Love Me Some Spaghetti: “Good Taste” by Michelle Holland

GOOD TASTE
by Michelle Holland

“This isn’t spaghetti,” my daughter says loudly to the waiter who is pouring the first taste of a fifty-dollar bottle of wine for our host.

And I have to agree. Take me back
to when I hadn’t discovered
sun-dried tomatoes, fresh basil
and angel-hair pasta.
Hadn’t begun to refine my pork roast past,
or stay cool within my nodding circle
of low cholesterol friends.
I’ve learned the best restaurants,
sigh at the price of saffron,
accept only thin buttery lettuce.

Why should I shun the diner’s stout coffee
and mashed potatoes from a box,
and frequent instead the new coffee bar
with raspberry flavour and mocha and Java,
those little brittle Italian breads,
so refined?

My mom made sauce
red and sweet from cans of Contadina
and spread it out, ladled it out
on thick, straight spaghetti noodles.

Not one of us said, “Pasta.”

She made meatloaf and potatoes,
used garlic salt in plastic shakers,
served fluffy, white bread,
the kind that stuck in wads
to the roof of my mouth.

Big meals in big pots
served over the counter,
fat meatballs, mostly bread.
This was food, quick, filling,
not savored. Our due.

We held up our plates
for mom to fill once more
before we abandoned the table
for the urgent games of dusk,
hide and seek, and pick-up basketball
under the street light.

My daughter knows
the emperor has no clothes,
and for fifteen dollars an entree,
we should recognize the sauce.

The richness of our need,
the effortless nature of eating what could fill,
where is it?
I will listen to my daughter,
join her disdain for spaghetti
that is not spaghetti.
My life is a closed circle
traveling out,
the love of meatballs always on the periphery.

~ from Written With a Spoon: A Poet’s Cookbook, edited by Nancy Fay and Judith Rafaela (Sherman Asher Publishing, 1996)

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You want some now, don’t you? Well, here you go. Help yourself!

via Betty Crocker

 

This poem got me thinking about how complicated eating has become. We didn’t have “pasta” growing up, just good old spaghetti. Remember when it was either white bread or brown bread, instead of whole grain, multigrain, seven grain, cracked wheat, honey wheat, German dark wheat, oatmeal, fifteen grain, with or without seeds?

Just like designer clothes, there’s designer food. Cool people only eat eggs laid by liberated chickens, drink water bottled in France, and swear by “non-GMO,” “organic,” “grass-fed,” “sustainable,” “100% natural.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all on the side of healthy eating, being kind to the planet, and I know first hand about food allergies. I just wonder about people who go “gluten free” not from necessity, but fad. These days, it’s even hard to invite people over — everyone’s on some kind of “special diet”: lowfat, vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free, no artificial colors or preservatives, paleo, low carb, low calorie, low (or no) sugar. Sigh.

How I yearn for simpler times! I don’t want to worry about whether what I’m eating is politically correct, nor do I want to pay a fortune for three teensy but artfully arranged slices of tenderloin on a sleek white plate in a fancy restaurant. I don’t want to fall into the “food as status symbol” trap.

Just give me comfort food, plain and simple, preferably prepared by my mother. Her spaghetti rates pretty high on my list. She never used a recipe for her sauce, and it came out a little different each time. But it always tasted so good. After all, the best spice for any dish is love.

Speaking of spaghetti, I do believe it’s the great equalizer. Whether you’re young or old, rich or poor, spaghetti always hits the spot and takes you right back. Just ask these folks:

Louis Armstrong tucks into a plate of spaghetti in Rome with his wife Lucille in 1949.

What’s the best spaghetti you’ve ever had? 🙂

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The wonderful and talented Jone MacCulloch is hosting the Roundup at Check It Out. Noodle on over to view the complete menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week. Are you eating spaghetti this weekend? 🙂

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“Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.” ~ Sophia Loren

Copyright © 2018 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

an expression of love: jack gilbert’s “the forgotten dialect of the heart”

“It is interesting to note that poetry, a literary device whose very construct involves the use of words, is itself the word of choice by persons grasping to describe something so beautiful it is marvelously ineffable.” ~ Vanna Bonta

Detail from a reproduction of the Fresco of the Procession, Palace of Knossos, Crete.

