The Best Poems are Made from Scratch?

Image by Markus Distelrath. CC0/Public domain.

Are the best poems, like meals, made from scratch? The poet has much in common with the chef. Both need an understanding and appreciation of basic recipes before they bring forth a unique touch. Both begin with faithfulness to measured ingredients mixed with time, which then allows for the act of experimentation. Here is where the poet-chef knows when to add a pinch of metaphorical spice or the muddled metaphor before sautéing a simile. Now is when food for thought reaches beyond caloric survival and enters the realm of the spiritual.

After centuries of poems by thousands of poets the making of a poem from scratch is as difficult as a chef coming up with original morsels created solely by the cook’s hand. Basic components for blending in the bowl or on the page are as before. The new culinary offering of a gastronomical treat remains, at it’s core, the sum of its parts presented as a novel experience. Pressure to thrill anew nudges invention with, one would hope, an intention to both attract and to nourish. The poet and the chef might feel a tug to use pyrotechnics; might believe in presentation over substance, entertainment over bread of life. The use of liquid nitrogen is flash that impresses yet means nothing if the result is inedible or once chewed is found lacking. Words, fancy or plain, can be just as hard to swallow when spit in your face or raged on a stage but not offered to your heart.

The chef must use what exists from the Earth, Sea and Sky and is restricted to what can be safely consumed, even if poisonous. It is how this bounty is brought together that makes the memorable experience. Similarly, the poet must rely on words, those individual edibles that exist on their own but communicate only when introduced to each other in beneficent proportion. Their combination can be heated to varying degrees or presented raw. The poet might bake a ballad or simmer a sonnet; might whisk a lyric into a gentle froth, pour onto a sizzling skillet until crusty, then chill overnight before serving.

It is possible poems at their best need only combine honest ingredients or at least be honestly dishonest. So are the best poems, like meals, made from scratch? Maybe…maybe not, yet there is a place where poets and chefs part company. Although the poet and the chef have much in common it is in this respect they must always differ. While the chef never wants to leave an upset stomach, the poet might intend that kick in the gut.

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