The Poetry of Food: a Call to Sensuality

My doctor put me on a cleanse recently. He stipulated I remove sugar, dairy, alcohol, breads and vinegar for two weeks from my diet. It has been two years since my last cleanse which happened during the Christmas holiday. Was it hard to pass up all the holiday potlucks complete with homemade cakes slathered in buttercream frosting or the cheesy casseroles in favor of a handful of celery- yes. A million times yes, but it was do-able. This go round I mentioned my cleanse on facebook and received 11 comments, some dubious and some intrigued. This time I decided to chart my daily consumption believing that in spite of the removal of these key food categories, I could still eat deliciously and perhaps pave a road for others that want to give it a go.

Some of us live to eat and others eat to live. This cleanse reminds me of the food as fuel approach and anyone that knows me, knows this is not enough. The texture and complexity of flavors, the aromas and commingling of ingredients, the act of masticating and swallowing- food is a sensual act, not mere science.
Poetry does not seem to have a natural correlation to food, but it intrigues me how both entreat the senses to take part. Fingers typing on a keyboard or pushing pen to paper, active and subconscious visualization of how the words might fit best, background sounds to create the white noise in favor of the white page- these are some images that come to mind of the space in which a poem comes into being. For some, their ritual of creating that sacred space includes sipping a glass of wine, a cup of tea, a large cup of coffee late into the night. All of the senses participate in breathing a poem into life. And we can appreciate how much brighter life becomes because of the poetry. Is poetry just a fuel that keeps our creative wick burning? Do we write the poems to stay nourished and balance the world around us? Does the need for poetry seem immediate like a growling stomach beckoning for a morsel?

I cracked open Ginsberg’s Kaddish to imagine how it might respond to a cleanse of the senses. His imagery of Naomi, of his surroundings employs all of his senses, captivating the reader. When he speaks of “Ray Charles blues shout blind on the / phonograph”, I can hear it. Or his description of “hand- / churned ice cream in backroom on musty brownfloor”, I can taste this. His depictions of Naomi particularly bring out an ultra-sensory frame. He envisions her young, recently arrived from Russia, “frightened on the dock – / then struggling in the crowds of Orchard Street” and the reader finds him/herself enveloped by the crush of touch in a foreign place. This foreignness takes on new meaning and heights for Naomi as her descent into madness reveals itself to 13 year old Ginsberg. In part II, they are walking in Paterson and he writes of her, “you covered your nose with motheaten fur collar, / gas mask against poison sneaked into downtown atmosphere,” and the reader can smell the fur collar, smell her fear. It’s hard to imagine Ginsberg without his senses telling part of his story for him. They are part of what we love about his poetry.

To strip poetry of the senses is to find a poetry beautiful on the page but missing something necessary. The senses provide different points of entry into a poem that elevate its meaning.

I’m going to explore the poetics of food in my postings and look forward to this tasting menu, one blog bite at a time. The food of poetry calls us to a higher nutrition that feeds the mind and the soul. If we let it, we not only consume poetry, but it consumes us, one sense at a time.

–Annelies Zijderveld


    • Thanks for sharing this site with us! The food on the site looks delectable. Not a site to visit when you’re hungry.

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