Saturday, January 25, 2020

#148 Backstory of the Poem "A Kitchen Argument" by Matthew Gwathmey

*The images in this specific piece are granted copyright privilege by:  Public Domain, CCSAL, GNU Free Documentation Licenses, Fair Use Under The United States Copyright Law, or given copyright privilege by the copyright holder which is identified beneath the individual photo.

**Some of the links will have to be copied and then posted in your search engine in order to pull up properly

*** The CRC Blog welcomes submissions from published and unpublished poets for BACKSTORY OF THE POEM series.  Contact CRC Blog via email at or personal Facebook messaging at

***This is #148 in a never-ending series called BACKSTORY OF THE POEM where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific poem and how the poet wrote that specific poem.  All BACKSTORY OF THE POEM links are at the end of this piece. 

#148 Backstory of the Poem
“A Kitchen Argument”
by Matthew Gwathmey

Can you go through the step-by-step process of writing this poem from the moment the idea was first conceived in your brain until final form? Here’s the start of my MA Thesis Proposal, Appalachian Mythos: Poems: “This collection of prose poems will concentrate on the region of the Appalachian Mountains. Some subjects on which I will focus include: […] the mythology of some figures and stereotypes […]”

          I stuck to this grand design for a while (too long), and even wrote eight or so Greek myths, four of which made it into my thesis, exactly zero of which made it into my first book.
      This poem started out as a retelling of Niobe, basically a mother having to bury her child. For the record, Niobe did not even make the first cut. But I wasn’t finished with the poem.
          I returned to it a few years later, when I wasn’t so caught up with prose poems. I liked the general feel of it, and it somehow (this is part of the process I can’t really explain, probably had something to do with reading a lot of Paul Muldoon) grew into its current form. Though very little of the writing made it through to its published product (really to the point that you could argue that this isn’t the same poem; but it is, I swear!), I like to think that the same feeling is there, this idea of having to bury something important to you, and what that must be like.
          In editing, I really try to eliminate what’s heavy. What I mean by that is anything that is heavy-handed, melodramatic, too abstract or contains too many Latinate words.
          I’m also thinking rhythmically, tinkering with any clumsy-sounding lines. The final product is hopefully much lighter and freer that its first draft, formally ironic in that this particular poem changed from a prose poem to rhyming triplets. Also, it’s interesting to note (maybe) that the poem has moved from an observational position to something much more personal. The speaker’s there, in the scene.

Where were you when you started to actually write the poem? And please describe the place in great detail. I started writing this poem at my grandmother’s house in Grundy, Virginia. Grundy is a town in Buchanan County, in the Appalachian Mountains. There’s a law school and a pharmacy school, a Pizza Hut and a Long John Silver’s.

          What I remember most about the town is that the downtown had recently been razed to make way for a brand-new Wal-Mart. While I’m certainly oversimplifying things, and neglecting to factor in the fact that life had to be moved to the other side of the creek because of increased flooding, this is basically what happened.
          What I remember most about my grandmother’s house: the curvy road it takes to get there, leading to a steep driveway, leading to carport, leading to sliding door, leading to living room, kitchen straight ahead, dining room to the right and hallway, bedrooms, and bathrooms to the left. I guess I remember its layout and location the best!

          You had to drive “over the mountain” to get to the rest of the family, careful not to look over the guardrail, past the Golden Wave mural cut into rockface, to a land of deep-fried turkeys and sweet potato casserole (complete with marshmallows). A very warm home, perhaps answering (in part) the questions we’d always ask: Gran, why are you still living here? Why stay? You could move, you know. Sell your house. Move closer to Mom or Uncle Will. Especially as it’s become a land of OxyContin and Confederate flags.

What month and year did you start writing this poem? According to its time stamp, I created this document on October 15, 2012. 

How many drafts of this poem did you write before going to the final? Three major drafts, but many minor drafts in between. As you can see in the attached first draft, not much made it all the way to the final draft. 
          Truth be told, this is a simulated photograph, as I lost the original pen markings years ago. What I’m attempting to show here is a bit of my process: returning to writing, taking phrases or images that I think are working (underlines); getting rid of anything awkward (crossing out); and highlighting anything I think might work for a different poem (brackets).

Were there any lines in any of your rough drafts of this poem that were not in the final version? And can you share them with us? Before this became a poem about cooking a dessert and the ensuing kitchen argument and failure, after it ceased to be a poem about Niobe and after I moved away from a prose poem and into its rhymed triplet form, it was a poem about the perceived death of a relationship. I thought a lot of the lines were working, but the topic was just too general. Cooking a peach grunt seemed much better in its specificity. Anyway, it started out like this:

We tried cobbling together some life,
but all the loose butter knives
turned to oxygen, were thrown out to rest with purple loosestrife.

