So I follow a bunch of blogs for the humor and some for the pictures of food. The Domestic Man is one that always makes me hungry, as does One Man’s Meat. But lately Art-Colored Glasses pointed out how it’s not always about making your food tastier as much as making it look tastier. I dunno. I have never made a meal that looked so good I just had to photograph it, and I feel like I am missing out. There is a poetry to pretty food, and I always recognize that at sushi restaurants, but normally I am so hungry that I just throw the food on a plate or in a bowl and nom, nom, nom. But maybe I am missing out?
After living in the Boston area for more than twenty years, I finally went to Michael’s Deli in Coolidge Corner of Brookline and had their storied Reuben sandwich. That sandwich was bloody inspirational and when it is me that is talking, you know I mean that literally. So:
Ode to the Michael’s Deli
How perfectly heavy this
Pile of sweet corned beef,
How sour the kraut, how
Rough and soft the brown rye
Bread, the bed of this old marriage.
Even the cheese knows
Its perfect place, dripping out
On the dark edges, soft and
Hot, so utterly prodigal.
And the pickles? They
Keep their own secrets.
Thinking about what I said last week about writing about food, I came across an example from a long way back that is also a good example of concrete poetry, a poem that is written in the shape of its subject. I do not use this style often (and in the digital age, issues of formatting for audiences on a variety of platforms can be tricky), but I think this is a great example of form following function, since I am trying to say something not only about a piece of fruit but also about women and body image. This was published in Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies. The title comes from a line of a poem by Robert Pack (with whom I studied at Middlebury College), “Guardians” from his book Keeping Watch: “What can the half-grown pears say? ”
What the Pear Says
Now you see
me: chartreuse skin,
ample convexities of
hip, abdomen, buttocks
curving, tapering, as I sit
regarding your twitching
fingers, watering mouth, and
indecisive eyes. Am I heavy?
Not at all. A mere handful. I have hips,
yes, but then so do love’s roses. Oh, I know.
This is not a shape you’ve been taught to desire.
No matter. Slide your hand around me,
pull me close. To taste me
is to love me.
Spilecki, Susan. “What the Pear Says.” Frontiers (1997) 18:1.
Back in the 1990s, when I taught creative writing in Northeastern University’s old night school, I found similar problems with the poetry and the autobiography students: cliché and vagueness. The poets wrote things that sounded like bad pop love songs and the autobiographers covered large swaths of time with things like, “I would go to school and then I would come home and after I would do my homework, I would go out with my boyfriend…”
Q: How much would would a wouldchuck chuck if a wouldchuck could chuck would? A: None. Smart Writer Woodchucks use simpler tenses and more riveting detail.
To solve this dilemma, I had both classes write about food before they took on any other topic (and, following the advice of a colleague, I said they were not allowed to write about Love until they had earned it). Food is a great topic for a few reasons. Everybody eats, everybody has an emotional connection to food (both positive and negative), and food stimulates not just the visual sense, but also the smell, taste and tactile senses. It is the perfect topic.
During these years, the English department of the night school sponsored an April poetry reading every year to showcase the teaching poets in honor of National Poetry month. One year I read a poem I had written about a tomato, sunning itself on my windowsill like a Buddha.
After the reading, a student came up to me goggle-eyed, and said, “I am never going look at tomatoes the same way again!”
Without thinking, I said, “That is the whole purpose of poetry.”
And the more I have thought about it, lo these many years, the more I believe I was right.