Editorial – Anyone Can Cook

Ever seen the Pixar film Ratatouille? The tale of Remy, the rat who is a dab hand with haute cuisine. His journey to owning his own restaurant underpins the plot, but then there is Anton Ego, the cynical restaurant critic who also has his own journey of redemption.

See, Remy’s idol was the wildly popular (and deceased) chef Auguste Gusteau, whose motto was… Anyone Can Cook. This drove Monsieur Ego to distraction; he misinterpreted what Gusteau meant. He thought it was being suggested that Everybody Can Cook, which he believed was patently not the case. Only at the film’s end does the penny drop in his mind. What the old chef meant was that it does not matter who (or what, in Remy’s case) you are. Your gender, race, social class, privilege, education…. Doesn’t matter. Wherever you come from…. Anyone Can Cook.

Poetry is inclusive. Anyone Can Write Poetry. It is not the preserve of the academic, of the white Anglo-Saxon, or of the middle classes. The subject of elitism (and its twin, accessibility) is worthy of an editorial in its own right, which I may come back to another time. Here, let’s just assume that Gusteau was right.

However, that does not imply that Everyone Can Write Poetry. There is a crucial distinction here that often gets muddied. I sometimes hear it said that Poetry is for everyone and whilst that is certainly correct in terms of the enjoyment and appreciation of poetry, to suggest that everyone can write it is clearly incorrect. 

I can’t play the guitar. I could learn. It would take practice, and time. I’d need to listen to people who can play it as part of that learning process. I could perhaps achieve a basic level of competence with enough hard work, but I doubt I would ever be a John Williams or an Eric Clapton. Alongside the work and practice I doubt I have the facility with music, the spark of talent that differentiates the competent and the gifted.

So, three cheers for inclusivity in poetry. But let’s also tread the line between anyone and everyone carefully. Celebrate good writing without being emotionally incontinent. There is a place for objectivity.

 

 

11 thoughts on “Editorial – Anyone Can Cook

      • Ha! Occasionally new poets ask me how to get published. When I ask who their favorite poets are, more often than not they can’t list five contemporary poets except maybe Rupi Kaur. Arghh. Even having no sense of the craft and literary history, having no idea of what’s being published today, they believe THEY can write…

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      • Yup. What worries me is that the headlong rush for inclusivity may mangle the meaning of it. Also, who gets to tell someone they can’t write, or at least point them toward learning? In social settings like open mics there is a huge pressure to be indiscriminately encouraging. I suspect this may just set people up for a fall… the job of telling them often falls on editors. Seriously, if someone has a need to be liked by everyone… don’t even think of being an editor. I increasingly feel that workshops and writing groups are of infinitely more value than open mic sessions – they enable something that is a lot more constructive.

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  1. I think open mic sessions are well suited for people who need to be seen and heard, but they’re seldom of much use to the writing process. For the most part I enjoy helping out poets, and actively mentor three to five at any one time. And while I am invariably encouraging, I also offer criticism, suggestions on how to improve poems, which may or may not be wanted. One poet said “that was a little more intense than I expected.” All I did was offer a few thoughts on what I would do to improve the piece. Sigh. Even when you’re being nice you’re not, or at least it’s not taken that way. 🙂

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    • Yes…I agree with all that. I would not dream of mentoring (I would not be qualified to do so) but I do offer suggestions as an editor, sometimes. Mostly, they are welcomed. Occasionally I get severe negative reactions. Usually coupled with an exhortation to never do that.

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      • I don’t know that I’m qualified, but I’ll usually help when asked, and I’ve not taken any money for it, although I’m always pleased when someone I’ve invested time in purchases my books. 🙂 As far as editorial suggestions, most of the ones I’ve received have been spot on, except perhaps for a recent one from a young editor who suggested that I couldn’t write and needed much help – my language is too simple and ordinary, and lacks emotion, etc. Oh, well. Can’t please everyone, and I know where to never send my poetry again.

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  2. That made me laugh. First up, any suggestion that someone ‘can’t write’ goes beyond what an editor can see. All you have in front of you is one or more poems. They may be the best things a submitter has ever written, or the worst. You have no idea. At most, you can make specific comments on the specific poems in front of you, and that’s it. As for over-simplicity of language…dear me. What were we saying about awareness of contemporary poetry? Principles of precision and the concrete? By heck – I don’t think I have ever met an editor bewitched by the florid and the purple or under the impression that is somehow ‘poetic’. I suppose that my general points about inclusivity in writing could equally be applied to editing… 🙂

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