation Story” by Natasha Sajé.

Another book we use is A Literary Feast with a chapter from a A Moveable Feast by Hemingway and talks about being hungry. It also features Peter Mayle, M.F.K. Fisher, and Virginia Woolf. I have a lot of readings that I have compiled on my own. I’m not just teaching poetry, but also teaching short fiction and personal narrative essays.


TFP: Do you ever find yourself influenced by food when writing poetry? Are there any foods or drinks that are part of your writing process?

JF: I write early in the morning so I’ll have some oatmeal or warmed up soup and then finish it up with a chocolate chip cookie. If I don’t have a chocolate chip cookie or a piece of flourless chocolate cake or brownie in the morning, I can’t sit down to write. That’s really true. I have to have just a nibble to sit down to write. The poem “Working in Flour” comes from a stint of mine in baking.


TFP: Do you find yourself writing mostly in the mornings, days or evenings?

JF: Mornings. Early morning. Although for a while when I write fictional pieces, I switch to afternoons.


TFP: What are you working on right now?

JF: I’m working on a book of fables and mini tales that are somewhere between prose poems and micro stories. Lately, I’ve incorporated biblical themes into some of the pieces.


TFP: What books are keeping you turning the pages right now?

JF: I’m rereading and love this book by Augusto Monterroso called The Black Sheep and Other Fables and Rebecca Solnit’s Walking as I am getting ready to teach a class on walking and writing. It helps me work out problems when I’m walking and things come to me when I’m walking. I like this idea Walter Benjamin has of getting lost when walking. I’m getting ready to read his book, One Way Street and Other Essays.

There’s so much literature on walking – next I intend to read Geoff Nicholson’s History of Walking. It goes along with the way my mind works too. I’m still in the thinking stages of the class so I’m reading, making a list and making things up as it comes together. Bruno Schulz involves stories with walks and also James Joyce in The Dubliners of walks in the city. I just finished rereading Lunch Poems by O’Hara. I’m also rereading Fitzgerald’s magnificent translation of The Odyssey and a book over and over again by Suniti Namjoshi,The Blue Donkey Fables.


Jeff Friedman Poet


Jeff Friedman is the author of five collections of poetry: Working in Flour (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2011) Black Threads (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2007), Taking Down the Angel (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2003), Scattering the Ashes (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1998) and The Record-Breaking Heat Wave (BkMk Press-University of Missouri-Kansas City, 1986). His next book, “The Pretenders” will be published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in 2014. His poems and translations have been published widely in national and international literary journals and anthologies, including American Poetry Review, Poetry, The Antioch Review, Maggid, Ars-Interpres, Cardinal Points, New England Review, Margie, 5 AM, Agni Online, Natural Bridge, Ontario Review, Poetry International, Prairie Schooner and The New Republic. He has won two individual artist grants from the New Hampshire State Arts Council, The Carnegie Mellon University Press Open Competition, The Editor’s Prize from The Missouri Review and the Milton Dorfman Poetry Prize. He has had residencies at the MacDowell Colony, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts the Vermont Studio Center and Yaddo. Since 1994, he has taught at Keene State College, where he and poet William Doreski cofounded the Keene State Writers’ Conference. Jeff Friedman lives in West Lebanon, New Hampshire with artist Colleen Randall and their dog.

In the Kitchen with Poets Poetry

Poets in the Kitchen: Ruth Ellen Kocher

Food and poetry make good bedfellows- I’ve said it before and this belief is the spark behind the food poet. If you look deeply enough into the collected works of a poet, chances are pretty high that you might find mention of bread or perhaps even an ode to an onion. I’m starting something new that I think might whet an appetite of a different sort. Poets in the Kitchen, looks to hear from contemporary poets on that communion of nourishment that happens when food and poetry combine to feed body and soul. I’m kicking things off with a Q&A with Ruth Ellen Kocher. I had the pleasure of attending a residency with Kocher and fell into the lush world of imagery she created in her third book, “One Girl Babylon” and excited to pick up her new book Domina Un/blued in April.

in the kitchen with poets 

The Food Poet: Food & poetry have certain commonalities. How do you describe the poetry of food?

Ruth Ellen Kocher: There is something about the pursuit of perfection that matters in the pursuit of both. Perfection isn’t necessarily fixed. The right peach, on the right day, at the right temperature, freshness, firmness, softness, sweetness … the convergence of circumstances that makes that peach, but more, the experience of eating that peach seem, in that moment, like perfection — this pursuit is so very much like my pursuit of a good poem, either as a writer or a reader.


TFP: How would you describe your cooking style and who has influenced it?

