Poetry Poetry Bookshelf

The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander

In Jewish tradition, after someone dies, it is customary to bring food to those left behind and to sit with them in a practice known as shiva. It shouldn’t be that surprising to find food associated with grief. Food is in its way a form of showing love and support that it may bring succor to the sorrowful. Named after a poetry quote of Derek Walcott’s, (“And I thought, O Beauty, you are the light of the world!”), the memoir Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander reads like a mixed media form of artwork. Interspersed within its pages, prose poetry sidles up against essay, reporting, and finally, recipes. In this chronicle of the life of Alexander’s husband, the chef and artist, Ficre Ghebreysus, his untimely death comes across as punctuation out of place.

A few years ago, I attended a lecture Alexander gave on Lucille Clifton’s poetry just after Kevin Young’s tome of Clifton poetry had been published. While Alexander describes writing World bit by bit and then threading it together as one story, I am struck by the poetic influences that she turned to during its writing, namely Clifton and Rilke. But also, the acknowledgements section names her editor’s initial suggestion to write this story.

When I first heard about the release of World, I knew I wanted to snatch it up immediately, both interested in how a poet would approach memoir and wanting to see how food wove into a memoir about loss. This book is an anthem of her husband’s vivacity to live. It also is a chronicle of what it looks like to come out of the fog of grief in hard won healing. Alexander comments that she didn’t want to give into nostalgia. She says of writing World,

“I believe that poets write ‘as poets,’ with utmost attention to each word, the rhythms of the writing, and its musicality.”

Her sections written in parts of one poem feature prose poetry so evanescent that it took a deep amount of restraint not to highlight the entire passage. Every word is essential.

Food Poem Snackbytes

Asparagus Poem Snackbyte

Sometimes all you need is a small poem, an asparagus poem snackbyte.

Poetry Poetry Bookshelf

Love Found Poetry Book Review

Dip into this Love Found poetry book review for a brief dip into what makes this book a keeper.

Love Found isn’t your typical tome of love poetry. And for that, we can sigh a breath of relief. So many collections just include eros, but neglect the other forms that love takes on. Also, let it be known, there is only one Neruda poem in here—while I prefer his poems about food, he seems to have a mystique in the cultural accounting for his love poems. Around Valentine’s Day, all eyes turn toward hearts but what does the act of loving look like the rest of the year? This compact book edited by Jessica Strand and Leslie Jonath wrangles 50 poems from a range of domestic and international voices. Full disclosure, Leslie and I know each other from the food book world, but we really connected over a conversation about poetry. When I heard she’d finished an anthology of poems, I knew I needed the collection and reached out to her.

This book is broken into three sections. You start where you’d expect: Desire and Longing. I resonated with the question like the one posed in “Openness” by Wislawa Szymborska (p. 13) of a moth reflecting on the two lovers, musing, “Maybe it sees where our eyes fail.” When reading “Love Song for Lucinda” by Langston Hughes (p. 21), love is defined as “a ripe plum…a bright star… a high mountain” reminding the reader that love is more than blissful emotions but it can burn and is a destination that requires work to get there.

Desire & Longing takes you next to Heartbreak & Loss. And this is where the book is most refreshing. Yeats bumps shoulders with Akhmatova. We see the idea of love become timeless in the act of losing. Its scope broadens to include more than mortal love in an exquisite poem by Shams al-Din Hafiz Shirazi that leads in so well to “The Lesson of the Falling Leaves” by one of my favorite poets, Lucille Clifton. In “Love After Love (p.51)” Derek Walcott reminds us that “You will love again the stranger who was your self,” that space between a word that should be whole playing a necessary function of brokenness that can be repaired. Loss of love can be more than breaking up, and I resonated with Conrad Potter Aiken’s keen insight in “Bread and Music” (p. 55) to write about the love-loss that follows a death: “These things do not remember you, beloved: / And yet your touch upon them will not pass.”

Then, we enter Passion & Partnership with “Wild Nights – Wild Nights!” by Emily Dickinson tucked in like a white hot poker. I read the delightful four line, “A Word to Husbands” by Ogden Nash to my husband and we both laughed (perhaps it might even be hand-transcribed for placement on the refrigerator?) In his poem, “For Love” (p. 86-87), Robert Creeley asks “Must / I think of everything / as earned.” The punctuation underlining it as answered, evolved into a statement.

Of the entire collection, of all the curating and placing and reading aloud and reading on the page—of the questioning and exclamation point yes decisions of which poems make the 50 poem cut, only one poet is featured twice. And, to that end, the second of their poems serves as the coda to the book.

And, for me, now we get to the heart of the book.

I kept coming back to the book title, Love Found, at first seeing it as a two word way to distill the ethos of the collection. At times, I might read a poem and forget myself, the title playing the role of compass and guide back to the all-encompassing theme. But, there is a part of me that wonders in the creation of the book, if that title, was an anchor pitched out into rocky waters—an idea that even in the bleakest circumstances if you look hard enough there can be love found. Because at the end of things, can love ever really be lost? Shakespeare reminds us in one of my favorite sonnets of his (p. 74) that love “is an ever-fixed mark / That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;” It is what is cultivated in private more so than what’s on display in public as we listen in like voyeurs while Mark Strand surmises, “In that low voice, our late night disclosures… why live / For anything else? Our masterpiece is the private life.” (p. 90)

Cookery Bookshelf Poetry Poetry Bookshelf

Cooking with the Muse Book Review

Cooking with the Muse Book review

It’s not often you meet people equally passionate about food and poetry in conversation. At the Association of Writers and Publishers conference a few years back and MFA friend of mine had suggested I meet poet Stephen Massimilla. She said that he also wrote poetry about food. What I did not know until we met is that he had penned a food poetry cookbook called Cooking with the Muse with cookbook veteran, Myra Kornfeld! I beelined over to the Tupelo Press booth and promptly bought a copy. It is a feast of poetry and food that will delight fellow foodies who indulge in poetry (and a great holiday gift!). I dove into Cooking with the Muse more deeply over on Poetry International. At the last AWP, we caught each other at the bookfair and our conversation bubbled with enthusiasm. Recently, I had a chance to chat with Massimilla and Kornfeld on the nitty gritty of how Cooking with the Muse came to life.

cooking with the muse book review

THE FOOD POET (TFP): How did the grain of the idea for this book come about? What is it from a poem Stephen read, dish Myra cooked or a comment made in conversation?
MYRA KORNFELD/STEPHEN MASSIMILLA: So you’re asking about the Muse for Cooking with the Muse? Well, Myra was always a culinary magician conjuring up new dishes and writing and revising new recipes and articles about food, while Stephen was always the literary wizard conjuring up new poems and writing essays and reviews about poetry and literature. We realized we had perfectly complementary skill sets and that we just had to team up. As the great Roger Vergé put it, the chef works “creatively, marrying ingredients the way a poet marries words”—so cooking is like writing poetry, and it takes a poet to cook up colorful and exciting ways to write about food. We also realized that recipes were a lot like poems. We got to thinking that we could write a truly collaborative book together, one all about the marriage of recipes and poetry, of cooking and writing, and the synergy between the two.

TFP: I’d love to know how you two came together to work on this book.
MK/SM: One day, while we were sitting at Alice’s Teacup sipping mugs of chai, we came up with the idea of writing a recipe and a poem that would go together perfectly. And we remembered having shared a great cup of dirty chai after having hiked together through Ebenezer Bryce Canyon in Utah. Later, Myra’s Dirty Chai recipe and Stephen’s poem by the title “My Dirty Chai” ended up in the “Chocolate and Coffee” section at the end of the Winter chapter.

Things proceeded from there. For instance, the idea for one of the early literary essays in the book—on Galway Kinnell’s sonnet “Blackberry Eating”—came up during another teatime discussion at the start of autumn, when the blackberry muse is at the height of her powers. We made a connection between the Kinnell piece and Mary Oliver’s poem about blackberry picking entitled “August,” which ends with the line “this happy tongue.” We were interested in the polyvalence of the word “tongue”—a term both for language and for the site of gustatory delectation. Kinnell speaks of how words, like blackberries at the peak of their ripeness, “fall almost unbidden to my tongue.” The word “almost” suggests that obtaining the ripest berries does call for some anticipation, but the work of the season can’t be forced. What a great way to think about inspiration! The blackberry recipes at the opening of the book were the upshot. 

