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Diane Lockward on Food

Diane Lockward is poet laureate of West Caldwell, New Jersey, and the author of The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop.

She runs two two annual literary events: Girl Talk: A Poetry Reading in Celebration of Women’s History Month and the West Caldwell Poetry Festival, produces a monthly poetry newsletter, and maintains Blogalicious, a popular poetry blog.

In her four poetry books — Temptation by Water, What Feeds Us, Eve's Red Dress, and a forthcoming collection, The Uneaten Carrots of Atonement — food plays a central role.

"Some of the poems are about the hunger we have for real food, but others are about the larger hungers – our need for love, for sex, family, success, the past. These hungers are a kind of longing," she has said. "I'm interested in what happens when we are left undernourished or starving."

"I was a fussy eater whose father insisted that every plate be cleaned. I became adept at surreptitiously getting rid of food I found disgusting. While I had no appetite for vegetables, I had a big sweet tooth. But the foods I loved — cake, cookies, candy, ice cream sundaes — were prohibited by my father who wanted me slender. My cravings only increased. On the sly I consumed entire jars of Marshmallow Fluff.

At some level, perhaps, I'd begun equating food with risk, danger, punishment, deprivation, desire, hunger."

Diane Lockward shares three good books on the topic of food:

The Art of Eating
by M.F.K. Fisher

Recognized as the premier writer on the subject of food, M.F.K. Fisher wrote copiously and eloquently about the gustatory pleasures — shopping for ingredients, preparing and cooking dishes, dining, and enjoying the company of good companions. This 50th anniversary edition, like the original from 1937, gathers together five of Fisher’s books: Serve It Forth, Consider the Oyster, How to Cook a Wolf, The Gastronomical Me, and An Alphabet for Gourmets. Collectively, these books and the many essays in them capture the story of a life that had food at its center. We also read about Fisher’s marriages and divorces, her children, houses, travels, and famous friends, including James Beard, Julia Child, and Ruth Reichl. At 700+ pages, this is a huge book, but each of those pages is a delight. I particularly enjoyed The Gastronomical Me and used a line from it as the epigraph for my second poetry book, What Feeds Us: “. . . there is nourishment in the heart, to feed the wilder, more insistent hungers.”

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe
by Fannie Flagg

Set in Alabama, this fabulous novel includes two different time periods, two intersecting story lines, and multiple narrators. Flagg’s exterior story takes place in the 1980s in a nursing home where middle-aged Evelyn visits elderly Mrs. Threadgood, a loquacious resident who narrates the interior story of a friendship between two women who owned the Whistle Stop Cafe during the 1930s. Interspersed between the two stories are newspaper entries which provide another point of view. As we move back and forth between the story lines, each one illuminates the other. Food is a common link between them as is the value of storytelling and the sisterhood among women. The book concludes with a few dozen recipes for dishes served at the Whistle Stop Cafe. I adored the characters and was deeply touched by their stories. As soon as I finished this novel, I immediately returned to the first page and reread the entire book. I’ve also seen the movie numerous times.

Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way
by Molly Birnbaum
This memoir tells a story of unusual but profound loss. The summer after she graduated from college, Molly Birnbaum was working in a Boston bistro while she waited to attend the Culinary Institute of America to fulfill her dream of becoming a master chef. Then leaving work one day, she was hit head-on by a car and hurled into the windshield. Many bones were broken and a long period of healing lay ahead. But the worst injury did not reveal itself until Birnbaum returned to her mother’s house and realized that she could not smell the food her mother was cooking, nor could she taste the food. This would be a big deal for anyone, but for someone who aspired to be a chef, someone who read cookbooks instead of novels, it was devastating. What follows is the story of Birnbaum’s long pursuit to understand and restore her lost senses, a journey that included spending time at a perfumery. People interested in cooking or medicine will find this story compelling. Poets, especially, will be fascinated by the insights into the senses of smell and taste.

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