One of the pleasures of poetry is rolling a particularly juicy turn of phrase over your tongue, like savoring a tidbit of something delicious. So it was maybe inevitable that my friends and I should wind up comparing our favourite (and not-so-favourite) poets to different kinds of cuisine.
It started with a friend’s joking comparison of TS Eliot and Robert Frost to “steak” vs “rice crackers.” Ever the contrarian, I replied that I prefer Frost, because TS Eliot is like the cook who compulsively throws every ingredient in the kitchen into every dish. It’s rich, but not always digestible, and it would probably be just as good or better without about ten fewer seasonings and sauces.
(I like Eliot, but occasionally I’m like, “Really? Was that extra allusion there REALLY necessary?” and “You had a fine ending two stanzas back, buddy.”)
I asked some of my other friends to tell me what foods their favourite (and not-so-favourite) poets would be, and we compiled a range of answers. I’ve paired some of the best here, with corresponding recipes.
Frost is deceptively simple, not cracker simple. Frost is like—eating real mozzarella and fresh garden tomato with a balsamic reduction. It looks simple, but the quality makes you want to linger over it.
(Caprese Salad image by Daryl Mitchell, via Flickr)
Tennyson is one of those Julia Child recipes that involves spatchcocking something and marinating something else and broiling and basting and deglazing the pan, and which uses all the pots in the kitchen. It’s a little bit more work, but it’s worth it because it always reliably tastes better than when someone else tries to half-ass the same dish.
My friend Elizabeth commented that William Blake is, “hard to pin down…something fantastical maybe: champagne and seafood, but prone to ruin if you don’t cook the fish while it’s fresh.”
Her description reminded me of the time a friend’s mother hired us to cook for and serve her birthday dinner. She picked out all the recipes ahead of time, but left us, a couple of teenage girls, to actually prepare the meal. As I recall, it consisted of champagne-poached salmon, some sort of asparagus side, and individual dark chocolate lava cakes. It smelled and looked amazing, but I’m still impressed that we didn’t completely botch any of it up.
Image by ProjectManhattan (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
I love Yeats. He makes poetry seem effortless and light, although he labored over every one of his own verses. I think Yeats would be a perfect, fluffy omelet filled with a blend of melting cheeses and garden vegetables. It’s lovely to look at, smell, and taste, and hits just the right balance of flavors with the perfect amount of salt and pepper. It seems so natural and obvious that you go home and try to reproduce it yourself, but as it turns out, making a perfect omelet takes a lot more practice, skill, and thought than you realized and yours are always a soggy, sloppy mess in comparison.Image by thebittenword, via Flickr
Robert Service’s straightforward, rhythmic, poetic storytelling is like a stack of thick, heavy pancakes cooked over a campfire griddle and served with a hearty portion of hash browns and a mess of sausages, with a chaser of local maple syrup. You know what you are getting, your mouth is watering at the smell, and the flavor of the campfire always gets into it and makes the meal special. With an appetite whetted by a few days hiking, fishing, and camping, this is the meal that will make you wonder why you never realized food could be so good.
Image by pcutler, via Flickr
Reader Kate Madore lyrically (and appropriately) compared the poetry of Irish poet Seamus Heaney to, “A cheddar and apple sandwich on homemade bread that your mother packed, eaten in the crisp of autumn. When you eat it alone on your rowboat watching the cows make muddy tracks along the stream-side, you smell your father’s pipe tobacco from the wax paper it’s wrapped in, though he died years ago.”
Heaney is not the only poet that brings grilled cheese to mind. My friend Angel G. says that Robert Browning is, “a good grilled cheese sandwich with tomato and mustard. Anyone can appreciate him, but he’s also more complex than first glance.”
Image by Shivery Timbers, via Flickr
My husband says Robbie Burns is an oatmeal raisin cookie, warm from the oven, served up with a mug of hot tea with a generous slosh of whiskey in it. To really reflect Burn’s sly humor, I think the oatmeal cookie would have to have some sharp flavor added for interest. Like candied ginger.
Image by Vegan Feast Catering (Oatmeal Raisin) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I need a snack, and maybe something to read while I eat.