What ingredients would you need to have a wonderful, jubilant, extra-happy, a little bit mysterious winter holiday?
Hmmm, perhaps two furry brown animals (one adorably stout, the other tall and sleek), a perky, yellow-feathered birdie, a warm hollow with a cozy fire, and CAKE!
For added flavor (why not?), add a bustling tea room with chatty critters in the middle of the woods, a basket of dried fruit, and three mistakes (that’s the mysterious part) — and you have the utterly charming new picture book, Wintercake (Greenwillow, 2019),written and illustrated by Newbery winner Lynne Rae Perkins.
You could say this one was written with my name all over it. I will say it’s one of my top three fave picture books of the year, and definitely one of my all-time favorite holiday books. After all, I do love little furry animals (I’m married to one), we do live in the woods (I dream of opening a tea room), and after eating enough cake, I could very well be described as stout. 😀
What’s that? You’re a little concerned about the ‘mysterious mistakes’? I thought as much. Don’t worry, because in this story, we see how mistakes can lead to good things — an adventure, new friends, new traditions — all cause for celebration. Let me explain . . .
Don’t you love it when a poem takes you by surprise? If you’re really lucky, it might even take you to a whole new world.
POEM FOR ROSS GAY by Jeff Friedman
In the time it took me
to cut four Athena melons
Ross ate them.
Then he ate the entire container
of Mediterranean hummus
on a loaf of organic
sprouted spelt bread.
To distract him from his hunger,
I brought in
Larry Levis’s book Elegy,
and he said his favorite poem
was the one about the cook
growing lost in his village —
whatever that means.
He flipped through the pages
and read the poem aloud.
“That’s a great poem,” he said.
He stretched out his long legs
and arms and smiled.
Then he ate the book, too.
But he wouldn’t eat
the chocolate chip cookies
or the King Arthur chocolate
onyx wafers because his body
is a temple. Nor would he eat
the balsamic chicken, though
he scrambled all the eggs
over peppers and onions
and polished them off.
“Stay out of the kitchen,”
I ordered, “the fridge is empty.”
“Let’s do kettle bells,” he replied
and pulled out a twenty-five pound
iron ball with a handgrip.
When did you escape
from the chain gang, I asked.
He began swinging it
from between his legs up
over his head faster
and faster until he let it go.
The ball cracked open
the cathedral ceiling,
flying into the sky
like a bomb in reverse.
Tree branches fell.
Glass shattered. The phoebes
cleared out of town quick.
The kettle bell exploded
in a cloud, pieces
of gold nougat and caramel
falling on our table.
Then Ross ate the sun
and pretty soon, he was glowing.
Friedman had me at the opening lines. When someone eats four melons, I’m all in. I smiled at the hummus and spelt bread, delighted to know this voracious eater was also hungry for poetry.
When Ross ate the book (oh!), I happily stepped into Friedman’s world of altered reality. Curious and appreciative of his humor, I was game for anything from then on (yeah, my body is a temple too, but I wouldn’t turn down a chocolate chip cookie).
As the narrative, fable, fantasy, tall tale (or whatever else you wish to call it) unfolded, I liked the sense of not knowing what would come next. It’s a good poet who can make you suspend disbelief and whet your appetite at the same time. 🙂
I didn’t know those weighted iron balls with the handles were called kettle bells. I also didn’t know Athena melons are actually cantaloupes. But I do know that the final image of the kettle bell shattering the ceiling, flying up into the sky and exploding in a cloud was one of those Emily Dickinson moments:
If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.
Pieces of gold nougat and caramel falling on our table. Then Ross ate the sun and pretty soon, he was glowing.
Didn’t see that coming at all. Loved the feeling of wonder, exhilaration, breaking free, imagination unleashed. Words can take us anywhere and whatever we consume gives us power.
The poem starts out in a matter of fact tone, grounded in reality. It slowly builds as the reader is transported.
I found this poem in Friedman’s book Working in Flour, after reading his interview with Annelies Zijderveld, a.k.a. The Food Poet. I was doubly rewarded, as I wasn’t familiar before with poet and Indiana Professor Ross Gay, whose Catalog of Unabashed Gratitudewon the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award.
Apparently Gay is a founding board member of the Bloomington Community Orchard, a non-profit, free-fruit-for-all food justice and joy project. And he does work out with kettle bells. That explains it.
I also liked the round orb metaphor — melon to kettle bell to sun — each packed with its own brand of energy. Maybe Friedman was trying to say, “you are what you eat.” 🙂
What’s your biggest take away from the poem? All I know is cantaloupes will never be the same . . .
Jeff Friedman has published six poetry collections, five with Carnegie Mellon University Press, including Pretenders (2014), Working in Flour (2011) and Black Threads (2008). His poems, mini stories and translations have appeared in American Poetry Review, Poetry, New England Review, The Antioch Review, Poetry International, Hotel Amerika, Flash Fiction Funny, Plume, Agni Online, The New Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish Poets, Smokelong Quarterly, and The New Republic and many other literary magazines.
