Monday, 5 March 2007

The Use of the Jubbly in Poetry

An American friend e mailed yesterday to say she has bookmarked this blog and for some reason her toolbar randomly designates small pictorial icons to each site marked, I am a fried egg. I began to mull this over. It is a cliché but nonetheless a useful guideline that all poetry is ultimately about sex and death, in all its various guises. However after just completing a new poem, I have again realised that a great deal of my poetry is about food. A poet friend has pointed out to me that food either directly or as a simile or metaphor seems to slip inexorably into the body of my poetic work. Perhaps I am not contemplating sex and death enough and instead my waking hours are spent sub consciously processing food?
Food is, of course, often used as a metaphor in itself for thoughts on sex and death, not only by poets but by artists. Picture that ancient biblical image of the apple. Maybe Eve did not want the powers of an omnipotent god and knowledge of all things perhaps she just yearned for a tasty crisp snack? She may have grown tired of exotic soft pulp: mango, papaya, pomegranate and the grape perhaps she just wanted a firm crisp Granny Smith or a rosy Braeburn to get her perfect teeth into. The serpent merely had to extol its virtues as a crunchy unyielding fruit and bobs your uncle; he’s crawling on his belly for the next few millennia, women are bringing forth offspring in travail and needing epidurals and those small plastic pots of ersatz cream you can’t open in cafes without being splattered, have been invented. Giving into one innocent snack can be the beginning of the end, as the Weight Watcher Counsellor once told me at the local Recreation Centre.
On reflection I think I wrote more poetry that included food during my Weight Watching Years. ‘We are what we eat’, we write what we dream of eating. However, since then I have also managed to weave; pork pies, sherbet lemons, mayonnaise, beef casserole and dumplings, vanilla pods, roast lamb and frozen peas, to name just a few foods or culinary accompaniments, into very serious poems about sex and death. It may be that the old adage in my case is wrong perhaps all my poems are ultimately sub textually about food disguised in other darker metaphors. