It is now over four years ago that I was asked to contribute a poem to a forthcoming book. I’ve talked about the book here and in other places. The book is Books that Cook: The Making of a Literary Meal and is, essentially, a carefully edited anthology of writings in an array of genres, fiction and non-fiction, poetry and prose, and all on the subject of food. The book is arranged by its co-editors, Melissa Goldthwaite and Jennifer Cognard-Black, in a form that is roughly analogous to come amalgam of food related textual categories: a menu, a recipe, a history. Each section, related to a part of the meal, starter, main dish, etc. and in the sequence in which a meal proceeds is preceded by a selection from a cookbook of renown, dating back to the Colonial period in American history to the present. As the literary “meal” progresses we also are introduced to the evolution of the particular form of food writing dedicated to books focused on cookery.
I was approached to contribute by Melissa as we spoke by phone. I was, at the time, ensconced in the hotel in Hadley, Massachusetts which was my temporary weekly home for at least one night, predominately a Tuesday, prior to conducting the seminar I taught once a week, in the afternoon, to students of Amherst College. By staying overnight, I was spared the round trip, could enjoy a dinner out in town, and I was available for office hours Wednesday mornings, before returning to Cambridge.
To the best of my recollection, during this particular week, my sojourn had been extended involuntarily because of inclement weather. I left early, as snow was predicted, and so I stayed Monday night, in anticipation of the storm. Sure enough, for Ground Hog Day, that Wednesday, over two and a half feet of snow had fallen, and I was socked in. Perfect conditions for composing a poem.
What Melissa told me was that she and her colleague had come to the conclusion that they needed a poem in the section of the book otherwise devoted to eggs, with a lovely selection of prose, both fiction and essays on the subject. Most of the rest of the book showed an even balance of genres. They had as yet to find a suitable poem about eggs that also satisfied the other criterion for pieces selected for this specialized anthology. It seems every piece in the book incorporated, by hook or by crook, as an integral part of the narrative, or appropriately appended by way of illustration or amplification, a recipe for an actual dish or beverage that could be safely ingested.
I was immediately inspired, and I asked if the subject I had in mind was suitable. It took a day to produce a presentable draft. Melissa, being the inestimable editor (and excellent poet in her own right) that she is, made some suggested emendations, which I immediately adopted, or adapted, without demur. The version that appears in the book is the one we agreed could not likely be improved upon.
It has proven to be a popular piece in readings from the book I’ve been privileged to join since the book was published last summer. I have appeared with a group, variously composed, of my fellow contributors, in readings in Washington, DC (see an account of the reading in Washington, the first one that launched the book, here on the blog: The Reading in DC), New York City, here in Merion Station, just outside Philadelphia, in Philadelphia proper at one of my favorite of the small number of independent booksellers left here in the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence, and my final appearance at the homebase of Jennifer, the co-editor, who is a Professor of English at St. Mary’s College in Maryland.
It was at this last reading that I was astonished (and delighted) to be told by one of the students in the audience afterwards, as our admirers stood patiently in line as we signed copies of the full text, that she found my voice to be quite “melodious.” Not a word I would ever have used to describe my own instrument, though I will admit to reading well, when in the right mood, I nevertheless, as graciously as I could, accepted the compliment, and thanked my admirer.
It has occurred to me since, as there will be no further opportunities for me to read (though one or two further readings are scheduled, well into this coming summer) this might be a good time for a first appearance by me, in audio form, to complement my appearance for the first time in this beautiful volume as a poetry contributor in a published anthology.
You can decide on the qualities of the reading for yourself. I am satisfied with the result, though I’m sure I would not designate it either as melodious or particularly harmonious, being a solo effort. Any defects in the recording are mine, as I served as my own engineer.
I hope you enjoy it.by