Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Poetry of Food

For those who find themselves at this here blog and don't really know us all that well, Jay is the chef and I am the poet, or so I think anyway. Regardless, I hold a Master of Fine Arts in Writing degree with specialties in poetry and fiction. I know that doesn't really make me a poet, but I do have a few poems scattered about, and I work constantly to get more scattered out there. So, I always look forward to April, because it is National Poetry Month. Today, in fact, is Poem in Your Pocket Day, and that got me thinking a bit about the intersection between poetry and food, at least the way they have intersected in my life.
I truly believe my poetic life had its beginnings in my mother's kitchen where my sense of taste was nurtured with the great love and care for the culinary traditions of her own native Sicily. Back then, she would have modestly said that this was just the way she grew up eating, but our house was always the one kids in our neighborhood flocked to to taste whatever she was cooking.
The foods I ate growing up certainly opened my senses up to the world around me and could very well have been the reason my poems are so image driven. I mean, just thinking about my mother's stuffed squid, a Christmas staple, conjures up the images of a bubbling savory tomato sauce with the smooth bodies of each squid stuffed plump with breadcrumb and real fresh grated parmigiano. The squid is so tender you wouldn't know it for the squid found fried up in restaurants, today. While my friends talked of the standard Christmas glazed ham, corn and mashed potatoes, my mother filled our table--extended to its full length--with fennel sausage purchased at Cantoro's Market, the best outside of the sausage she stuffed herself, her glistening lasagna and her eggplant parmigiano. Then there was the tender octopus salad, with onions, parsley, lemon, salt, pepper and fennel for taste and texture, coated liberally with olive oil, a staple of my childhood.
Another staple, one I looked forward to having every time my mom made a trip to Cantoro's, was sardines packed in brine, not the ones you get in those little cans at the grocery. No, those are mild and, for lack of a better word, wimpy compared to the salty crunch of the sardines I ate with a hunk of fresh crusty bread. This is the poetry of my childhood. These are the first sensual moments that I can associate with all that was good about my childhood, all that was vibrant, flavorful and rich.
It's fitting then that I celebrate the homecoming of our food cart, our future in food, by sharing links, on this Poem in Your Pocket Day, to poems about food.

"The First Artichoke" by Diane Lockward

"Eating the Pig" by Donald Hall

"The Melon" by Charles Simic

"The Emperor of Ice-Cream" by Wallace Stevens


  1. I believe that food really is the center of the universe. It does more than nourish our bodies - it fills our souls. Maybe that's what's wrong with the world- we've stopped giving food the attention it needs. It's an art in and of it's self. I can just imagine the beautiful dishes your mother created (and makes me want to try them). I grew up in an Irish/English/German household and my mother was a great cook but it wasn't until I got older that she really started discovering some beautiful dishes (didn't hurt that I liked to experiment in the kitchen at an early age).

  2. I believe the same. My mother is an amazing cook and her recipes are treasures, for sure.