TFP: Stephen, You’ve got so many interesting linguistic facts and poems placed throughout the book. What did the research look like for this book?
MK/SM: As a poet and scholar of comparative literature interested in celebrating the cross-fertilization of cultures, Stephen already knew a huge number of culinary poems, but we were startled at just how many we kept encountering. The book includes not only a large number of Stephen’s own poems, but also an unusually wide-ranging anthology of classic and contemporary pieces, including interesting food lore. We collected these materials in folders, which we went through periodically to cull our favorites. We met regularly to pick out the poems that either inspired the recipes or complemented them. We agreed that we both had to be excited about every poem, even Stephen’s original poems. That said, a lot of other research was involved in the writing of the comprehensive introduction to the book, the essays about culinary poems and traditions, and all the historical notes that contextualize both the poetry and the dishes. The bibliography alone was a formidable project.

TFP: How did you two collaborate on the recipes and poems? Did you typically start with a poem that inspired the recipe?
MK/SM: We were continually writing and collecting poems and recipes and looking at them to see how they could fit together. Sometimes poems inspired recipes; sometimes recipes inspired poems; and oftentimes the juxtaposition of poems and recipes inspired other musings. A lot of the work involved adapting recipes Myra was working on to dovetail with poems that Stephen was writing, or that we knew we wanted to use. As we worked on the outlines for the book over the years, we also realized that certain pieces fit together in sequences that brought out new relationships between the recipes, the poems, the essays, and the photos. All the pieces interlocked like multicolored jigsaw puzzle pieces to make a whole that’s even greater than the sum of the parts.

TFP: Myra, this isn’t your first rodeo, but the depth and quantity of recipes in Muse is staggering. What did your recipe development process look like and how long did it take to complete the manuscript from a recipe perspective only?
MK/SM: Myra was and is always developing new recipes. She cooks seasonally, inspired by the Greenmarket Muse, and her flavor combinations are often inspired by traveling. The recipes in the Turkish, Irish, American Southwestern, and Moroccan sections of the book, for instance, were to a degree inspired by travels, and Stephen took a number of the food pictures in the book on these trips.

Given Myra’s background in nutrition and Real Foods traditions, these dishes highlight fresh, local ingredients and encourage the use of seasonal produce, wild seafood, traditional fats, and meat from pasture-raised animals.

Like revising and re-editing poems, recipe writing is an exacting process full of trial and error, but it was great to have had so many scrumptious meals during the planning, writing, photographing, and overall construction of this book. The recipes were also tested on SO many people through our cooking events and classes. We wanted to make absolutely sure that these recipes would be clear and easy to follow for cooks of any and all levels.

TFP: Stephen, there are quite a few original pieces of food poetry in Muse. Where did you find your inspiration to write them on deadline?
MK/SM: While we were working on Cooking with the Muse, Stephen sometimes composed a poem by the stove while Myra was developing a dish. That happened, to give a couple of examples, with “Seared Tuna with Purple Potatoes and Cherry Tomato Sauce” and with the Salad of a Thousand Leaves recipe; in these instances, the recipe changed to match the poem that was based on it. In this sense, writing poems involved riffing on and helping to reinvent recipes. Though it began with a lot of intuitive hunting and gathering and freewheeling improvisation, the book also contains a great many prose introductions, recipe preambles, essays, and carefully researched historical and literary notes, all of which had to be planned, composed and revised in a more systematic way. We were both so inspired because cooking and poetry have so much in common. They are both creative and celebratory arts. They’re both about traditions of nourishment in the very deepest sense. They both reflect our values and feelings. And they’re both inseparable from human relationships, as well as our relationship to the earth, the seasons, and the spirit within us.

TFP: What does your poetry writing process look like?
MK/SM: Stephen always carries a little black notebook full of notes and sketches (he’s also a drawer and painter) about what the Muse happens to be saying—which could take any number of forms. His favorite pieces often reflect more than one source of inspiration, including the time of year; an intriguing word or phrase; a memorable dream; or even another work of art—a painting, a film, a novel, or, as he’s mentioned, a dish. He  composes most of his poems themselves at night, when the house is quiet and the world is calm, when the air freshens and flows around the writer without interruption. 

And speaking of the atmosphere, the greenmarket (a living celebration of the seasons and the lush creations born of human collaborations with nature) was a major source of inspiration for Cooking with the Muse. Not only most of the poems and recipes, but also the poetic-prose essays introducing each chapter could be said to be odes to the farmers’ market.

