Categories
Food Poetry Poetry

Long Live Gastronomic Poetry

mark strand

Mark Strand passed away in November. Somehow I always expect there will be a flurry of magazine covers and articles to eulogize poets with the same kind of attention afforded to celebrities. And, perhaps that might be the case if the world resembled Brattleboro, Vermont where a stranger walked up to a poet friend of mine, delighted to have recognized him and asked for an autograph. While I didn’t know Strand personally, I owe him a great debt.

During high school and college, I coursed my way through reading poetry—either for classes or for leisure. At the time I knew I wanted to write, but hadn’t completely decided on the form. Journalism had caught me in its net and I pursued it, working at the school newspaper as a features editor, senior reporter, and at one point as an assistant arts and entertainment editor. I loved the pace of the newsroom and the camaraderie. We were a family of misfits who asked questions and told stories.

I could never shake that absurd desire to push the Word beyond fact and into letting it play and carouse with other words though. So, under the tutelage of Jack Myers and in a room right off of the front door of Dallas Hall, I met with other students to workshop poems and fell into part of a poem by Mark Strand that is all brilliant wordplay and keen precision. I would return to it on occasion if I needed to be reminded of how words can cut and thrill.

Years later, when I experienced a crisis of raison d’etre proportions, I came back to poetry… and Mark Strand. When applying to poetry MFA programs, his name showed up high on a list of my influential poets. That bit of wordplay worked itself into an anthem cheering me on as I considered the course on which my life was racing. And his book on poetic form urged me on to attempt to write a good villanelle and pantoum.

Poet Charles Simic at New Hampshire Poetry Fest 2015

It’s a strange thing to live during a time where so many celebrities exist and are venerated for just showing up while others hunker down outside of the wide lens and do the work until the right time for the grand reveal. I didn’t know Mark Strand but have long been aware of the role he and poet Charles Simic have played in coining the term, “gastronomic poetry.” Heck, he wrote a poem in 1979 called “Eating Poetry.” It seems as though we would share that particular appreciation in common if we had ever met over glasses of good wine, thoughtfully prepared food, and a short supply of the right words.

Poet Jeff Friedman and Poet Ross Gay

Last fall, I happened to be in New England during the first New Hampshire Poetry Festival. Without missing a beat, I canceled plans in Boston and made reservations in Manchester so I could attend. Early on Saturday morning, I sat in the session listening to Boston area poets read, appreciating the different approach of each of the poets, especially Wyn Cooper and Anna Q. Ross. From there—and one of the big draws for me—a group of us assembled around long tables for a workshop on writing in open forms with Jeff Friedman. During my MFA experience, Jeff mentored me and we became friends. His poetry is ripe with food and he definitely falls into the foodie camp. Later on in the trip, I visited one of his writing classes as a guest and spoke about food writing and poetry. 

After lunch at a local pub, I sat in on a panel during the New Hampshire Poetry Festival about the poetry of lost voices and how the poets approached the writing process, seeding research and interviews in the process. An international poetry reading followed and made me a new fan of Ewa Chrusciel’s work, plus I enjoyed seeing my friend Ross Gay and getting to hear him read poems from his newest book made the afternoon unforgettable, especially a poem about a fig tree. To close the festival, poet Charles Simic read from his newest collection, The Lunatic and from previous works. Quickly, I thought back to an article by Simic in the New York Review. In it, Simic described gastronomic poetry’s genesis, “Both Mark and I had noticed at poetry readings that whenever food was mentioned in a poem—and that didn’t happen very often—blissful smiles would break out on the faces of people in the audience.” It’s a rollicking, fun look at how they intentionally started adding food in their poems. He draws several comparisons to cooking and poetry, before adding about Strand that, “[w]e were just a couple of short-order cooks who kept trying to pass themselves off as poets.”

I never had a chance to meet Mark Strand, but I wasn’t going to let an opportunity to meet Charles Simic pass. And so, I perked up as he read from the poem, “O Spring” in The Lunatic, “my chin high / Like a pastry cook standing / Next to a prize-winning wedding cake.” Later on, once I tucked the book into my bag and pulled it out in my hotel room that evening, I pondered how a mouth open in surprise might find “one tooth in front / Waiting like a butcher in his white apron / For a customer to walk through his door” in the poem, “With One Glance.”

Poet Charles Simic at New Hampshire Poetry Fest 2015

After the reading, when a short line had formed, I joined the queue to say hello and perhaps talk about food or poetry for a moment. In answer to how “gastronomic poetry” came about, he described that one evening, he and Strand were talking about the universal receptivity to food in poems. “I had a cheeseburger and a tongue-in-cheek idea to write poems that include the kind of thing everyone eats three times a day.” And with that, I thanked him and moved on.

