I have been missing diners a lot these days, particularly the small red diner in Buffalo that my parents owned for 32 years (which is now temporarily closed due to the pandemic and a transfer of owners). The diner feels so much a part of me—it’s as though ketchup runs through my veins. After school and on Saturdays, I stayed at the diner. The customers were my family. I have always been inspired to “write what I know” and so I wrote my first book about my experiences growing up in the diner. That book won a national award and was published in 2010 and people begin to refer to me as “the diner poet.” Since then I’ve published books on other subjects and that was important to me because I wanted to show people that I write about other things, too. I am currently working on a collection about motherhood.
There’s something about diners that moves me to write: the rhythm of people coming and leaving, the musicality of silverware scrapes, the chatter, and hiss of the coffee brewing, and the characters like Steel Worker Mike and Onion Eddie. I was a waitress for over two decades and I used to keep paper scraps in my apron to jot down poems between coffee pours and plate deliveries and many of my poems started from those poem-seeds.
My poems often function as a diner should: they are accessible, unpretentious, and draw a diverse crowd. Too many people still think that poetry has to be confusing and that it is for the academics, and I work to sneak poetry into the lives of non-poetry people. My favorite compliment is when someone tells me they never liked poetry before they heard mine.
The right poem is soul food, making us feel connected, less alone. I work to draw readers’ attention and care to people they might otherwise ignore. I write about the person who sweeps blood off the sidewalk after a shooting, the homeless, the factory worker, the couple sitting at a booth, reeking of urine. I invite the reader in with details so heartbreakingly beautiful that she has no choice but to fall in love with those I write about. These increasingly divisive times require poetry that brings us closer to all of humanity.
Here’s the link to four poems that were published recently in Cordella Magazine and they will be in my second diner book, which is near completion.