TFP: Is there one recipe that stands out among the rest that, if you dog-eared pages of the book, would be the one to which you continue to return?
MK/SM: There are many, actually. In the book itself, we mention which ones we consider staples to be making all the time. These include the Foundation Recipes (the stocks and bone broths fit this category), as well as the Oatmeal Deluxe Breakfast Bars and the Coconut Muffins. (Also, at the end of the Pumpkin Pie Bread recipe, we strongly recommend the Pumpkin Pie Bread muffins. They’re a must.) Many of the Turkish and Moroccan choices are regular go-to recipes for us. And there are others that we return to seasonally and on holidays, such as the Turkey with Cranberry Glaze on Thanksgiving and Christmas. The Portobello Muschrooms Stuffed with Chestnuts, Apples, and Wild Rice is also really fun around Christmas time. And the Miniature Lacy Potato Latkes are a Chanukah standby. We love the Mediterranean Caulifower Kale Roast with Feta throughout the winter. The Fudgy Nibby Brownies from the Winter chapter are also a perennial favorite. There is a picture in the book of a Fudgy Nibby Brownie tower that we made for a wedding in lieu of a cake, but they’re great for any party or just to have on hand as snacks, provided you don’t eat the whole tray at once.

As we mentioned, we experienced a big thrill when we saw how the literature and recipes were coming together, starting with a first autumn recipe that pairs Galway Kinnell’s scrumptious “Blackberry Eating” and a poem by Mary Oliver with a luscious “Blackberry Parfait.” This dish is both sophisticated and perfectly appropriate for a beginner cook. The close reading that goes with it also good for a first-time reader of poetry since the essays are designed to make the poetry more accessible. In a more sophisticated vein, we’re really excited about the Middle Eastern Feast in this book, which is spiced with the poetry of Rumi and Hafiz.

TFP: Did you listen to any particular music or albums to get you into the right head space to write the poems / craft the recipes?
MK/SM: For inspiration, we rely more on comedy than music. During a radio show, an interviewer once asked us what piece of music would make the proper accompaniment for our book. We didn’t know what to make of that question, but we referred her to page 266, where we discuss a cantata to coffee by Johann Sebastian Bach, along with a dithythramb to chocolate. We can’t quite say that pieces like these inspired the recipes or the writing. But when we thought the whole project was finally finished, we sang our take on the Jeff Buckley version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” for days.

TFP: What did you not expect from Muse that surprised you?
MK/SM: Well, our respect for each other’s skill sets went up. You learn knew things about each other when you’re in the trenches together. We had a really good working relationship, in short, and we ended up with new respect for each other’s complementary abilities, work ethic, and grace under fire. We simply could not have written this book without each other.

TFP: Who are some of the food poets that inspire your writing?
MK/SM: This large-format 500-page book begins by presenting an historical perspective on the link between literature—especially poetry—and food. The book draws on material from many traditions and eras: from the ancient Greeks and Romans to the Bible, from the medieval Sufis to the Japanese, from the great Romantics and Transcendentalists to a dazzling pageant of modern poets. Authors represented include Homer, Lu Tong, Rumi, Chaucer, Basho, Milton, Keats, Dickinson, Hopkins, Lawrence, McKay, Neruda, Machado, Stevens, Hurston, Plath, Tom Robbins, Derek Walcott, Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, Lucille Clifton, Michael Ondaatje, Billy Collins, Linda Hogan, Elizabeth Alexander, Jorie Graham, Li-Young Lee, Jane Hirshfield, and a great many others.

TFP: Do you anticipate another collaborative project in your future?
MK/SM: Sure. But give us some time to recover on the island of Maui first. We have to find the right inspirational trigger. And the Hawaiian state triggerfish—called humuhumunukunukuapua’a, or humuhumu for short—is something we’d like to see!

Blackberry Parfaits

Food Poem Snackbytes Food Poetry

Wine Poem Snackbyte

wine poem snackbyte - anneliesz

Food Poem Snackbytes

Cheese Food Poem Snackbyte

cheese food poem snackbyte - anneliesz

Food Poem Snackbytes Food Poetry

Apple Food Poem Snackbyte

food poem snackbyte-apple_anneliesz

Food Poem Snackbytes Food Poetry

Tomato Food Poem Snackbyte

Food poem snackbyte: to read a food poem is to eat it. a tomato before end of season.

