Poet’s Pantry


In my sliver of the world, poetry and cooking share many qualities. When I step into the kitchen, I often have only a vaporous notion of what’s for dinner. A hankering for roasted poblano peppers, the need to use a protein languishing in the refrigerator, the memory of an herbal breeze wafting down a terraced hill near Lago d’Averno, Hell’s entrance, according to Virgil, or even a single intriguing word, may spark what comes next. But the success of what follows depends upon the ingredients at hand, on how we’ve stocked the pantry. Good products beget better results. Let’s take my desire for roasted poblanos. What to do with them? Poking around, I uncover an opened package of goat cheese, a bit of grated grana padano and some creme fraiche, and I immediately think pasta! Looking further I spot arugula, a lemon, a handful of pecans, some cherry tomatoes. Dinner: Pappardelle with a roasted poblano and goat cheese sauce, garnished with toasted pecans, served with an arugula and cherry tomato salad dressed with a lemon vinaigrette. Simple, when you’ve stocked a solid base of quality components.

My writing employs a similar process. Anything – a vague sense of uneasiness, a particular word, the sunlight slanting through the unfortunate dove’s imprint on my window, articles or books I’ve read or perused on a myriad of subjects – may launch a poem. But what truly makes the poem, what bolsters, fills and completes, what ignites and catapults it arcing into the firmament are, of course, the pantry’s ingredients.

Everyone’s needs differ, and I wouldn’t presume to inflict my peculiar sensibilities on anyone, but if you cracked open my burgeoning poetry pantry’s door, you’d certainly unearth dictionaries and a thesaurus, fallen stars, books on etymology and language, curiosity, a guitar or mandolin, at least one window (sometimes partially open), conversations floating in the ether, various empty frames, wind, dog biscuits and dirty socks, a walking stick, sunlight and shadows, more books on such subjects as ancient navigation, the history of numbers, the periodic table, alchemy and olives. You might also spy reams of paper, unspoken words, coffee cups, a scorpion or two, scrawled notes on index cards, wandering musical notes, a pipe wrench, wood ear mushrooms and salvaged fragments of writing, failed ideas moldering in clumps on the floor, a few craft beers and empty wine bottles, a chain saw, and most important of all, a bucketful of patience.

(I cannot over-emphasize the bucket’s contents…)

This is just to say (no, I didn’t eat the plums) that the best equipped poets stock their pantries with the world and all its questions, with logic, with faith, persistence, emotion, science, art, romance and yes, patience. Line your kit with every tool you can grasp or imagine. Keep adding to it. Read deeply. Listen. Breathe. Listen again. Converse. Look outward. Further, past the trees, around the bend and beyond the horizon’s curve, where the unknown lurks. Look again. Don’t stop. Continue.

And if after all this you’re wondering what basks in my kitchen pantry:


33 thoughts on “Poet’s Pantry

  1. Hi Robert! Thanks for dropping by my blog and taking the time to like my posts. You’ve painted such a magical picture of a pantry (one that I dream of) with such beautiful words!


  2. Firstly, I want to thank you for liking my quick poem I came up with while fighting off my tiredness (It didn’t really help in the end as I fell asleep several minutes after). Secondly, I really loved how I could get captured in the imagery of your writing and how it flows. This is one of the reasons I like writing, I can’t paint, or draw, or even doodle a picture on paper, but I can try to do the same in your mind.


  3. So well put–and I’d love to have dinner at your house. You cook the way I think. Or maybe you think the way I cook. Either way, it’s delicious. Happy to have found your blog.


  4. Thanks for the link on my poem! This is a lovely piece on how things are always brewing in a poet’s mind before they come out on paper 🙂 the pantry metaphor is used to great (and delicious) effect.


  5. Oh my. This is lovely. I particularly love the analogy of “cracking open the pantry” to the peek of your thoughts. Would you mind if I posted this entry on Facebook or referred to it in my own blog? I’m not sure of the etiquette so I thought I’d ask permission first.


  6. I was going to quote a sentence of yours in this comment, but then I saw I would have to quote the entire post. I am entertained, got to visit your home and part of your mind, and I am irrevocably inspired to investigate my own Poet’s Pantry. (Never heard it called by that name before. Applause for originality!) 😉


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