September 28, 2009

Carrots, Tomatoes, and Narwhals

I've missed you guys.

On Thursday I was in New York for, among other things, the Best American Poetry 2009 launch reading at the New School. (Credit Bill Hayward for this dramatic photo of Mark Doty, reading.) I was particularly caught off guard--and delighted by--poems from Mark Bibbins, Susan Blackwell Ramsay, Mitch Sisskind, and Craig Morgan Teicher. I finally got to meet Martha Silano, who gets my eternal admiration for letting out a wildcat scream on stage (in context, kinda). I was sorry David Wagoner couldn't be there, because I think he's put together one of the best editions of BAP in years.

At the after-party I met Molly Peacock and fawned like a gradeschooler. What else could I do? This woman was saying smart, inspiring things about form at a time when I was considering chucking my scansion skills out the window, frustrated that in the post-grad world I could find no sympathetic voice. She saved that part of the poet in me.

Still in star-struck mode, I told John Ashbery that I'd heard him give a great reading at Washington's Folger Poetry Series not too long ago. "You seduced every woman in the room," I said, "and half the men."

"I did not know that," he said, seeming unperturbed by the revelation.

Just in case you were wondering, if you ever need to take the 3 AM regional train home do NOT assume you can hang out at Penn Station beforehand. Sketch, as we'd say in college. Seriously sketch. There were three drunk men in my car; too loud to let me sleep, too aggressive for me to be visibly awake. But it was worth the trip.

Friday I was in Baltimore to see a recitation of Edgar Allen Poe's "Berenice" staged at, suitably enough (given the speaker's session with his love's pearly whites), the National Museum of Dentistry. It was a persuasive and focused performance, though it would have been even better if it could have been staged in the authentic Surgical Theater instead of the lobby. They clearly meant for it to be kid-friendly, complete with refreshments in the form of licorice mustaches and gummi worms. Who am I to turn down a good worm?

As a bonus, an upstairs exhibit upstairs featured narwhals, including an authentic tusk (i.e. tooth). As an extra bonus, I got into B'more in time to stop off at the Book Festival and catch Kiki Petrosino (a friend from UVA days) read in support of the debut of Fort Red Border from Sarabande Books. Her first collection's title is, yes, an anagram of "Robert Redford."

After "Berenice" my friend and I found our way to the Owl Bar at the Belvedere hotel. Although it's been slightly adulterated by a pizza oven and some flatscreened TVs, this ground-level bar's speakeasy roots are clearly visible, complete with two prominent owl statues whose yellow eyes would have, in the day, flashed to alert patrons of incoming police. The brick work was lovely--rich geometric patterns in not only rouge, but navy and green--alternating with vintage stained glass windows. We drank Dalmore. All was right in the world.

Saturday should have been my day of rest. Instead I took an unexpected daytrip to Beltsville, MD, to rescue my digital camera from the clutches of FedEx Home Delivery. A one-hour errand that took three times as long, in the rain, reducing me to tears, and only barely (by the grace of an employee working after hours) turned out to be a success. We will not speak of it again.


I eased the tension of Saturday with a night of cooking...and so I segue to this gratuitous recipe. The easiest thing ever, and--I love this--I got it off a TV show. A note to Alton Brown: whoever claims that this generation of "food programming" has stunted our cooking skills has clearly never seen "Good Eats." I salute you.

Ginger-Glazed Carrots (recipe adapted for maximum convenience)

1 lb. bag of "baby" carrots
1 teaspoon olive oil
Heavy pinch of salt
1 cup ginger ale (Seagrams-quality is fine)
1/2 teaspoon chili powder

In a 12 inch sauce pan over medium heat, combine the carrots, oil, salt, and ginger ale. Cover and bring to a simmer. Once simmering, remove the lid, stir, and reduce heat to low. Cover again and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the lid, add chili powder and increase heat to high. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the ginger ale is reduced to a glaze, approximately 5 minutes. Serve immediately--but they taste good cold, as well.

...this recipe is particularly handy because carrots are one of those perpetually stocked items (in my fridge) that sometimes go to waste. If a bag is on the cusp of going unused, this is a saving grace. I've tried cooked-carrot recipes before, usually with maple syrup or honey, and they always felt too "candied." This variation preserves the vegetable value, adding a tinge of sweetness and spice.


I was remiss in not posting a link to an interview I did the other week with Russell Bittner, over at Long Story Short. One excerpt, which provides the backstory to my poem "Cherry Tomatoes":

"SB: As I mention sometimes at readings, this poem originated with a prompt from the poet Dana Roeser during her Jenny McKean Moore Workshop at George Washington University. She had covered the table with objects from the natural world—shells, rocks, dried flowers, fruit—and asked each student to take up an object as the subject of an ode. Since I tend to be a little rebellious when it comes to prompts; what I wrote was the anti-ode of “Cherry Tomatoes.”

In first approaching the draft, I simply fixated on the bilious properties of tomatoes: the way they go bad, their squishiness even when good, the liminality of being both fruit and vegetable. On a craft level, I wanted to see if I could use enjambment to recreate the momentum of biting into a tomato—the eruption—and also, explore how many different metaphors the object could occupy without overcrowding the poem. (Pablo Neruda had a really good eye for such balances.) The disposable container became a coffin; the guts, “blood of a perfect household”; each globe, a skinned sunset.

But as I started to think about how I came by those impressions, and about how so often eating habits and biases are inherited traditions, the domestic drama came into focus. For so many families, food becomes a meeting ground (or, for some families, a battleground). “Cherry Tomatoes” felt like the right lead-off to the first section of Theories of Falling, which focuses on childhood and utilizes a fair amount of autobiographical material."

You can find the whole thing here. Thanks, Russell!


Michael A. Wells said...

Sandra... your John Ashbery comment is priceless!

Matthew Thorburn said...

Hey SB, I'm glad/sad to hear how good the BAP reading was, since I wanted to go but didn't make it down there.

And glad you got to meet Molly Peacock. She visited classes of mine in both undergrad and MFA days and always had a lot of wise insights to share. I still remember her complimenting one of my classmates for the way his poem used "the full palette of punctuation."

You know, I would have said Penn Station isn't even all that nice in the daytime....


Maggie May said...

Molly Peacock? Surely not her real name! Awesome.

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Martha Silano said...

It was such a treat to finally meet you. If I knew you were heading down to Penn Station after the party, I would have insisted you walk back to where I was staying . . . and take a morning train. Sketch is not good (am glad you made it home safe). xo

ChristinaBeasley said...

your exchange with john ashbery is one of the funniest things that i have ever heard.

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