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I'm a guy who likes to cook, eat, and drink, but not necessarily in that order. This blog is nothing fancy; just my random thoughts about anything that can be baked, roasted, or fried. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Food and the Written Word

There is a strong connection between poetry and food. Both are fundamentally emotional responses to the world we smell, taste and touch. Both can be profoundly personal and obtuse; mysterious, if not down-right opaque. Consequently, it is not surprising that many poets through the ages, from Ovid to Frost, have written about food, eating, and drinking. Recently, I discovered a book titled, The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food & Drink, edited by Kevin Young, a young American poet. (Here’s a review from the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/22/books/the-hungry-ear-poems-of-food-drink-kevin-young-editor.html?_r=0 ). 

Mr. Young has complied over 100 poems dedicated to food and drink, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Here are three of my favorites from this book that—as we approach Independence Day—are so quintessentially American:

After Apple Picking

My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree

Toward heaven still.
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three

Apples I didn't pick upon some bough. 
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,

The scent of apples; I am drowsing off. 

I cannot shake the shimmer from my sight

I got from looking through a pane of glass

I skimmed this morning from the water-trough, 

And held against the world of hoary grass.

It melted, and I let it fall and break. 

But I was well 

Upon my way to sleep before it fell, 

And I could tell 

What form my dreaming was about to take. 

Magnified apples appear and reappear, 

Stem end and blossom end, 

And every fleck of russet showing clear. 

My instep arch not only keeps the ache, 

It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round. 

And I keep hearing from the cellar-bin 

That rumbling sound 

Of load on load of apples coming in. 

For I have had too much 
Of apple-picking; I am overtired 

Of the great harvest I myself desired. 

There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch, 

Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall, 

For all 

That struck the earth, 

No matter if not bruised, or spiked with stubble, 

Went surely to the cider-apple heap 

As of no worth. 

One can see what will trouble 

This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is. 

Were he not gone, 

The woodchuck could say whether it's like his 

Long sleep, as I describe its coming on, 

Or just some human sleep. 

      —Robert Frost

The Fish

As soon as the elderly waiter

placed before me the fish I had ordered,

it began to stare up at me
with its one flat, iridescent eye.

I feel sorry for you, it seemed to say,

eating alone in this awful restaurant

bathed in such unkindly light

and surrounded by these dreadful murals of Sicily.

And I feel sorry for you, too—

yanked from the sea and now lying dead

next to some boiled potatoes in Pittsburgh—

I said back to the fish as I raised my fork.

And thus my dinner in an unfamiliar city

with its rivers and lighted bridges

was graced not only with chilled wine

and lemon slices but with compassion and sorrow

even after the waiter removed my plate

with the head of the fish still staring

and the barrel vault of its delicate bones

terribly exposed, save for a shroud of parsley.

         —Billy Collins

I, Too, Sing America

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"

They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

      —Langston Hughes

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