Writing about food in poetry is one way I stay tethered to the form. Then again, there is a poetry in food that is equally compelling. In 2007 when I started the original inception of this blog, I called it “La Vie en Route” and used it as a place to chronicle great meals on my travels in the food business and what I learned along the way during studies for my poetry MFA. What I learned quickly and informed the transition to changing the blog name to “the Food Poet” is that all too quickly poetry gets elbowed out for the louder voices in my life. To tie me to it, I needed an anchor. Fifteen years ago, I began working in the food industry, but my passion for food started well before then. To marry two of my greatest loves in one spot of the internet might just keep me coming back to refill the tank of my soul. Blogs evolve as their people do. Some people take down their tents, opting not to continue blogging when life gets harried. Others opt to reimagine what their blog space might resemble as they transition to new careers or passions. I am still pulled by poetry and food here, and also cognizant that giving you a thoughtful morsel means more than slapping a post on the site just for the sake of consistency (though I wish I could blog more).

For months, we have worked to bring a fresh varnish to the blog, knowing activating plans always take longer than you expect and that hard work behind the scenes can lead to a better reader experience. We have updated the website to make recipes easier to search and to put a gleam of polish on the online edifice. The sections have been broken out a bit with a left sidebar search that invites you to plumb the pipeline deeper– I’ve relished reopening blog posts from years ago, finding what is written must have been at the hands of another person as we sometimes rediscover in reading our earlier voices. I hope you will find it pleasing to navigate the blog and that you might even discover some new-to-you compositions based on the way we have categorized the sections. When you do visit, you can count on food, poetry, and art a la carte. I send the heartiest of thanks to Michael for the beautiful blog design, Jillian for the lovely calligraphic logo, and Stephanie for being prescient enough to pull out the camera one afternoon and convince me to smile without a stitch of makeup on my face. My thanks also goes out more broadly to fellow poets and cooks who find symmetry in the line and saucepan, who pursue their love of the craft diligently. 

Categories
Recipes

Jeff Friedman’s Pan-Sauteed Broccoli with Walnuts

Poet Jeff Friedman

Jeff Friedman and I don’t argue often, but when it comes to bread, we’ve almost come to blows. Okay, maybe that’s overstating things but he has tried convincing me that New England’s bread economy rivals San Francisco’s. Part of his argument included a visit to King Arthur Flour last time I ventured to New England. Whenever he finally makes it out to San Francisco, I plan on taking him to Bar Tartine for a loaf or even a few slices of Chad Robertson’s legendary Oat Porridge. I’m not convinced the Porridge bread would make the cross-country voyage or that it would make it off of my cutting board where I stealthily sneak pieces to toast with alarming frequency. It’s that good.

King Arthur Flour_pastries

On our outing to King Arthur, we surveyed the pastry case with glee. And, while we peered in like hungry wolves, we didn’t buy anything. This is saying a lot. One thing we share in common is a voracious sweet tooth that’s not easily satisfied. So, it should come as no surprise that one of my purchases in their retail store included a bag of Black Cocoa.

I was immediately intrigued by the name and claims on the bag. This may not be the right point of context but imagine tearing the side of the packaging from a newly opened bag of oreo’s. Breathe in the smell and peel off the upper cookie, scraping the white contents with your teeth. Then plunge the scraped cookie into your mouth and chew. This is surprisingly what Black Cocoa smells and tastes like- the oreo cookies of my childhood. This is also to say I haven’t found the right application yet to share a recipe here. It has a tendency of exacerbating the adage “a little bit going a long way” and like a red feather boa can be a bit garish when worn out of context.

King Arthur Flour Retail Shop

As we meandered around the retail store, I found myself transfixed by the walls and shelves filled with any kind of flour combination you can imagine. These bags and boxes taunted me with promises of pancakes! Biscuits! Pizza! I had to continually remind my enthusiasm about the controlled parameters of my red suitcase. We marveled at the demo kitchen set up in the middle of the store and noshed on a sample of warm blueberry muffin, recently pulled from the oven. As we wound our way over to the oils and spices section, I picked up a jar of Vietnamese Cinnamon, knowing the price was too good to not find a blouse I’d packed to wrap around it as an invitational into the luggage. Jeff picked one up as well and we moseyed over to the oils, as I exulted on the merits of making space in a spice rack / flavor pantry for toasted walnut oil. It’s a bit of a splurge, but completely worth it’s weight in drizzle.

King Arthur Demo Kitchen

Jeff left with a jar of Vietnamese Cinnamon and a vessel of Toasted Walnut Oil. In spite of my attempts to curb my zeal, I made off with a bag of Ancient Grain flour blend, cheese powder, black cocoa and Vietnamese cinnamon. In the larger scheme of things, my restraint would be rewarded. Food and poetry flit in and out of our conversation just like talking about bread bakers or a Galway Kinnell poem. In the end, who really knows which coast bakes the best bread? I’m inclined to think the best loaf is the one you break and share, even if that “bread” is time spent trolling a flour store discussing recipe ideas or snippets of literature with a kindred spirit.

