Poem of the Week
“Poetry’s a hard sell sometimes… whereas the sandwich or the steak frites… And yet what happens is we come to these certain times where nothing works except for the poem. The sort of 9/11s of your experience. You’re kind of like, ‘I can’t walk, talk, sleep, eat.’ And then the poem comes in and kind of provides salve… It’s a kind of feeding. But, then you know, there’s the bad poetry. Whereas a kind of shitty roast beef sandwich works out.”
This excerpt was taken from a discussion between author Kevin Young, and Prune chef and writer Gabrielle Hamilton from August, 2016, about the relationship between food and poetry. The conversation contextualizes a provocative notion about consumption. In her book, “Blood, Bones, and Butter,” Hamilton discusses her time spent travelling, and the various ways she grew familiar with her hunger, and, consequently, satisfying her appetites. The two marry this gastronomic satisfaction to a less physical one, and ultimately pose the question to each other: what value is there in poetry?
Later in the conversation, Young remarks that,
“I think a lot about just that thing: what is necessity? How poetry is a necessity and how sometimes, like food, we take these necessities for granted. Especially here in the States, I think we spend a lot of time not thinking about our meal, not thinking about the words, and you know, it’s election season so there’s a lot of not thinking about words. And yet, at the same time, we turn to them, as you said, in these really urgent moments. I mean, what happens when someone dies? You eat some food. You hear some poems. You hear verse.”
I stumbled across this interview after scarfing down a pretty crappy sandwich (for those of you who read my blog post from last week – I made it, not my dad, but it still sucked). I am someone who chooses meals pretty carefully, who chooses words pretty carefully. But I was hungry, in denial that my bread was stale, and intentionally-ignorant of the fact that the almond butter had gone dry. By the time I was halfway through, I felt some level of chef’s remorse. I knew this sandwich was going to suck, I had ignored all the signs, and now I had wasted a meal on a sucky sandwich, borne of my own bare hands.
Worse things could have happened, of course, and I quieted the residual flavor of my mistake with cold milk. But – my proactive apologies for being dramatic – this mistake is sort of illuminating in my own understanding of conspicuous consumption.
What is so special about poetry, what makes it so unique, is that it is a form of expression which requires meticulous choice in words. Each pronoun, each lack of adjective, each period and comma and line break, they each, at the very least, cultivate the possibility of expressing something. This possibility is inherent to their existing within the paradigm of the poem. There is something beautiful about the curation demanded by poetry. But this idea of poetry extends beyond itself, and stands to suggest something about the way we consume things in areas where the curation is not guaranteed. Do we hold our news organizations to adequate standards of language? Do we hold the books we read to standards? Do we hold the people we speak with to standards? How many conversations take place daily for us in which we are spewing surface-layer-bullshit to have a cordial, meaningless conversation? Can you imagine if we dropped the act, if we curated all of our conversations to be passionate and consequential and sincere?
Maybe it starts with food. Maybe it starts with acknowledging that the bread is stale. Maybe, if we allow ourselves to feel our hunger, to become familiar with the sensation of desire deep in the pits of our stomachs, we will better understand precisely how to satisfy it, we will know what to make for lunch. Maybe if we listen more, if we think more, if we speak less, better yet, if we allow the spaces we leave in our conversations to speak for themselves, we will understand conspicuous consumption more intimately. Maybe, if we try our best to find verse in what first appears the mundanities of the daily, we will better understand the value of poetry.
That being said, shitty sandwiches do kind of work… at least sometimes.
To listen to the full conversation (which I highly recommend!), check it out here: https://www.nypl.org/blog/2016/08/09/podcast-kevin-young-gabrielle-hamilton