Food Poetry Poetry

Roquefort by David Nutt

Roquefort Blue Cheese Poetry - anneliesz


Dark and damp with drafty corridors
Hidden caves in limestone rock
Allows the cheese to ripen lost in time
This is the place were alchemy unfolds
Like blocks of rounded marble they stand
Proud and stately in silent pose
Their crumbly dough streaked with veins of blue
Palate and tongue tingle with delight
Lactescent, salty with complex tang
Force powerful images of wind swept lands
Herds of sheep in peaceful sleep
While shepherds watch over starry skies
There in the Rocquefort many mysteries lie.


© David Nutt


David shares his passion for cheese through poetry over on his blog, Cheese Poetry with a special emphasis on French fromage (cheese). I’m particularly taken with his poem, “An Ode to Cheese.” He spent his professional life in the financial services industry (Paris and New York).  Some years ago he retired in Normandy. It was in this magnificent countryside he fell in love with French cheese. His feelings for these divine products motivated him to want to share my pleasure with the many French cheese lovers scattered throughout the world. He and a French friend created the website, Fromages. In the early years of this adventure he was assigned to write the monthly newsletter. The next step was a natural evolution to produce a book in a novel and interesting form on a number of France’s most prodigious cheeses. He chose to write about poetry as it has the magic of touching our romantic senses by combining rhyme and words. If John Keats was still alive he would, no doubt, look down on my work as very humble effort.  The book is entitled: Tasting to Eternity.

Food Poetry In the Kitchen with Poets

Poets in the Kitchen: Ewa Chrusciel

in the kitchen with poets

The Food Poet: Food & poetry have certain commonalities. How do you describe the poetry of food?

Ewa Chrusciel: We are Infinite and we are made of our small cravings. Poetry of food implies that kind of contradiction and longing in us; the desire to belong; the desire to carry with us our childhood flavors. Food is often inseparable from our identity. The sausage poem was at the threshold of my Contraband of Hoopoe book. My book transpired out of smuggling a sausage (called kabanos in Polish, the name for lean, partially dried sausage) over the border. I was caught and the drama of the situation originated my first poem of smuggling, which led to the whole book. I got interested in what other immigrants carried with them or sneaked across the borders, so I went to Ellis Island and Tenement House in New York City to research the things the immigrants carried. (And sometimes they had live goats and barrels of pickles with them!)

Immigrants do not like to throw away cheese wrappers, glass jars with their favorite jam. They have meaning, even the food. The food is metonymy. It stands for something bigger, for a bigger longing in us.

We take great risks to smuggle our favorite food across borders.


TFP: How would you describe your cooking style and who has influenced it?

EC: I have an eclectic cooking style. Only for Christmas and Easter do I prepare traditional things – pierogi, borscht, etc. Otherwise I borrow from here and there – Asian, French—you name it. My husband, Eric DeLuca, made up this Polish-American salad after visiting my dad’s little farm in Poland where we collected black and red currants. He called it Borek Stary Salad, after the village where the farm is located. The ingredients are: fresh, in season corn—steamed & shaved, black currants and red currants, fresh-squeezed lime juice, and a hint of Vermont maple syrup. Simple, but incredibly delicious!

Today, I am thinking of cooking buckwheat grain with Feta and Zaatar (a spice mirepoix that’s universal) and for dessert: wheat spelt flour apple pie (recipe given to me by Polish friend Dorota Zając).


TFP: If we think of mirepoix, it is the essential building block of ingredients that form the foundation of flavor for many dishes. What would be the essential ingredients of your mirepoix?

EC: My literary mirepoix would be images and syntactical structures that cause bewilderment, a surprise. I was always drawn to a metaphysical conceit in which incongruous images are “yoked together by violence” (Samuel Johnson), and yet via these improbable images some metaphysical truth is conveyed in the poem. Another ingredient in my mirepoix would be metaphors (or images or ways of thinking about reality—which metaphors in fact are) smuggled from my native culture.


TFP: Are there any people, cookbooks, chefs or websites that are your go-to resources for cooking?

EC: For desserts, I go to the Polish food blog: Moje Wypieki (there is English version of recipes available there too.

I also like the cookbook Mighty Spice Express, by John Gregory-Smith.

I have a book in Polish by Bogusław Deptuła on literary dishes—dishes inspired by literary works, such as Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past—just to mention the most famous cooking inspiration for literature. I had a desire to bake madeleine cakes after reading Proust’s famous description of them. Madeleine cakes are a springboard for involuntary memory. They, in other words, are epiphanic.