I like the image of butter knives thrown out in the plants, but again, I thought the focus wasn’t there.

What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem? The idiom “too many cooks in the kitchen” is definitely true! There can definitely be too many cooks in the kitchen.

Which part of the poem was the most emotional of you to write and why?  The last line for me carries with it all sorts of personal connotations that I’d rather not get into at the moment. Makes it a tough one to read out loud.

Has this poem been published before? And if so where? This poem was a late addition to my first book, Our Latest in Folktales.

Anything you would like to add? Something from Mary Ruefle’s Madness, Rack, and Honey, her essay “On Beginnings:” “And the lesson is always the same, and young poets recognize this to be one of the most important lessons they can learn: if you have any idea for a poem, an exact grid of intent, you are on the wrong path, a dead-end alley, at the top of a cliff you haven’t even climbed.”

A Kitchen Argument
We tried cobbling together a peach grunt,

but all the knives were blunt,

not mincing words, thrown over either side of the battlefront.

Dry ingredients stirred into each other as they grew and walked.
Did you remember to melt the butter ad hoc?

Answer in inverted double-talk.

Pop quiz—

without reading the instructions, steps three to five need what kinds of kitchen

Hand mixer, American. Stovetop, Dutch. Oven, Swiss.

Every effort towards dessert could be considered laudatory.

As stony pits on the stone countertop hardened into the compost of a good story.
You could call the mixture second best; I could call the topping old glory.

All kith and kin sang a ballad for a sprinkle of cinnamon
during the penultimate vision of a batter pour overdone.
The two cups of sugar, divided up and rerun.

Next we move to baking, dotted in the residue of soy flour.

To cook it, best be by fire extinguisher or water tower.

Where children’s toy cars drive too close with their too much horsepower.

Served on a checkered tablecloth sea of fine dining,

the proverb about the negative effects of silver linings,

the psalm on the wonders of lemon juice tang and fruit sugars combining.

The first taste of vanilla ice cream and powder keg.

Well, if you must name the missing additive—the optional California nutmeg.
We seldom spoke about the grade of the eggs.

          Matthew Gwathmey was born in Richmond, Virginia and studied creative writing at the University of Virginia. He became a Canadian citizen in 2013 and lives with his wife and children in Fredericton, New Brunswick, where he is a PhD student at UNB. Our Latest in Folktales is his first poetry collection, published by Brick Books in the spring of 2019.


001  December 29, 2017
Margo Berdeshevksy’s “12-24”

002  January 08, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher’s “82 Miles From the Beach, We Order The Lobster At Clear Lake Café”

