Lucky me, poet friend and kindred spirit Andrea Potos had the Poetry East Spring 2017 Food Issue sent to me shortly after it came out last year. You can bet I’ve been savoring and feasting on it ever since (thanks again, Andrea!).
This special issue, published by DePaul University, contains 49 poems presented in seven courses (truly the perfect meal), along with seven delectable recipes and a bevy of beautiful fine art paintings.
In the Main Course section, I was especially taken with Faith Shearin’s poem, “A Few Things I Ate.” The conversational style drew me in immediately, and I love how Faith built a captivating narrative with an embellished list of telling details, how she subtly wove in deeper regrets as well as fond memories. It’s wonderful how carefully chosen specifics can be so universally relatable.
Are we not all a product of what we’ve eaten throughout our lives? The countless foods, with their why’s and whens and wherefores, reveal our unique, personal stories.
I thank Faith for permission to share her poem, for answering my questions about it, and for her yummy recipe. Enjoy!
A FEW THINGS I ATE
by Faith Shearin
There are a few things I’m sorry I ate: a piece of fried chicken
in an all-night diner that bled when I cut into it,
a soup in an elegant French restaurant where I encountered
a mysterious ring of plastic. Also: a bowl of spaghetti served
with so many long strands of hair I wondered who,
in the kitchen, had gone bald. I’m sorry I ate the fast food
cookies that tasted like paper the same way I am sorry
I let certain men kiss me or hold my hand. I’m especially sorry
I ate a certain hot dog on a train that had been twirling for days
on a lukewarm display. Forgive me for all that cafeteria food
in college: packaged, bland, frozen so long it could not
remember flavor. And, hungry in my dorm, I ate bags
of stale lies from vending machines, once even a pair
of expired Twinkies filled with a terrible chemical cream
I am still digesting. After my daughter was born I bought
so much organic baby food my husband found the jars
everywhere: little glass wishes. One winter I ate exotic fruits
from upscale stores so expensive I might have flown instead
to a distant tropical island. Then, careless, I ate
from containers only my microwave understood. I know
what food is supposed to be but often isn’t; I know
who I might have been if I ate whatever I should have eaten.
Remember the time we ate Ethiopian food and spent
a week dreaming so vividly our real life grew pale?
Or the day we ate so much spice in our Thai food
that our mouths were softer? I’m not sorry I ate
all those ice cream sandwiches from my grandmother’s
freezer and drank those Pepsis with her on the way
to Kmart to buy more pink, plastic toys. She liked
the way sugar made me lively, and anyway,
she was suggesting the possibility of pleasure.
She made a vegetable soup that simmered all day
on the stove: growing deeper, more convincing,
and a carrot cake with cream cheese icing that floated
on my tongue like love. Now I am middle-aged. I am fat
and eating salads or, before bed, talking myself
into rice cakes that taste like despair. My father
is diabetic and must have everything whole wheat
and lean and my sister can’t have any salt. I’m sorry
I ate all that cereal when we first got married,
by myself in the kitchen, the milk pale and worried.
Remember how I covered my fruit with cheese
and mayonnaise? I’m not sorry, whatever
you might say. Then there were the lunches
we ate on the beach, watching the seals
sun themselves: thick chicken sandwiches wrapped
in a foil so silver they must have been valuable.
~ posted by permission of the author, © Poetry East: No. 90 (Food), Spring 2017.
FAITH SHEARIN ON “A FEW THINGS I ATE”
Each item cited in this poem is a story unto itself. Are most of the details autobiographical or invented?
The details in the poem are a mix of autobiography and invention. My grandmother, for instance, did cook the foods I mention, and I did buy too many jars of organic baby food after my daughter was born; the year we got married my husband and I did eat chicken sandwiches for lunch while watching seals sun themselves on a beach.
What initially inspired this poem?
I often work on a series of poems in a notebook in my purse; this particular poem was part of a group I was fashioning from lists: failures, places I’d lived, pets I’d owned, objects I had lost.
Can you tell us a little about your process? Did you have to revise heavily to create the spontaneous, conversational style of the speaker?
I tend to write too much, make a big mess, and doodle in the margins. Then, I type the poem up, print it, and cross out the weaker lines. I keep a folder of these unwieldy attempts and later, with a clearer head, I take them out and clean up the ideas and images that have some emotional intensity or spark.
What do you hope readers will take away from your poem about the complex relationship between food and emotions?
A person must do a lot of eating to stay alive. I like literature that mentions food: I like how Hobbits eat six meals a day in Tolkien’s books, and A. A. Milne’s Pooh enjoys a little smackerel of honey at eleven o’ clock.
A person’s relationship to food is revealing. Most of my friends and family feel strongly about what they eat and why. My brother is a runner and he is devoted to organic foods with dense nutrient content. My husband is from Michigan and he is partial to food he ate during his childhood: pasties, cherries, beef with noodles, a certain brand of ginger ale. My sister and father have health problems that mean they adhere to strict diets; my mother favors chocolate when she is nervous.
I like to cook but I also like to eat out, particularly in cities, where I am always looking for good Japanese or Indian food. I like Whole Foods though I know it’s overpriced and the food is probably just lit and packaged nicely; somehow, when I’m there, eating kale from the food bar, I imagine I am improving myself.
I like the Virginia Woolf quote: “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well…” I had a friend in college who pointed out to me that the grilled cheese he was eating was about to become him. “A Few Things I Ate” began as a list of foods I’d eaten but became, for me, an exploration of how those foods, as they vanished, became part of my story, part of who I am.
Do you have a favorite recipe you could share with us?
I like to make flourless peanut butter chocolate chip cookies in winter. They are not too sweet and I snack on them for a full week after making a batch.
Faith Shearin's Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
- 3/4 cup chocolate chips
- 1-1/2 cups peanut butter
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Stir ingredients together in a bowl.
Scoop dough by the rounded tablespoonful onto a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before eating.
~ Recipe shared by poet Faith Shearin, as posted at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.
Faith Shearin is the author of five books of poetry: The Owl Question (Swenson Poetry Award), The Empty House, Moving the Piano, Telling the Bees, and Orpheus Turning (2015 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize). Recent work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review and Poetry East, and has been read aloud by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac. She is the recipient of awards from The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, The Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her work also appears in The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary Poets and Good Poems, American Places. She lives with her husband and daughter on top of a mountain in West Virginia.
🎼 LIBBA GIVEAWAY WINNER! 🎼
Thanks to all for commenting on my post about LIBBA: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten by Laura Veirs and Tatyana Fazlalizadeh.
Happy to report that the person who will be receiving a brand new copy of this fabulous book is:
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Please send along your snail mail address to receive your book. 🙂 🙂 🙂
* Next Giveaway will be on Friday, March 16, for When Paul Met Artie by G. Neri and David Litchfield.
The beautiful and talented Michelle H. Barnes is hosting the Roundup at Today’s Little Ditty. Tango on over and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared in the blogosphere this week. Have a nice weekend!
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