 

We sometimes hear people say, “words fail me.” Have you ever been stymied trying to write about something you care deeply about, frustrated that everything you come up with falls short?

Whether grief, elation, bafflement, or love — we often fall victim to cliché or manage a fair approximation at best.

In this poem, Jack Gilbert suggests that love — the most intense and wide ranging emotion human beings are capable of experiencing — might be the most challenging to describe in words. It’s ironic how Gilbert acknowledges the imperfection of language with a poem that is perfection in itself. 🙂

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Phaistos Disc, Side A (it’s just under 6″ in diameter).

 

THE FORGOTTEN DIALECT OF THE HEART
by Jack Gilbert

How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
get it wrong. We say bread and it means according
to which nation. French has no word for home,
and we have no word for strict pleasure. A people
in northern India is dying out because their ancient tongue
has no words for endearment. I dream of lost
vocabularies that might express some of what
we no longer can. Maybe the Etruscan texts would
finally explain why the couples on their tombs
are smiling. And maybe not. When the thousands
of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,
they seemed to be business records. But what if they
are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve
Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,
as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind’s labor.
Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts
of long-fibered Egyptian cotton. My love is a hundred
pitchers of honey. Shiploads of thuya are what
my body wants to say to your body. Giraffes are this
desire in the dark. Perhaps the spiral Minoan script
is not a language but a map. What we feel most has
no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses and birds.

~ from Jack Gilbert: Collected Poems (Knopf, 2014)

Phaistos Disc, Side B

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Pittsburgh native Jack Gilbert once described himself as a “serious romantic.” Born four days after Valentine’s Day in 1925, he flunked out of high school but was admitted to the University of Pittsburgh due to a clerical error (yes, really!).

After his first book of poetry, Views of Jeopardy (1962), won the Yale Young Poets Prize and was nominated for a Pulitzer, he became quite the literary and media darling. He did not embrace this role, however, and for most of his life went into self-imposed exile, eschewing fame and traveling around Europe where he sometimes taught American Literature for the U.S. State Department. He would not publish another collection of poetry for twenty years.

Many of his poems are about love and his relationships with specific women. The “Michiko” in “The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart” is the sculptor Michiko Nogami, a former student 21 years his junior, with whom he lived in Japan until she died from cancer at age 36.

The cultural references in the poem, especially the “spiral Minoan script,” reflects Gilbert’s time living in Greece and brought back fond memories of my visits there. The Phaistos Disc in the photos is one of the greatest archaeological mysteries of all time. At least 4,000 years old, it was discovered by an Italian archaeologist in 1908, and people have been trying to decipher its mysterious code ever since.

Recently, after working together for six years, Dr. Gareth Owen (linguist researcher with the Technological Educational Institute of Crete) and John Coleman (phonetics professor at Oxford), figured out what the mysterious language sounded like and what some of it means. Reading in a spiral direction from the outside to the inside, they’ve concluded it’s a prayer to a Minoan goddess.

 

Minoan White Goddess

 

Because the inscriptions were made by pressing hieroglyphic “seals” into soft clay, producing a text with reusable characters, the Phaistos Disc is considered by some to be a very early example of “movable type printing.” Fascinating!

Jack Gilbert, who published five volumes of poetry, died at age 87 in 2012 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. I love the idea of dreaming about “lost vocabularies that might express some of what we no longer can.” And I am grateful to poets for inventing their own “lost vocabularies,” giving voice to our deepest yearnings.

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Enjoy this reading of the poem by Tom O’Bedlam:

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“Cupid in a Landscape by Il Sodoma (1510)

 

How will you express your love this Valentine’s Day?

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🎈 CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? GIVEAWAY WINNER! 🎈

Thanks to everyone who left comments last week. We are pleased to announce that the lucky person receiving a copy of CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? by Irene Latham and Charles Waters is:

🌺 GAYLE!! 🌸

Congratulations!! Please send along your snail mail address to receive your book.