TFP: In Contraband of Hoopoe, food weaves its way into your poems through the contraband sausage you’re worried about in customs or the idea of filling your belly with pierogi to your grandmother’s bigos that “smells of the Lithuanian woods and hunters.” Food is deeply connected to the place you are leaving. How does the food of your childhood ultimately make the journey with you to America?

EC: Food, again, is inseparable from the sense of belonging and from our identity. My grandmother used to chase my brother and me with huge chunks of peasant bread and honey. That’s how I remember love, as chunks of bread with overflowing honey and friendly nagging, “Eat eat eat!” To nourish somebody means to say: “do not die,” which in other words means, “I love you.” Here is a poem of mine written originally in Polish and translated into English by Karen Kovacik. This is, by the way, the only Polish poem that I smuggle—in mistranslated (by me) English form—into my book in English Contraband of Hoopoe, as my tiny act of contraband. Below is Karen’s version:

Rzeszów Ode I

Grandma of flower pots
dressed up in gold foil.
Designer of shabby interiors:
your hula hoop skirts lie
flipped up on the lawn.
Queen of the oven and drawers
stuffed with candy. Hysteric who scarfed
hunks of bread upholstered in honey.
Countess of church carnivals.
Czarina of household complaints,
cicada of suitors,
hippo of hypochondria,
curator of covert farts.
My posthumous bride
now interred in a vat of poppyseed:

How can I find you again
in the bog of this world?
Here is another poem from Contraband of Hoopoe, recently featured on Lauren Camp’s radio show Audio Saucepan on KSFR (Reprinted here with permission from Contraband of Hoopoe by Ewa Chrusciel, published in 2014 by Omnidawn).

Before I leave for America, my dad comes to the airport with a dish of pierogi. He entices me to eat them. His way of making sure I smuggle the whole of Poland in my belly. I am pregnant with Polish wheat, with poppies and goats. To feed others is to say “I love you.” Do not die. I sustain you. I give you a piece of my earth. The long tread of a farmer in a field? Furrows and raw wind? The hidden nerves inside each loaf? How this bread whispers. It rustles and creaks. A walk in the woods, the kneading and molding of your hands.

In another poem, about bigos, from this book, the food becomes a symbol of the liquidation of borders. Bigos is said to have been introduced to Poland by a Lithuanian Grand Duke who in 1385 became a Polish king, Władysław Jagiełło. He served this dish to his hunting party guests. Polish linguists, however, trace the word bigos to a German, rather than a Lithuanian, origin. The word bigos comes from the word begossen – to douse, as bigos was doused with wine. We also have an idiom: ale bigos – “What a mess.”

To quote a recent review by Karen Kovacik of my book, “The poem shows that what is assumed to be Polish can actually be the product of centuries of linguistic and cultural blending […] Bigos the word and bigos the dish challenge nationalist efforts to depict Poland’s past as monocultural and monolingual, when in fact, only after World War II, when Poland’s borders were shifted west, did the country approach cultural homogeneity. For centuries, Poland was home to Lithuanians, Jews, Ukrainians, Russians, Byelorussians, Prussians, Swedes, and more.” (Karen Kovacik, The Contraband of Culture: Polish Women Poets on Migration, Borders, and Language (Honest Ulsterman, 2016) 


TFP: You’re reading a book of poetry and stumble upon a poem that inspires you to create a dish. What is the poem and what is the dish?

EC: To continue the theme of bigos, if you read the Polish national romantic epic Pan Tadeusz (full title in English: Sir Thaddeus, or the Last Lithuanian Foray: A Nobleman’s Tale from the Years of 1811 and 1812 in Twelve Books of Verse), first published in 1834 in Paris, you might be more than inspired to make bigos.         

Here is an extract from Book 4, which features his masterpiece (translated into Polish by Marcel Weyland):

Pan Tadeusz Book 4: Diplomacy and Hunt

“In the pots warmed the bigos; mere words cannot tell
Of its wondrous taste, colour and marvellous smell.
One can hear the words buzz, and the rhymes ebb and flow,
But its content no city digestion can know…”

Another dish I would like to make is inspired by a poem and a movie. Osip Mandelstam, in one of his poems, mentions the Russian fish soup ukha. Here, ukha is the symbol of nostalgia for Russia.

This dish is also a powerful correlative for love and betrayal in the fantastic Italian film, Io sono l’amore (I am Love) by Luca Guadagnino.


