We had to take along a published poem (by someone else) to Metroland Poets last night on the theme of ‘Poems to Read Aloud’. There was a very varied and entertaining selection ranging from ballads by Walter Scott to Edwin Morgan’s famous ‘Loch Ness Monster’s Song’.
I made a choice in about five minutes flat but was quite pleased with the poem that came to mind. It’s ‘Cooking with Blood’ by Linda France, which is featured, along with an interview with the poet, in the Open University’s ‘Creative Writing’ course (A215). Click on this link for the poem and an opportunity to hear her read it out.
Again there’s a link with The Angel as it’s all about cooking (in the section I’m workshopping on Monday James tells Kim about his passion for food). It’s also dedicated to Delia Smith in a way. Delia is someone I’ve loved even more since her famously tired and emotional appearance on the pitch at half time at a Norwich City game.
I get the feeling she’s far less prim and proper than supposed ‘edgier’ cooks like Nigella and Jamie Oliver (who I think, to use Kim’s vocabulary, is a bit of a tw*t).
‘Cooking with Blood’ was inspired when Linda France was looking through the index of a cookery book, probably Delia’s, and found all kinds of exotic names for dishes and techniques. What people found quite remarkable when I read the poem was the amazing use of these names as verbs in the poem. ‘Wouldn’t we sausage lots of little quichelets’, ‘She played en papilotte/for just long enough to sweat me garlicky’, ‘I’ve stroganoffed with too many of them’, ‘[I] triped
myself into a carcass’.
Making imaginative use of verbs (and, in fact creating new verbs like this) is something that I don’t really do enough of in my own writing — probably because I do it too quickly. I’ve got the opportunity to experiment a little in this way in my next chapter when I get James and Kim completely plastered. I’d like to try and hint at their altered states of consciousness by attempting to play with language in the same sort of way.
The poem also appeals to me as it’s very sensual. There’s clearly a link between food and sex in the poem (even as far as talking about procreation) but it’s amusing and thought-provoking: ‘After I’d peppered her liver, stuffed her goose/
and dogfished her tender loins, she was patÃ©/in my hands’ and ‘We danced the ossobuco;/her belly kedgeree, her breasts prosciutto.’ I think this poem must have tapped into my subconscious quite deeply as I tend to return to similar elements in my writing: people say it’s quite physical. I tend to write a lot about what people do with their hands and their body appearance.On Monday in the workshop I’m sure it will be noted that James is something of a compulsive breast watcher (well, he’s done it twice once with each of the women). I’ve played this up deliberately for mild amusement but I’m starting on the journey to finding my writing ‘voice’ and I think I’m always going to have a theme of the physical and sensuous. I’ve done the same in ‘Burying Bad News’ with Frances imagining herself and other people with physical attributes of grape varities. It’s interesting as I’m not a touchy-feely type person in normal life at all — I just seem to write about it.
One of the women poets was surprised that ‘Cooking with Blood’ was written by a woman as she thought its tone was quite male. Perhaps that’s down to the physicality of its approach as opposed to the more metaphysical, spiritual tone she might have expected in a poem with a similar message written from a more conventionally ‘female’ point of view. I’m not so sure there really is such a gender bias in reality between male and female writers. At least three of the male novelists on the course are writing from female points of view and Eileen writes in a very convincingly masculine voice in her novel extracts. However, there’s no doubt that many readers form expectations about reading a novel just by reading the gender of the author. That, famously, is why J.K.Rowling is known by her initials — the publishers didn’t think their initial market of teen boys would want to read a book written by someone called Joanne.