1. Poetry — and to some extent all writing — is often framed as a solitary act, written in dark rooms by the depressed, the consumptive, the reclusive. Lines and metaphors are esoteric, even when they’re published.
2. My first serious attempt at learning to cook was when I was sixteen. I had run away from home. I didn’t eat meat or fish in a community that considered flesh essential to food; no one I knew really had any idea how to feed a vegetarian; and I couldn’t subsist on side dishes forever. This experiment didn’t last long for lots of reasons, most notably that I think cooking for one is a total drag.
3. I wrote poetry and stories from the time I could write, and this was both a faintly embarrassing and bewildering thing (why can’t she be doing the things that normal girls do?) and something for which I was patronized (oh how precocious!). I found the latter response more disorienting and, frankly, more shaming than the former, but both responses — and my persistence in doing that thing which provoked those responses — marked me publicly as other and strange in my community.
4. In high school, I eventually met and befriended people for whom my loneliness and my weird obsession with words and lines and books wasn’t a mark of exclusion but of inclusion. It would be more accurate to say that they met me, because I’m not sure I would have found a place in that community if people hadn’t insisted on inserting themselves in my life, if they hadn’t insisted on including me in theirs.
5. In spite of the failure of my first attempt to learn to cook, I did, eventually, develop a certain competence — but not much more. I would cook for friends when they came over, or I would help my adopted mum in the kitchen when I visited. I would not, however, cook anything more elaborate than soup or a baked potato or cheese on toast or salad (which isn’t really cooking anyway).
6. I really started to cook — to really enjoy cooking — when I moved in with Andrew and started writing my dissertation. Dinner at the end of the work day is one of the things I can offer, a sign of love and connectedness, a way of taking care. Even — or perhaps especially — when he’s away, I continue to cook (far more than I could ever eat), as though soups and loaves of bread and batches of cookies form a connection.
7. Reading a poem brings me closer to that which is outside me. A thought or a person or an image, even if these things speak to me in some way, they aren’t about me.
8. And here’s the real secret: they’re not about the person who wrote them except in the most superficial of ways, even if they narrate that person’s story or tell of an individual’s feelings. As soon as the lines a written, they become also about something else. They become about a lineage of writers and writing; they become about the community that sustains that writer; they become a gift.