TFP: When you think of food and poetry, do any specific poems come to mind?

EC: A contemporary Polish poet, Tomasz Różycki’s Dwanaście Stacji, translated into English by Bill Johnston: Twelve Stations. His description of a grandson taking a journey to see his grandma for a dish of pierogi is both hilarious and nostalgic, as well as allusive to the aforementioned national Polish epic by Adam Mickiewicz, Sir Tadeusz.

Also, there is a poem by Szymborska, Onion, in which that vegetable is an example of idiotic perfection and consistency that we humans, fortunately, as the poem proves, do not have.

A Scottish poet, Craig Raine, has a poem under the same title in which an onion evoked the memory of past love.

Onions makes me think about my uncle, who used to visit us and eat all our onions from the cupboard at night. Here is one of my first poems written in Polish and translated into English by Katarzyna Jakubiak:


An uncle from America paid us a visit

He was dressed in a tight blue container
Of a metallic flavor

It was the first time we’d seen him

Buttoned up, and the sight gripped us.

Right by our throats

Only his blue water lily

Drifted, unbuttoned, maybe somewhere

Else and not on time

Uncle would drop in unexpectedly

And in the night steal his way to the cupboard

To eat all our onions

This time, he dropped straight from his flight

In through the window and not without help

Because he was dressed in this tight blue container

He settled among the laborious

Plots of wreaths, maybe now

He was just an unknown

Instrument in its case

Later the men from the special brigade

Tossed him like a birthday boy

It seemed as if

He’d fallen from the sky straight

Onto a trampoline

Bounced off

And then got irretrievably


Here, the onion stands for my uncle’s idiosyncrasies and eccentricities; his ontological mystery, but also his mysterious death—viewed in terms of a musical instrument by the speaker of the poem, who is a child.


TFP: Do you ever find yourself influenced by food when writing poetry? Are there any foods or drinks that are part of your writing process?

EC: The ginger beer, Regata, helps me to be on my toes when I get tired. Sometimes a glass of good red wine in the evening is an inspiration as well. In mornings, mostly strong espresso, and a croissant or some other cake. From time to time when I want to reward myself for writing, I will have pistachio cream or Fat Toad Farm caramel sauce (made of goat’s milk) before returning to the ink well. If I am under the weather, but still want to work, Metta Tea (from Metta Earth Institute in VT), which has organically grown and wild-crafted nettle, milky oats, lemon balm, red clover, calendula, tulsi, sage, seems to help.


TFP: What books are keeping you turning the pages right now?

EC: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Polish book, Esther, by Stefan Chwin
Miguel Manara by Oskar Miłosz
Life Work by Donald Hall


TFP: Is there one dish that you’ve always wanted to make but haven’t quite tackled yet?

EC: The Russian fish soup called ukha that I mentioned before.

Also risotto, lamb roast, and Polish poppy seed cake (eaten during Easter in Poland). Cardamom Swedish rolls—I am a sucker for cardamom. Lastly, some of my husband’s grandmother’s recipes, for example zucchini bread.

Ewa Chrusciel - Bożena Boba Dyga

Author photo by Bożena Boba Dyga

Ewa Chrusciel is a bilingual poet and a translator. Her two previous books in English are Contraband of Hoopoe (Omnidawn Press, 2014) and Strata (Emergency Press, 2011) and the third one: Of Annunciations is forthcoming in Fall 2017 with Omnidawn Press. She also published three books in Polish: Furkot (2001), Sopiłki (2009), and Tobołek (2016). Her poems appeared in numerous journals and anthologies in USA, Italy, and Poland, such as Boston Review, Jubilat, Colorado Review, Il Giornale, La Freccia et Il Cerchio, etc.Her translations of American and Polish poets appeared in numerous anthologies and journals in USA and Poland, as well as in book publications. She translated :White Fang” by Jack London, “The Shadow Line” by Joseph Conrad, and “More Stories from My Father’s Court” by Isaac Bashevis into Polish. She also co-translated with Milosz Biedrzycki selected poems of Jorie Graham into Polish.

She is an associate professor of creative writing and poetry at Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire, USA.

