Food Poetry: Artichoke, by Henry Taylor

By Friday, September 16, 2011 Permalink 0
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Christina Daub, Poetry Editor

The pangolin of the vegetable world, the artichoke repels as much as it attracts. Is it armor or petals that surround its hidden heart? The slow-mo antidote to the seven-bite standup lunch, it ought to be the poster-it for the Slow Food movement.

Years ago I was told artichokes are one the foods one should never eat on a first date… the painstaking biting and sucking, the buttery dribbles, fingers and stain-potential all too risky, too exposing, too unladylike.

Even poet Henry Taylor admits to having “studied in private years ago/the way to eat these things…” Here’s his experience:

Artichoke

“If poetry did not exist, would you have had the wit to invent it?” –Howard Nemerov

He had studied in private years ago
the way to eat these things, and was prepared
when she set the clipped green globe before him.
He only wondered (as he always did
when he plucked from the base the first thick leaf,
dipped it into the sauce and caught her eye
as he deftly set the velvet curve against
the inside edges of his lower teeth
and drew the tender pulp towards his tongue
while she made some predictable remark
about the sensuality of this act
then sheared away the spines and ate the heart)
what mind, what hunger, first saw this as food.

___________________________

Henry Taylor ‘s collections of poetry include Crooked Run (2006), Understanding Fiction: Poems 1986-1996; The Flying Change (1985), for which he received the Pulitzer Prize; An Afternoon of Pocket Billiards (1975), and The Horse Show at Midnight (1966). Taylor has received the Witter Bynner Foundation Poetry Prize from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and is a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers. He has also translated several works from Bulgarian, French, Hebrew, Italian, and Russian.

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7 Comments
  • Fred Schroeder
    September 21, 2011

    The poem beautifully captures the moment when he and she interact over the artichokes, his attention wandering from her to musings on the ancient history of the plant, and her attention wandering from him to disecting the beast. I like it!

    The poem has me thinking of food ….

    Maybe if she had followed this recipe, they could have focused more on one another: http://www.grouprecipes.com/80773/fresh-artichoke-bisque.html

    Then there is Cynar, a curious way to consume artichokes with hardly any trouble at all.

    I can’t resist copying some artichoke facts from the web:

    “Native to the Mediterranean region, the artichoke is the edible flower bud of a thistle-like plant in the sunflower family. It is eaten as a vegetable.

    Its botanical name, Cynara scolymus, derives from the Latin canina meaning canine and the Greek skolymos meaning thistle. Its English name comes from the Arabic al-khurshuf also meaning thistle, which became articiocco in Italian, and ultimately artichoke.

    Although mankind has been eating artichokes for more than 3000 years, the fall of Rome plunged the artichoke into obscurity until its revival in Italy the mid-15th century.

    Catherine de Medici, who was married to King Henry II of France at the tender young age of 14, is credited with bringing the artichoke from her native Italy to France, where its success was instant.

    The artichoke quickly made its way to Britain and as a result, the term artichoke first appeared in written English records in the 15th century. It made its way to America via French and Italian explorers.

    Now California produces 100 percent of the U.S. commercial artichoke crop, rivaled in popularity only in France and Italy. “

    • CD
      September 24, 2011

      Carciofi per tutti!
      Thanks for adding some food history.
      Anyone try the recipe yet?

      • Jonell Galloway
        September 28, 2011

        I enjoyed a bit of food history too. A lovely poem indeed.

      • Jonell Galloway
        October 2, 2011

        I too love the food history. It adds something to the poem, prepares for a good read.

  • Fred Schroeder
    September 21, 2011

    The poem beautifully captures the moment when he and she interact over the artichokes, his attention wandering from her to musings on the ancient history of the plant, and her attention wandering from him to disecting the beast. I like it!

    The poem has me thinking of food ….

    Maybe if she had followed this recipe, they could have focused more on one another: http://www.grouprecipes.com/80773/fresh-artichoke-bisque.html

    Then there is Cynar, a curious way to consume artichokes with hardly any trouble at all.

    I can’t resist copying some artichoke facts from the web:

    “Native to the Mediterranean region, the artichoke is the edible flower bud of a thistle-like plant in the sunflower family. It is eaten as a vegetable. Its botanical name, Cynara scolymus, derives from the Latin canina meaning canine and the Greek skolymos meaning thistle. Its English name comes from the Arabic al-khurshuf also meaning thistle, which became articiocco in Italian, and ultimately artichoke. Although mankind has been eating artichokes for more than 3000 years, the fall of Rome plunged the artichoke into obscurity until its revival in Italy the mid-15th century. Catherine de Medici, who was married to King Henry II of France at the tender young age of 14, is credited with bringing the artichoke from her native Italy to France, where its success was instant. The artichoke quickly made its way to Britain and as a result, the term artichoke first appeared in written English records in the 15th century. It made its way to America via French and Italian explorers. Now California produces 100 percent of the U.S. commercial artichoke crop, rivaled in popularity only in France and Italy. “

  • Jonell Galloway
    September 21, 2011

    Lovely image!

  • Grace Cavalieri
    September 21, 2011

    Will Henry, the brilliant Pulitzer Prize winner be remembered by this sensual and evocative poem? Or his equestrian poems? Or maybe the ultimate: a new poem, eating an artichoke while making a “flying change” on horseback.Now that would be a perfect balance of the art.

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