barbara crooker: come over to the dark side

#9 in the Poetry Potluck Series, celebrating National Poetry Month 2011.

Poetry lovers, slip on your black satin bibs and saunter right up to the table. For today, black berets only, please.

Goodbye sweetness and light, hello dark and sexy.

When it comes down to it, really down to it, who do you love? Barbara Crooker knows.

via Linnie

Very likely you’ve seen her “Ode to Chocolate” online, or maybe in her newest poetry collection, MORE (C&R Press, 2010). I love this swagger of a poem, the way it tempts and teases, plays to the rebel, takes no prisoners. Not an ounce of milquetoast, no hem or haw. Dark, baby, dark. Deep, decadent, divine.

by Barbara Crooker

I hate milk chocolate, don’t want clouds
of cream diluting the dark night sky,
don’t want pralines or raisins, rubble
in this smooth plateau.  I like my coffee
black, my beer from Germany, wine
from Burgundy, the darker, the better.
I like my heroes complicated and brooding,
James Dean in oiled leather, leaning
on a motorcycle.  You know the color.

Oh, chocolate!  From the spice bazaars
of Africa, hulled in mills, beaten,
pressed in bars.  The cold slab of a cave’s
interior, when all the stars
have gone to sleep.

Chocolate strolls up to the microphone
and plays jazz at midnight, the low slow
notes of a bass clarinet.  Chocolate saunters
down the runway, slouches in quaint
boutiques; its style is je ne sais quoi.
Chocolate stays up late and gambles,
likes roulette.  Always bets
on the noir.

© 2010 Barbara Crooker. All rights reserved. Used with permission of the author.

Barbara: “Ode to Chocolate” came out of a prompt I was doing with a women’s retreat, one where I’ve led the poetry workshop for oh, 26-27 years now. I was looking for a food prompt, and did a Google search on chocolate + poems, coming up blank. So I decided to write one of my own! The group still fondly remembers me breaking off small bits of a very dark chocolate bar and passing them out, almost like communion. They wrote some really neat poems as well.

I first encountered “Ode to Chocolate” at Diane Lockward’s Blogalicious, when she hosted a Poetry Salon in honor of Barbara’s MORE. Loved it, of course, and thus began my hunger for more Barbara poems.

Shortly after I posted Diane’s “If Only Humpty Dumpty Had Been a Cookie” for Poetry Friday, I received an email from Barbara, who offered to send me a batch of gluten free cookie recipes, several of them containing chocolate. We talked about “Ode to Chocolate,” “Ode to Olive Oil,” and the general deliciousness of food poetry. Yes, here was a woman after my own heart, extolling gravy and writing fondly about her mother’s piecrust. Sweet serendipity; there was more.

We discovered that the same novelist and professor, Asa Baber (who for many years wrote the “Men” column in Playboy magazine), had been pivotal in both our lives as fledging writers. Barbara met Asa at a conference; the advice he so kindly offered set her on the right path. Asa was my first college English professor in Hawai’i, the one who convinced me to pursue creative writing. He was unconventional and disarmingly handsome with a deep, dark tan. My James Dean, a master of je ne sais quoi. Simply no limits to the power of chocolate and poetry, happy connections being the greatest gift of all.

So, back to Barbara’s gluten free recipes. Last week, I made her Chocolate Shortbread, which is so, sooooooo good. The entire house smelled of rich chocolate, butter and vanilla all afternoon. I kind of drifted around from room to room in a deep chocolate reverie, thinking that if food is poetry, this cookie is the perfect love sonnet. As it turns out, the recipe actually represents the special love of a mother for her son:

Barbara: April is National Autism Awareness Month, and the reason I have all these gluten-free recipes is that being gluten (wheat, rye, oats, barley) and casein (milk, dairy products) -free has made a huge difference in our son’s ability to navigate the world. He’s 27 now, still living at home, and I’m still baking for him.


1/2 cup butter, soft (or 1/4 tub Earth Balance non-dairy “butter”)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted
1 cup gluten free flour
1 tsp. xanthan gum

Mix butter, sugar, vanilla; add chocolate. Stir dry ingredients together, add. Press into a small (8-10″) spring form pan. Press fork around edges to make a design; prick holes in top with fork. Bake at 300 degrees for 45 minutes. Cool in pan. Cut into wedges while warm (then cut into smaller pieces, if desired).

Note: Barbara likes Bette Hagman’s Gluten-Free flour mixture.

Barbara Crooker has written more than 625 poems published in over 1,950 anthologies, books, and magazines such as Yankee, The Christian Science Monitor, Nimrod, Poetry International, and The Beloit Poetry Journal. She’s the recipient of the 2007 Pen and Brush Poetry Prize, the 2006 Ekphrastic Poetry Award from Rosebud, the 2004 WB Yeats Society of New York Award, the 2003 Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award, and many more. She’s been nominated an amazing 26 times for the Pushcart Prize and also received a 1997 Grammy nomination for her part in the audio version of the popular anthology, Grow Old Along With Me – The Best is Yet to Be (Papier Mache Press).

She’s authored ten chapbooks (two won national competitions), and published three full-length poetry collections: Radiance (2005 Word Press First Book Prize, 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize finalist), Line Dance (2009 Paterson Award for Literary Excellence), and More (2010). Her work has been read on the BBC, the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Company), and by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac over a dozen times. You can find many of Barbara’s poems online, referenced at her official website.

♥ I love this:

What more can a person
hope for, in this world of a thousand sorrows,
than a life that was made for song, than a body
sometimes able to take wing?

~from “My Life as a Song Sparrow,” included in MORE, one of two prizes offered in my Poetry Book Giveaway.

♥ To listen to Barbara read “Ode to Chocolate,” click here.

Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.


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