Food Poetry Poetry Bookshelf

Ewa Chrusciel’s Contraband of Hoopoe

Contraband of Hoopoe Book Review - anneliesz

It’s not a difficult thing to think that at a poetry festival, you might hear a poem that piques your interest. It’s an entirely different thing to hear something– a way of offering words to a subject of already well-tilled ground in a fresh voice that makes you beeline to the bookfair area and snatch up the sole remaining copy of that poet’s book. And so it was that I met Ewa Chrusciel, first through her reading from A Contraband of Hoopoepublished by Omnidawn and then later through sitting with her words and letting them journey inside me. I’ve read this collection several times and each reading offers new nuggets of insight. At the heart of Hoopoe is a collection exploring the immigrant experience. This focus on immigrants coming to the U.S., feels particularly pressing and timely right now,  one to be kept on the front burner.

Food factors into her poems in surprising ways. Take a cue from the title–contraband courses through the pages of poetry too. “Gummy bears, the patron saints of contraband.” (p. 43). Smuggling is a present theme in the poems and an ode to sausage paints a humorous picture of what sometimes gets taken away and becomes lost. Because make no mistake, a deep loss reverberates as a steady thrum even though joy resides in them too. “Smuggling will not seal the broken vases. It will make your grief one hundredfold, and carry it into other griefs.” (p. 53)

She asks important questions of the immigrant: What do they carry with them? What do they leave behind?  Her series on Ellis Island sometimes is arresting and in one instant, “Ellis X” is simply a single line–a question not easily answered. One poem is simply a list of the names of “the Righteous among the Smugglers,” naming the Cracovians who hid Jews in their homes– inspired from visiting an exhibit in the Museum Factory of Oskar Schindler.  Immigration might seem like a contentious issue currently, but Chrusciel reminds us in “Ellis XI” that “Both Ellis and Alcatraz at first served as miliary fortresses.” (p.70)

Fear of the immigrant comes from fear of the other. And this is where, a re-reading of the Sausage poem illuminates conflict of two ways to define the terms.  When you survey the poems, prayers pop up throughout them whether in title, “Split-Second Prayer through Customs” or in intimate lines where the reader almost feels like a voyeur, “Convert me back to wonder. Cure my heart of such morbid desires to come home.” (p. 13).

Full disclosure, I have a horse in this race. My parents both immigrated from other countries and reading Hoopoe, I circled back to those underlying questions: What did they carry with them? What did they leave behind? What did they smuggle? Good poetry makes the universal, personal. And, Chrusciel’s Contraband of Hoopoes is a crucial body of work for us to not forget the past, lest we be doomed to repeat it. It’s an offering of understanding and hope. Its mascot, the hoopoe, “brings silence to the world of noises.” (p. 20)

Food Poetry Poetry

Sausage Poetry by Ewa Chrusciel

Sausage Poetry | Kabanos Sausage Photo by Mike Dent

I buy a sausage at the airport before I leave Poland. Kielbaska, kielbasa,
kabanos, kabanosik. This, my transcontinental dowry. The sacrificial
baby of my tongue. Foreign gods hover over us. If God lets my sausage
in, I will eat it like a saint wreathed in incense, circle a table with
Gregorian chants. Folkberg variations. The baggage carousel spurts my
luggage out. With an air of conspiracy, I transfer this sausage from my
carry-on into checked luggage. I look around. I pray for my sausage
while I move towards customs. The Angelus trickles. The Angelus
salivates. St. George is about to put his spear through a sizzling
dragon. My luggage goes through a “sausage scan.” Can an old sausage
be born young again? The officer pulls me aside. The officer holds my
sausage to the light. His babushka trophy. “It’s a sealed sausage.” I
declare with pride. I’ve brought a new species. “But you declared: no
meats,” the officer says. “Sealed Sausage is not a meat!” Sealed sausage
is a sealed sausage!” I say, as the guardian angels of my sealed sausage
swarm under the investigation light. The officer blinks when I repeat
with determination: “A sealed sausage is a sealed sausage.” He looks
blinded. My hypnotic alliteration throws him back into the waters of
his childhood where eels jiggle Scottish dances. Oh, sweet detained
sausage. Saint of arrests, pray for us. May my new species have mercy
on us. Escape at the borders. Oh, oven bird, whose migratory song is a
sausage a sausage a sausage. Dear sausage of martyrs. Sealed patriarch.
Let the Virgin Liberty swallow it.



Poem by Ewa Chrusciel
Poem reprinted with permission from A Contraband of Hoopoe by Ewa Chrusciel (published by Omnidawn Press, 2014).

Kabanos sausage photo by Mike Dent.