Next giveaway: Anne of Green Gables Cookbook on Tuesday, February 13!

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The talented and clever Sally Murphy is hosting the Roundup this week. Take a trip down under to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared in the blogosphere. Have a good weekend. 🙂


Copyright © 2018 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

[review + recipe + giveaway] Can I Touch Your Hair? by Irene Latham and Charles Waters

Today we are doubly delighted to congratulate Poetry Friday friends Irene Latham and Charles Waters on their brand new poetry picture book, Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship (Carolrhoda, 2018), illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko.

 

Irene and Charles met in person for the first time at last November’s AASL Conference in Phoenix, AZ.

 

Officially released January 1st, this timely collection of 33 free verse poems explores the sensitive issues of race, racism, and identity with heart and candor.

Latham and Waters channel their fifth grade selves in alternating poems written by young “Irene,” who’s white, and young “Charles,” who’s black, two public school students working on a classroom Poetry Project together.

In the course of the narrative, we see how Irene and Charles, initially reluctant at being partners, gradually build mutual trust, sowing the seeds of a unique friendship as they discover things about each other, themselves, and the world beyond home and school.

They start out wary and hesitant; shy and quiet Irene describing Charles as “you-never-know-what-he’s-going-to-say Charles,” and gregarious Charles disappointed that he’s “stuck with Irene,” a girl who “hardly says anything . . . Plus she’s white.”

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happy blue year!

“There’s a certain time of day after sunset when people naturally seem to feel the urge to gather by a fire or a stove or a hibachi or another common source of heat and food, and hunker down together to eat and drink. Call it the blue hour.” ~ Kate Christensen

 🎵 Blue on blue, heartache on heartache . . . 🎶

Remember that song? It comes to mind whenever I think about 2017 . . .

But now it’s 2018 — Happy New Year, Friends!

We’ve turned the page, so it’s time to shift our thinking.

BLUE IS GOOD!

In fact, it’s so good, I chose to make THINK BLUE my motto for 2018. 🙂

Last year my One Little Word was TRUTH. Poor Truth was tested, dragged through the mud, disguised, distorted, ignored, disregarded. Is that any way to treat one of the bedrocks of a civilized society? I think not.

I will always champion Truth, because no matter what you do to her, she prevails. She will always find a way to make herself known.

Since Truth is having an especially tough time right now, I wanted to support her with Two Little Words. I chose THINK BLUE after reading this poem:

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HIS FAVORITE BLUE CUP
by Stephen Dobyns

Over the years — and Heart has had many years —
numerous objects have slipped from his possession,
some were lost, some fell apart, some got stolen.
That cowboy doll he loved as a child,
does a piece of it still remain? And the pen
he’s been looking for all week, where does it hide?
His favorite blue cup which the dog broke,
the green linen shirt that at last wore out,
the Chevy convertible that wound up in the junk yard —
Heart has come to think that all these objects are together
along with absent friends, departed family members
and pets that traveled over to the great beyond.
Somewhere, he believes, there’s a place made up
of previous houses, former gardens and furnished
with the vanished furniture his hands have touched.
There missing friends recline on once-loved chairs.
A cat gone for twenty years naps beneath a burning lamp.
Lost clothes fill the closets, lost books line the shelves.
The trees in front, cars in back: Heart would know them all.
These days Heart’s mind sometimes wanders.
He’s in a daze, he’s drifted off or gathering wool,
and he thinks at such times he, too, has disappeared,
that he’s rambling through his composite house,
sipping coffee from his blue cup, tossing a ball
for a mutt he owned when he was six or walking
arm and arm with a friend not seen for years.
You look pale, the friend says, you’ve gotten thinner.
I’ve been away, says Heart, I’ve been away.

~ from Poetry Magazine, 1999

via Nikolina Mazar

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things to believe in + a holiday blog break

“My dream is of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

Can’t believe Christmas is just a little over a week away and that 2017 is coming to an end.

What a year it’s been!

I think that aside from personal joys and professional accomplishments, most of us can say that in general it’s been an exhausting, tumultuous, frustrating, scary and very sad, demoralizing time for our country — and that’s probably an understatement.

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