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).

 

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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 . . .

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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.

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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.

a childhood thanksgiving memory: “américa” by richard blanco

“The Cup of Coffee” by Cuban artist Lorenzo Romero Arciaga (1940)

 

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.

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welcome friends, soup’s on

 

*enters kitchen, eats three pieces of chocolate, then takes out the soup pot. . . *

Hello, Cutie Pies!

Yes, we’re finally back. 🙂

It’s so good to know I can type a few words, find you here, and share this small, safe space with you — cause things in this world seem to be getting scarier and more tumultuous with each passing day.

It’s heartbreaking to see what’s happening to our country with everyone fighting and on edge all the time.

 

 

We’re exhausted, frustrated, demoralized, fearful. We feel broken and powerless in the face of unmitigated hate, corruption, and greed.

And then there’s the profound sadness —  three recent mass shootings, and the loss of Toni Morrison and Lee Bennett Hopkins last month.

What to do? How to cope?

Toni Morrison’s words inspire, ground, and uplift:

This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.

I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.

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three food poems by naomi shihab nye

 

“Poetry allows us to cherish what we’re given. Whether it be a heartbreak, a second chance, a soft morning mist, a moment or . . . an onion, poetry, with its impossible-seeming combination of soft lens and precision, brings to our awareness that which might otherwise go unseen, unrecognized, un-cherished. Poetry opens us to life, to surprise, to shadow, to beauty, to insight.”

~ Naomi Shihab Nye

 

 

Happy to join my Poetry Friday friends today in celebrating Naomi Shihab Nye, who was just named the 2019-2021 Young People’s Poet Laureate. An award winning poet, essayist, novelist, songwriter, educator, editor, and anthologist, Naomi calls herself “a wandering poet,” and is the first Arab American to earn this honor.

For the past 40+ years she’s traveled all over the country and the world leading workshops and inspiring students of all ages, using her own writing “to attest to our shared humanity.” She is currently Professor in Creative Writing-Poetry at Texas State University, and makes her home in San Antonio.

Naomi is a natural born poet; she wrote her first poem at age six. As Young People’s Poet Laureate, she will work to bring poetry to geographically underserved or rural communities. With her sensitivity, insight, cultural awareness, compassion and enormous heart, she is the seer and sage we need right now to show us how words can heal, unify, delight, and enlighten.

 

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all aboard for the dining car!

Early Pullman dining car (late 19th century)

 

Ah, the romance of trains.

Is there anything more elegantly delicious than a freshly cooked meal served in a dining car?

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photo of Southern Railways diner by Bill Schafer (1973)

 

THE DINING CAR OF THE SOUTHERN CRESCENT
by John Campbell

The Southern Crescent
snakes its way through
the rolling fog shrouded
piedmont landscape;
a young man on spring break,
returning home from
college, crosses the creaky
passageway that leads from
Pullmans to the dining car.

Breakfast smells give rise to
an ambitious order of fresh coffee,
country ham with red eye gravy,
grits, scrambled eggs and
biscuits with blackberry jam.

The waiter, agile and accomplished,
dressed in a white starched apron,
steadies himself against the swaying
motion of the train; with serving tray
in hand and balanced, he places the
piping hot breakfast on a table decked
with a linen table cloth, pewter
creamers, thick silverware, coffee
cups and saucers and plates, etched with
a crescent moon insignia; a small
bundle of daffodils sit in a crystal
vase near the window.

The young man with the vittles before him,
relishes a feeling of adult composure
and delight. “How could life be this good?”
A breakfast fit for a king, waiters
eager to please, railway views of
rural Carolina: tenant shanties,
grazing black angus, abandoned junkyards,
brownstone depots and sleepy towns.

He, still unfamiliar with the niceties
of the wealthy elite, or even the acquired
dignities of his college
professors, avows, while pouring
coffee from a silver carafe into
a Syracuse China cup, that the
dining car of the Southern Crescent
is a place of utmost refinement.

~ from January Snow and Other Poems (Williams & Company, 2008)

 

Dining Car 3158 built by Pullman for Southern Railway in 1924. Original design featured open windows, clerestory roof, and ornate 1920’s fixtures (via TVRR).

 

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