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  • Writer's pictureCaroline Olesen

Writing without a Recipe

Photo by Caroline Olesen.

Can’t start a fire, can’t start a fire without a spark”: singing at the top of my lungs, I dance around in my kitchen – glass of wine in one hand, impromptu spatula microphone in the other. Sunrays illuminate the twirling steam coming off the vegetables in the pan on the stove. Bruce Springsteen is serenading me about small town America and the loneliness of freedom. I love it. I throw some more spices in the pan. I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m cooking with wine and no recipe and hoping for the best. Tasting every once in while to prevent it from becoming inedible; I feel as if I am testing new waters. Workshops do much the same thing for me. I’m dancing around with wine and music, putting stuff on the page, a spice here, a word there – I think I’m doing well, but then the workshops ground me, tie me to reality, make sure that what I’m cooking up isn’t just edible but delicious. My fellow poets act like tiny chefs sitting on my shoulders guiding my cooking; their voices are my taste buds screaming “more salt!” or “not enough scene or details!”

Cooking without a recipe always becomes more of an experience than going through the motions of a point-by-point instructional recipe. And the product is always a little more satisfying to taste on you tongue – when not completely wrecked... However, it’s never just something I do. I need inspiration, something to set me off on my quest for tasty treasures. I often cook after having looked at the website, Pinterest. The pictures of neatly presented food under perfect lighting become too much, eventually, and I venture into the kitchen. Allen Ginsberg spurred the same hunger for creating in me. Reading “Howl” drove my mind slightly insane – an overload of imagery felt like tasting umami for the first time: an experience unlike any other. So much packed into sentences I don’t fully comprehend, but love and appreciate anyway. The rebellious tone, the “give them hell” attitude, the “fuck society’s norms” language that makes my tongue twist when I speak it out loud in a delicious fashion; tasting the words like a meal at a Michelin-star restaurant. Ginsberg lets the obscenity flow as freely as I let wine flow when I cook. And I love it. Daring to say what you don’t want to say; commenting on the unnoticed; letting the weird gush through you fingers as they tap-tap-tap on the keyboard.

I’ve always been very scared of cooking without a recipe, because I felt as if it would be so easy to fail. I’m not a professional chef, nor have I spent much time studying gastronomy – but I love food; good food. I won’t pretend to be a great poet either. Most of the time, I’m writing without direction or truly knowing what’s going to come of it. All I know is that something needs to be put on the paper, something needs to be cooked up – and it always starts with an irresistible inspiration that dares me to attempt. Sometimes it ends up charred or the concoction is simply inedible. But sometimes it comes out as a slightly genius combination of flavors I would have never imagined would work. Sometimes purple scorpions and the velvet ivory of inner thighs appear in the page and create a little magic.

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