Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tuesday Poem: What they don't tell you on Food TV

the best fish is handed to you over the side
of the boat, the best fish is fried, bones and
all, and eaten in a sun so bright it’s white,

snapping off the ends of beans is like lips
popping, a pork cookbook is the best place
to find that picture of you and your mum

at Taupo in summer, a turkey too late
into the oven can make a grandmother
cry with hunger, come Easter in Crete

lambs are bloody sacks, here, their milky
mouths butt your hip, eggplant is purpler
when you call it aubergine, aubergine

is purpler when you call it melitzane, another
thing again when you call it Mellie-Jane, crack-
ing eggs is an act of belief whichever way

you look at it - each time the epiphany, there’s
no better breakfast than a three-dollar special
in a New York diner, watching her swallow

every shred of yellow from the yolk - every
lick of milk - every crumb, fasting is not all
its cracked up to be unless it’s in a monastery

in Stokes Valley under a gold stupa and dawn
brings porridge and bells, at the end of a long
day in the city there’s nothing better than

meat and tomato and oregano walking you
up the path and the eldest son at the kitchen
bench grating cheese, no better rice than his

brother’s unmoulded from a bowl to a white
plate, risotto is best measured in handfuls by
Marielle - uno due tre cuatro, zucchini flowers

must be carried in two palms like a prayer,
father and feta are from the same family of
words, you cannot make yorkshire puds as

good as your gran’s no matter how hot the oil,
an apple is sweetest from a tree, and if not that
then untucked from its tissue, its wooden box,

oysters are sweetest swallowed like shots
of seawater, beef is best on charcoal tended
by laughing men, ginger needs to be grated

in finger not thumb lengths, crushed olives
are the smell of the earth – all that history
of heating cooling burying spitting up, oil

rising of its own accord from the purple crush
is named after the yolk of the egg, asparagus
is just what asparagus is,  those apricots she

makes every summer are apricots blooming
in a bowl, and spooning yoghurt and honey
into a mouth on white-washed steps with

a turquoise sea and a donkey crowing and
someone calling kali mera into the bleaching
light, is like scooping up the sun and eating it

                                             Mary McCallum

I've been wanting to write a list poem ever since I set it as an assignment for my creative writing students at Massey University. I got the idea at one of our first Tuesday Poet drinks at the Library Bar. Helen Rickerby - poet and publisher of poets - had been talking there about a successful workshop she'd had with the students of Harvey Molloy's (also a Tuesday Poet) at Newlands College. She'd read the kids a list poem by Helen Lehndorf called Poem without the L Word and got them to write list poems of their own.

I asked Helen to promise to send me the poem as soon as she got home (she's publishing it in Helen L's out-this-week collection The Comforter), and the next day, I set my students the list poem to do and got some lovely stuff.

So last week, with uni over, I started up an adult writing workshop here in Eastbourne. The first assignment: the list poem. This is mine. There were seven others, every one different and astonishing in its own way. What impressed us all was the way the power of each poem grew with each listed thing, and the real subject of the poem elbowed its way through. It is what poetry's all about, really.

What's this poem really about then? Food and family - how they feed and make each other. How simple both can be, how complicated. It's about my family history too, how it spreads itself across many countries and generations, and how food in all those places and times is both different and the same.

Do check out the hub poem on Tuesday Poem. It's by Wellington poet Harry Ricketts.


Claire G said...

"What they don't tell you on Food TV" was delicious, just now, as part of my chosen poem-food match (I had it with homemade wholegrain muesli, chunks of fresh sweet pineapple and dollops of unsweetened natural yoghurt). Thank you for reminding us what food really is.

maggie@at-the-bay.com said...

Mary - you sure have a way with words - mouth-watering.

Keith Westwater said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Keith Westwater said...

Mary, so many great images - colours, smells, tastes, people in union and communion with food, and no-one pontificating about their cleverness or lack of it. Excellent poem!

Elizabeth Welsh said...

Mm, I really admire the way it moves so seamlessly across geographical borders, Mary. It seems so effortless. Thanks for sharing!!

Mary McCallum said...

Thank you Claire, Maggie, Keith and Elizabeth for your lovely feedback. LOVE the idea of a poem-food match - and your particular match, Claire, sounds delicious. It's funny - I really didn't mean to cross so many borders -- but just mentioning the people or the food brought the places with them.

AJ Ponder said...

nice. Not quite the grocery list I threatened last week ;)

Jennifer Compton said...

yeah love this poem - on one read seems to work 100% - love the tricky enjambements (is that the word?) and of course the reason your gran's yorkshire puds tasted so good is she cooked them in cracking hot lard

heyboni was my word lol