003 January 12, 2018
Barbara Crooker’s “Orange”

004 January 22, 2018
Sonia Saikaley’s “Modern Matsushima”

005 January 29, 2018
Ellen Foos’s “Side Yard”

006 February 03, 2018
Susan Sundwall’s “The Ringmaster”

007 February 09, 2018
Leslea Newman’s “That Night”

008 February 17, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher “June Fairchild Isn’t Dead”

009 February 24, 2018
Charles Clifford Brooks III “The Gift of the Year With Granny”

010 March 03, 2018
Scott Thomas Outlar’s “The Natural Reflection of Your Palms”

011 March 10, 2018
Anya Francesca Jenkins’s “After Diane Beatty’s Photograph “History Abandoned”

012  March 17, 2018
Angela Narciso Torres’s “What I Learned This Week”

013 March 24, 2018
Jan Steckel’s “Holiday On ICE”

014 March 31, 2018
Ibrahim Honjo’s “Colors”

015 April 14, 2018
Marilyn Kallett’s “Ode to Disappointment”

016  April 27, 2018
Beth Copeland’s “Reliquary”

017  May 12, 2018
Marlon L Fick’s “The Swallows of Barcelona”

018  May 25, 2018

019  June 09, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher’s “Stiletto Killer. . . A Surmise”

020 June 16, 2018
Charles Rammelkamp’s “At Last I Can Start Suffering”

021  July 05, 2018
Marla Shaw O’Neill’s “Wind Chimes”

022 July 13, 2018
Julia Gordon-Bramer’s “Studying Ariel”

023 July 20, 2018
Bill Yarrow’s “Jesus Zombie”

024  July 27, 2018
Telaina Eriksen’s “Brag 2016”

025  August 01, 2018
Seth Berg’s “It is only Yourself that Bends – so Wake up!”

026  August 07, 2018
David Herrle’s “Devil In the Details”

027  August 13, 2018
Gloria Mindock’s “Carmen Polo, Lady Necklaces, 2017”

028  August 21, 2018
Connie Post’s “Two Deaths”

029  August 30, 2018
Mary Harwell Sayler’s “Faces in a Crowd”

030 September 16, 2018
Larry Jaffe’s “The Risking Point”

031  September 24, 2018
Mark Lee Webb’s “After We Drove”

032  October 04, 2018
Melissa Studdard’s “Astral”

033 October 13, 2018
Robert Craven’s “I Have A Bass Guitar Called Vanessa”

034  October 17, 2018
David Sullivan’s “Paper Mache Peaches of Heaven”

035 October 23, 2018
Timothy Gager’s “Sobriety”

036  October 30, 2018
Gary Glauber’s “The Second Breakfast”

037  November 04, 2018
Heather Forbes-McKeon’s “Melania’s Deaf Tone Jacket”

038 November 11, 2018
Andrena Zawinski’s “Women of the Fields”

039  November 00, 2018
Gordon Hilger’s “Poe”

040 November 16, 2018
Rita Quillen’s “My Children Question Me About Poetry” and “Deathbed Dreams”

041 November 20, 2018
Jonathan Kevin Rice’s “Dog Sitting”

042 November 22, 2018
Haroldo Barbosa Filho’s “Mountain”

043  November 27, 2018
Megan Merchant’s “Grief Flowers”

044 November 30, 2018
Jonathan P Taylor’s “This poem is too neat”

045  December 03, 2018
Ian Haight’s “Sungmyo for our Dead Father-in-Law”

046 December 06, 2018
Nancy Dafoe’s “Poem in the Throat”

047 December 11, 2018
Jeffrey Pearson’s “Memorial Day”

048  December 14, 2018
Frank Paino’s “Laika”

049  December 15, 2018
Jennifer Martelli’s “Anniversary”

O50  December 19, 2018
Joseph Ross’s For Gilberto Ramos, 15, Who Died in the Texas Desert, June 2014”

051 December 23, 2018
“The Persistence of Music”
by Anatoly Molotkov

052  December 27, 2018
“Under Surveillance”
by Michael Farry

053  December 28, 2018
“Grand Finale”
by Renuka Raghavan

054  December 29, 2018
by Gene Barry

055 January 2, 2019
by Larissa Shmailo

056  January 7, 2019
“The Seamstress:
by Len Kuntz

057  January 10, 2019
"Natural History"
by Camille T Dungy

058  January 11, 2019
by Brian Burmeister

059  January 12, 2019
by Clint Margrave

060 January 14, 2019
by Pat Durmon

061 January 19, 2019
“Neptune’s Choir”
by Linda Imbler

062  January 22, 2019
“Views From the Driveway”
by Amy Barone

063  January 25, 2019
“The heron leaves her haunts in the marsh”
by Gail Wronsky

064  January 30, 2019
by Terry Lucas

065 February 02, 2019
“Summer 1970, The University of Virginia Opens to Women in the Fall”
by Alarie Tennille

066 February 05, 2019
“At School They Learn Nouns”
by Patrick Bizzaro

067  February 06, 2019
“I Must Not Breathe”
by Angela Jackson-Brown

068 February 11, 2019
“Lunch on City Island, Early June”
by Christine Potter

069 February 12, 2019
by Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum

070 February 14, 2019
“Daily Commute”
by Christopher P. Locke

071 February 18, 2019
“How Silent The Trees”
by Wyn Cooper

072 February 20, 2019
“A New Psalm of Montreal”
by Sheenagh Pugh

073 February 23, 2019
“Make Me A Butterfly”
by Amy Barbera

074 February 26, 2019
by Sandy Coomer

075 March 4, 2019
“Shape of a Violin”
by Kelly Powell

076 March 5, 2019
“Inward Oracle”
by J.P. Dancing Bear

077 March 7, 2019
“I Broke My Bust Of Jesus”
by Susan Sundwall

078 March 9, 2019
“My Mother at 19”
by John Guzlowski

079 March 10, 2019
by Chera Hammons Miller

080 March 12, 2019
“Of Water and Echo”
by Gillian Cummings

081   082   083    March 14, 2019
“Little Political Sense”   “Crossing Kansas with Jim
Morrison”  “The Land of Sky and Blue Waters”
by Dr. Lindsey Martin-Bowen

084 March 15, 2019
“A Tune To Remember”
by Anna Evans

085 March 19, 2019
“At the End of Time (Wish You Were Here)
by Jeannine Hall Gailey

086 March 20, 2019
“Garden of Gethsemane”
by Marletta Hemphill

087 March 21, 2019
“Letters From a War”
by Chelsea Dingman

088 March 26, 2019
by Bob Heman

089 March 27, 2019
“Clay for the Potter”
by Belinda Bourgeois

#090 March 30, 2019
“The Pose”
by John Hicks

#091 April 2, 2019
“Last Night at the Wursthaus”
by Doug Holder

#092 April 4, 2019
“Original Sin”
by Diane Lockward

#093 April 5, 2019
“A Father Calls to his child on liveleak”
by Stephen Byrne

#094 April 8, 2019
by Marc Zegans

#095 April 12, 2019
“Landscape and Still Life”
by Marjorie Maddox

#096 April 16, 2019
“Strawberries Have Been Growing Here for Hundreds of
by Mary Ellen Lough

