Friday, August 6, 2010

Review of "The Sound of Poets Cooking"

First Published in "Wild Goose Poetry Review" and in a modified form in "Outlook"

Review of The Sound of Poets Cooking, edited by Richard Krawiec
Jacar Press, 2010, 172 pages
ISBN: 9780984574001

It happens to all of us at one time or another. Late of an afternoon, we start to feel a certain emptiness, as if something is missing, something needed. We call it hunger or craving. And the more we try to ignore it, the stronger it gets. Maybe we long for something light and refreshing, or something heavier, meaty. Maybe just something sweet. Or maybe we can’t figure out exactly what we want. And that’s when we know that the answer to our appetite is surely a buffet. And that’s just what Richard Krawiec has arrayed before us as editor of The Sound of Poets Cooking. Whether we long for something exotic, something familiar and comforting, something spicy, salty, or even a bit saucy, this enticing collection of delectable delights is sure to satisfy.

To be clear and leave metaphor behind for a moment, The Sound of Poets Cooking is a new, 172-page anthology of poems about food accompanied by related recipes, from Krawiec’s fledgling press, Jacar Press. And it is an impressive debut, featuring wonderful work from poets both familiar and new, including two NC Poets Laureate, Fred Chappell and Kathryn Stripling Byer, and numerous other standards: Joseph Bathanti, Kelly Cherry, Jaki Shelton Green, Susan Ludvigson, Joanna Catherine Scott, Shelby Stephenson, and more, wrapped in a clever cover with an image of Buddha cradling a pomegranate, eggplant, carrots, tomatoes, sweet potato, chef’s knife and some spiky yellow fruit I’m not familiar with, appealingly conveying the mixture of spirituality and whimsy one might expect from poetry about food.

Of course, individual poems and individual recipes from the collection prove both enjoyable and useful, but like any good recipe, The Sound of Poets Cooking also masterfully blends disparate elements to create what might be experienced as a single savory delight, a cohesive record of the diverse ways in which the culinary arts and poetic arts are woven into the fabric of our memories, our experiences, and our daily emotional and intellectual lives. Here a reader finds the mock heroic tetrameter couplets of Chappell’s “Pot Luck Supper: Aunt Lavinia Strikes” delicately balanced by the therapeutic free verse of Grey Brown’s “Scrambled.” Or the stick-to-your-ribs heaviness of Debra Kaufman’s “Minestrone, Rainy Day” relieved by the joyful ad-libbing of Alice Owens Johnson’s “Gumbo.” Or the formal propriety of Jim Clark’s “Sunday Dinner” harmonized by the titillating temptation of Deborah Kolodji’s “Eggplant Parmigiana.”

As for the recipes, there are many I intend to try my hand at, including the onion pie, the Brussels sprouts & goat cheese risotto, and the coconut cake, but like Lenard Moore’s daughter, the one I look forward to the most is the three cheese macaroni and cheese.

To whet your appetite a bit more here is a sampler platter of some of my favorite lines from The Sound of Poets Cooking. Bon appetit!

from Scott Douglass’ “Bread Crumbs:”
. . . I fill
each page with bread crumb words,
a trail for someone, sometime
to follow back to me

from Anne Barnhill’s “Tiramisu:”
Don’t give me puffy white clouds
Fat as marshmallows
To lounge on when I die.
. . . . . . . . . .
Just place a generous block of tiramisu
In front of me;
. . . . . . . . . .
Sin straddling goodness--
Delicious as Dante.

from Pat Riviere-Seel’s “Road Trip Conversation:”
Beside you now I am ravenous
for the ripe figs of your fingers
folded around the steering wheel.

from Michael Beadle’s “Fromage:”
For a flash of free verse, I invoke
the Goddess of Gorgonzola, //
who bids me long life
as long as I use her bounty //
upon this holy cracker of truth,
this snack we have to share //
as the Muenster metaphor
melts in our minds.

from Susan Meyers’ “Fork: Song for the Misunderstood:”
May the fork in its daily travels discover
an insatiable mouth.
May the mouth
always adore the fork’s repetitive tune.

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