Jeff Friedman Roasted Broccoli with Walnuts

[print_this]

JEFF FRIEDMAN’S PAN-SAUTEED BROCCOLI WITH WALNUTS 

JEFF’S NOTES: “Originally I made this dish several years ago when poet Ross Gay came to visit. I had purchased some sweet basil oil and wanted to use it on the broccoli… Ross likes all his food hot so we decided to sauté garlic with lots of crushed red pepper and then toss the broccoli with sweet basil oil.  The recipe was good, but not anything I wanted to make on a regular basis. I normally roast broccoli because it’s so easy and delicious. Anyway, Annelies came for a visit, and we went shopping at the King Arthur Store in Norwich, Vermont. She recommended that I purchase toasted walnut oil and Vietnamese cinnamon, both of which I now use regularly. (The cinnamon is definitely amazing.)  Substituting toasted walnut oil for sweet basil oil and adding sliced almonds transformed the dish. This is simple to make.”

INGREDIENTS

3 large heads of broccoli cut into 2-inch branches

3-4 med-large cloves of garlic

3 tbs of olive oil

1 ½-2 tbs walnut oil

walnut slices (toast in pan)

crushed red pepper

salt and pepper

 

INSTRUCTIONS

1.Steam broccoli until it is tender.

2.While the broccoli is steaming, saute garlic in olive oil adding crushed red pepper.

3.When broccoli is ready, put it in a large bowl. Add salt, pepper and pinches of crushed red pepper.

4.Toss with sauteed garlic and crushed red pepper.

5.Toss again with walnut oil.

6. Add sliced walnuts and serve.

 

MY NOTE: I often eat this as is, but sometimes I add parmesan cheese at the end, also very good.. There should be enough left over to heat up in a skillet for a day or two. I think this could also work well pureed into soup.

[/print_this]

 

Categories
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

ABOUT JEFF FRIEDMAN

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.

Categories
Poetry

Poetry: The one that got away

artistic influence

If you write poetry, perhaps you’ve had an experience of reading a poem that makes you sigh and utter the words “if only I had thought of that first”.  What about consciously working a phrase or line of someone else’s into your own poem? Perhaps you’ve never done that, and yet found unconsciously a line or phrase of another poem breathing itself into yours?

I’d like to consider the idea of influence.

Nathan has an incredible ear for music. Sometimes we’re listening to the radio and with nonchalance he will call out musical influences of the song on the airwaves. It’s almost like a game we have in our house. Katy’s ear hears the minutiae but instead of picking out influence, she mimics the sounds and can usually accurately guess what’s coming next melody– wise. Hers is a photographic mind of music and the play list extensive. I teasingly call her “the human jukebox.”

When it comes to recipes, this idea of influence is a bit of the wild west. What would the ratio of original recipes be that have not been riffs of another person’s? I actually think it’s one of the things about recipes I like best- inspiration from the original and then the personalizing and tweaking that ensues. There is ongoing discussion about the right way to attribute recipe source.

In poetry, there is a way to call out and pay tribute or homage to the source of one’s influence. This can be done through borrowing the title of a poem that has influenced you as is or tweaking it to your place, time or particular transition from the original source. Then there are also the poems that borrow a line or phrase from another person’s poem and there are ways to cite source or not. You can also indicate that you are mimicking a poem by titling it “after (insert poet’s name).”

jeff friedman the poet

During my MFA program, Jeff Friedman was hands-down my favorite person to lead us in workshops. At the beginning of  our workshop time together, he would provide a single or series of writing prompts to get the juices flowing before we discussed each other’s poems prepared ahead of time.  I embraced the prompts. Our small group of four or five would jot out all the tendrils of ideas for 20 minutes and then share the very raw writing that resulted. He later became one of my mentors as I appreciated his deeply narrative style and the compassion lent to his characters, whether his uncle with a glass of scotch in hand or recounting memory through poetry. He didn’t let the “actual” story get in the way of the “story.”

In one of these workshops with Jeff, he gave us a writing prompt to create a poem “after” a poet. This exercise led us to consider how we might fashion a response to a poem by Cesar Vallejo about how he envisioned dying and what he might be doing. Our responses veered off from this central idea, tone and style of his voice. From it emerged a poem that I still feel proud of these many years past, set in the sticky heat of a Moroccan villa. I’m 100% romantic in my sensibilities.

There is something to be said with borrowing phrases, attributing along the way and infusing your own voice into something that is other. It is a way of grappling with the world around you – with the void and the fill, where the world is actually richer for all of the references and influence that worm their way into your work. If you find yourself influenced and appropriately enamored with a song or poem, why not try your hand at making it your own and giving it the refinements that might spark something new from the created?

It is after all, raison d’etre – this gift and need to create and re-create, n’est ce pas? How have you borrowed from or been influenced in your personal work- poetry, recipes, fiction or art?