REK: I was married to a ‘foodie’ for many, many years. When my marriage was over, I almost came to reject everything epicurean. I would eat cereal for dinner 5 nights in a row. It was through this rejection that I realized the separation between process and project. I realized that whether I was taking the time to roast bones for a stock for a demi-glace, a process that could take 3 days, or whether I was shopping for fresh elements to an antipasta plate, my concerns were really the same. Flavor is a sort of constant sense of what’s ‘true’ that has import, whether you’re making a salad or preparing a feast. So, as a writer, I recognize my process as a striving to find what’s essential, what’s true, at the heart of my work, whether it’s highly complicated and conceptual or whether it’s minimalist and illustrative. The project fails if the most essential elements are not  “true.”


TFP: Are there any cookbooks, chefs or websites that are your go-to resources?

REK: Madhur Jaffrey … everything and anything. I love Indian food and I’ve followed her recipes for years, not only because I find them to be the most ‘authentic’ tasting, but because I learn enough while using them so that I can go off on my own at other times.


TFP: If you could have dinner with any chef, who would it be?

REK: Jacques Pepin. I have always adored him. Again, he has always had the knack for stepping you through a complicated recipe in a way to make it seem not so complicated because he reveals the “why” as well as the “how” of food. I used to be a little jealous of his daughter who shared the spotlight with him in a father/daughter spot they had years ago. I thought she was the luckiest girl in the world. Her dad was Jacques Pepin!


TFP: You’re reading a book of poetry and stumble upon a poem that inspires you to create a dish. What is the poem and what is the dish?

REK: I can’t say that this question brings anything to mind immediately. There are the obvious references, Williams and plums, Bishop and figs. I think of Beckian Fritz Goldberg and pomegranate. Pau Llosa and bread. Ross Gay and raspberries. I think my associations are based more on the food as element than the food as dish.


TFP:  When you think of food and poetry, do any specific poems come to mind?

REK: I cannot avoid being self-referential here. I think I use references to food more than most writers I know. Most often, I talk about fruit. I can’t help going back to classic lyric reference and there’s nothing more classic than sex, death, and fruit.


TFP: Do you ever find yourself influenced by food when writing poetry? Are there any foods or drinks that are part of your writing process?

REK: I was slicing open a peach the other day that had such a spiky blood red center. I thought, I should take a picture of this peach. I should write a poem about it. I almost, also, remembered that I’d done as much a few years ago, and again a few years before that. Is there anything more primal than a piece of fruit? That said, I do like a nice cocktail and yes, I will have one when I’m writing sometimes on the weekend or in the evening. I don’t always want my writing to be so serious. I try to remember that it’s ‘fun’. Cocktail of choice- Maker’s Mark Manhattan or something fruity with rum but not too sweet.


TFP: Do you find yourself writing mostly in the mornings, days or evenings?

REK: I’m an around the clock writer. I write spontaneously but I also schedule writing times. Writing is a seamless activity in my life. I write anytime the mood strikes. I am constantly jotting things down. I send myself voice recorded files that I make on my phone. I can recite a line to myself while I’m driving and discover it a month later. I work from bits and pieces I’ve squirreled away, often.


TFP: What are you working on right now?

REK: I’m working on a long poem of contiguous utterances. I’ve been playing around with notions of continuity vs. contiguity … and the ways contrast can ‘make it new’.


TFP: What books are keeping you turning the pages right now?

REK: I’m teaching right now and only reading the books I’m teaching. I just finished teaching Christopher Stackhouse’s and John Keene’s book “Seismosis.” I’m about to teach Terrance Hayes’ book “Lighthead.” We’ll also be talking about Elaine Scarry’s “On Beauty and Being Just,” which has images of the most perfect, most colorful eggs on the cover. What is more just than an egg? Nothing.



About Ruth Ellen Kocher

Ruth Ellen Kocher won the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award for her first book of poems, Desdemona’s Fire (Lotus Press, 1999). When the Moon Knows You’re Wandering (New Issues Press, 2001), her second volume, received the Green Rose Prize in Poetry. Her most recent collection, One Girl Babylon, called “tender, tough poems” by Al Young, was published by New Issues Press in 2003. Her poems and essays have appeared in numerous journals, including The Missouri Review, She’r (in Iranian translation), Black Arts Quarterly, Denver Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, Poet Lore and Crab Orchard Review. She is a contributor to Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, From the Fishouse, IOU, Angles of Ascent, Garden of Forking Paths, New Sister Voices and Approaches to Teaching Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, among other anthologies. She has been a fellow at the Bucknell Seminar, Cave Canem and Yaddo, and teaches in the MFA program at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Follow her online at or on twitter.