quite a feast: jeff friedman’s “poem for ross gay”

 

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.

~ from Working in Flour (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2011).

 

*

 

What do you make of this poem?

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).

 

“Cantaloupe Slices” by Susan Clare”

 

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.

Wow.

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.

 

Ross is the tall one in the brown shirt.

 

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 Gratitude won 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!

 


Copyright © 2019 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

38 thoughts on “quite a feast: jeff friedman’s “poem for ross gay”

  1. Oh, my goodness….this poem! I started out smiling and then grinning and then laughing with delight. I mean the appetite for food for life! It’s pure joy in that nougat. I would love to use this poem as a mentor poem. It’s stunning and delightful. Thanks for sharing it and the book title. I think I need to read this one!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s a foodie poem meant for you, Jama. But to me, it’s a ‘delicious’ love poem. If one could describe one’s lover like that, with all that he (she?) is, it is love indeed, and “glowing”. I can imagine someone in love, saying, “and then he, and then, and then. . .” It is a treasure to read what poets bring to us. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mmmm, scrambled eggs over pepper and onions… where’s the rice and the hot sauce?

    Ironically, my takeaway from the poem is to EAT SOMETHING. Man, the nougat… my brain went straight to Ferrara Torrone and stayed there. And can I tell you how much I love the idea of edible kettle bells? This would improve their usage greatly!!!!

    Thanks for sharing this one. I’m going to have to ponder it a minute.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As soon as I finished reading this, I asked my partner when he was cooking breakfast.

    My favourite part of this is:
    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.
    That made me laugh out loud.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you liked the poem. When I first read the poem, I didn’t realize Ross Gay was a real person . . . now, of course, I need to read his work in addition to more of Friedman’s.

      Like

  5. I love this poem, too! Ashamed to say I am not familiar with Jeff Friedman’s work, and he lives in my state! I don’t get out much! I am intrigued by the photo of Ross Gay and the kettle ball people. The woman on the right with the red kettle ball looks so much like NH storyteller Rebecca Rule that I wonder if it is she!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What a wonderful homage to Ross with humor and delight and an all-encompassing quality that is a bit reminiscent of Whitman. It brought me some cheer. Thanks for sharing it, Jama.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi, Jama. A surreal poem — I’ll take a large serving, thanks! Ross in this poem reminds me of the film “Spirited Away.” A voracious character turns out to be empty not from hunger, but from loneliness.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Several things made me laugh while reading this poem, the bit about not eating the cookies because his body is a temple … and the kettlebells cracking open the ceiling. My husband has a kettlebell, and I can tell you that I will never look at it the same way again. Thanks for sharing this poem! It makes me think in a new way.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This is most definitely a poem that makes me feel as if the top of my head is coming off. Thank you for sharing it, and for the information about Ross Gay. We are quite close to Bloomington and will have to check out his work with the orchard and his writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Yes, I DO love when a poem takes me by surprise, so thank you thank you THANK YOU for sharing this one, Jama! If this poem is typical of Friedman’s other work, I’m sold. Unfortunately, when I searched for it in my library’s catalog all I got was “Gluten-free on a Shoestring” so I guess I’ll have to search a little harder. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I love Ross Gay’s work, especially his book of essays, which makes the idea of his eating the sun somehow believable. Love this poem, too, Jama, and the way you pushed your thinking in its interpretation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had borrowed Gay’s book of essays but had to return it to the library before I had a chance to read it. So many books, too little time. Will remember to check it out again. 🙂

      Like

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