#097 April 17, 2019
“The New Science of Slippery Surfaces”
by Donna Spruijt-Metz

#098 April 19, 2019
“Tennessee Epithalamium”
by Alyse Knorr

#099 April 20, 2019
“Mermaid, 1969”
by Tameca L. Coleman

#100 April 21, 2019
“How Do You Know?”
by Stephanie

#101 April 23, 2019
“Rare Book and Reader”
by Ned Balbo

#102 April 26, 2019
by Jefferson Carter

#103 May 01, 2019
“The sight of a million angels”
by Jenneth Graser

#104 May 09, 2019
“How to tell my dog I’m dying”
by Richard Fox

#105 May 17, 2019
“Promises Had Been Made”
by Sarah Sarai

#106 June 01, 2019
“i sold your car today”
by Pamela Twining

#107 June 02, 2019
“Abandoned Stable”
by Nancy Susanna Breen

#108 June 05, 2019
by Julene Tripp Weaver

#109 June 6, 2019
“Bobby’s Story”
by Jimmy Pappas

#110 June 10, 2019
“When You Ask Me to Tell You About My Father”
by Pauletta Hansel

#111 Backstory of the Poem’s
“Cemetery Mailbox”
by Jennifer Horne

#112 Backstory of the Poem’s
by Kate Peper

#113 Backstory of the Poem’s
by Jennifer Johnson

#114 Backstory of the Poem’s
“Brushing My Hair”
by Tammika Dorsey Jones

#115 Backstory of the Poem
“Because the Birds Will Survive, Too”
by Katherine Riegel

#116 Backstory of the Poem
by Joan Barasovska

#117 Backstory of the Poem
by Michael Meyerhofer

#118 Backstory of the Poem
“Dear the estranged,”
by Gina Tron

#119 Backstory of the Poem
“In Remembrance of Them”
by Janet Renee Cryer

#120 Backstory of the Poem
“Horse Fly Grade Card, Doesn’t Play Well With Others”
by David L. Harrison

#121 Backstory of the Poem
“My Mother’s Cookbook”
by Rachael Ikins

#122 Backstory of the Poem
“Cousins I Never Met”
by Maureen Kadish Sherbondy

#123 Backstory of the Poem
“To Those Who Were Our First Gods”
by Nickole Brown

#124 Backstory of the Poem
“Looking For Sunsets (In the Early Morning)”
by Paul Levinson

#125 Backstory of the Poem
by Tiff Holland

#126 Backstory of the Poem
by Cindy Hochman

#127 Backstory of the Poem
by Natasha Saje

#128 Backstory of the Poem
“How to Explain Fertility When an Acquaintance Asks Casually”
by Allison Blevins

#129 Backstory of the Poem
“The Art of Meditation In Tennessee”
by Linda Parsons

#130 Backstory of the Poem
“Schooling High, In Beslan”
by Satabdi Saha

#131 Backstory of the Poem
“Baby Jacob survives the Oso Landslide, 2014”
by Amie Zimmerman

#132 Backstory of the Poem
“Our Age of Anxiety”
by Henry Israeli

#133 Backstory of the Poem
“Earth Cries; Heaven Smiles”
by Ken Allan Dronsfield

#134  Backstory of the Poem
by Janine Canan

#135 Backstory of the Poem
by Catherine Zickgraf

#136 Backstory of the Poem
“Bushwick Blue”
by Susana H. Case

#137 Backstory of the Poem
“Then She Was Forever”
by Paula Persoleo

#138 Backstory of the Poem
by Kris Bigalk

#139 Backstory of the Poem
“From Ghosts of the Upper Floor”
by Tony Trigilio

#140 Backstory of the Poem
“Cloud Audience”
by Wanita Zumbrunnen

#141 Backstory of the Poem
“Condition Center”
by Matthew Freeman

#142 Backstory of the Poem
“Adventuresome Woman”
by Cheryl Suchors

#143 Backstory of the Poem
“The Way Back”
by Robert Walicki

#144 Backstory of the Poem
“If I Had Three Lives”
by Sarah Russell

#145 Backstory of the Poem
by Andrea Rexilius

#146 Backstory of the Poem
“The Night Before Our Dog Died”
by Melissa Fite Johnson

#147 Backstory of the Poem
by David Anthony Sam

#148 Backstory of the Poem
“A Kitchen Argument”
by Matthew Gwathmey

No comments:

Post a Comment