He has won numerous awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Translation Fellowship, and two individual artist grants from the New Hampshire State Arts Council. Dzvinia Orlowsky’s and his translation of Memorials by Polish Poet Mieczslaw Jastrun was published by Lavender Ink/Dialogos in August 2014. He also collaborated with Nati Zohar on a book of translations of Israeli poets: Two Gardens: Modern Hebrew Poems of the Bible, published by Singing Bone Press in 2016. Friedman’s seventh book, Floating Tales—a collection of prose poems, fables and mini tales—is forthcoming from Plume Editions/MadHat Press in fall 2017.
Jeff Friedman lives in West Lebanon, New Hampshire with artist Colleen Randall and their dog Ruby.
The beautiful and infinitely talented Tanita S. Davis is hosting the Roundup at fiction (instead of lies).Tippy toe over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week. Happy December!
1.Think pink and chew on this: behold the crazy cool bubblegum sculptures of Rome-based artist Maurizio Savini!
Yes, I did say bubblegum. Don’t worry, he doesn’t have to pre-chew his chosen medium. Two assistants help him soften bricks of the stuff into malleable sheets before they’re applied to plaster molds like traditional clay, and then carved with a razor-sharp scalpel.
His subjects include animals, objects from pop culture, and people — sometimes for the purpose of political or social commentary (“pink represents artificiality — when you see it, you associate it with a fake world”). He’s been working with bubblegum for over 20 years, and his pieces are exhibited in galleries all over the globe.
Since bubblegum cannot typically be recycled or composted, Savini’s art is a creative way of “stretching the boundaries of environmental conscientiousness.” Oh, and don’t worry, his sculptures are preserved with a special mixture of antibiotics and formaldehyde, so they can be enjoyed for generations to come. 😀
2. It’s time to order your 2020 Julie Paschkis Vision Calendars!
This 2020 Vision Calendar is a one page poster, printed on heavy stock, 11″ x 17″. The watercolor and ink drawing celebrates the hope that our democracy will be strengthened and the rights of all protected – that 2020 will be a year of clarity and vision in the United States.
Each calendar costs $12. The entire $12 for each calendar sold goes to the ACLU. They make great gifts. Please get several of them! Shipping is free for 5 calendars or more.
A great cause, a beautiful calendar! Zip over to Julie Paprika to place your order.
This week most of us will be gathering with family and friends for some serious feasting. We’ll travel from points near and far, bringing homemade dishes, stories to tell, and lots of good cheer.
As we take our places around the table, we can express gratitude for our many blessings, strengthen bonds, forge new connections, and enthusiastically lick our chops. 🙂
We’re especially delighted to welcome Minnesota author Melanie Heuiser Hill to Alphabet Soup today, as her debut picture book celebrates all the joyful deliciousness that comes with sharing a good meal with loved ones.
Around the Table That Grandad Built (Candlewick, 2019)is Melanie’s delectable take on the classic cumulative tale, “This is the House That Jack Built.” A young girl first describes how her family sets the table with items that have special significance: “sunflowers picked by my cousins,” “napkins sewn by Mom,” “glasses from Mom and Dad’s wedding,” “forks and spoons and knives — gifts from Dad’s grandma long ago.”
And then (my favorite part!) she describes the mouthwatering menu:
This is the squash that took over our garden. These are the potatoes and peppers we roasted. And these are the beans, overflowing the bowl!
Yum! And there’s more — foods to reflect the diversity of her family, including “toasty tamales” and “samosas, spicy and hot.” This is all topped off with Gran’s homemade bread, Dad’s huckleberry jam, their traditional rice pudding, and lots of P-I-E-S!! 🙂
Jaime Kim’s exuberant mixed media illustrations, rendered in warm and cheery autumnal colors, burst with all the busyness and excitement of pitching in for a special feast.
Each step of the way, as Grandad’s handcrafted table is lovingly adorned by little hands laying on all the objects, ending with plates “red, orange, and yellow,” we can feel the wide-eyed, open-mouthed anticipation building.
By the time we see the finished table in all its glory, we share in the characters’ satisfaction of a job well done, where each has played a significant role. Build a table, build a meal, build a family.
Though this book is perfect for the holiday season, it speaks to any festive gathering of family and friends, where togetherness and convivialty reign supreme. Hungry munchkins will enjoy this lively read aloud as they identify and count objects, recognize colors, observe facial expressions, and pick out interesting details in all the pictures.
Now, let’s find out more from Melanie — can you smell her homemade bread baking in the oven? Mmmmm. 🙂
When Presidential Inaugural Poet, author and civil engineer Richard Blanco was growing up in Miami with his Cuban-exile family during the early 70’s, he longed to be a “true American” like one of the kids in “The Brady Bunch.”
He describes it as living between two imagined worlds:
One world was the 1950s and ’60s Cuba of my parents and grandparents — that paradise, that homeland so near and yet so foreign to where we might return any day, according to my parents. A homeland that I had never seen . . .
The other, less obvious world was America . . . Typical of a child, I contextualized America through food, commercials, G-rated versions of our history in textbooks and television shows, especially The Brady Bunch. More than a fiction or fantasy, I truly believed that, just north of the Miami-Dade County line, every house was like the Brady house, and every family was like them.
Much of Blanco’s poetry centers around his search for cultural identity. Over and over, he asks the questions, “Where is my home? Where am I from? Where do I belong?”
When he was a graduate student at Florida International University, he wrote the following poem, inspired by a childhood memory of wanting an “authentic” Thanksgiving meal.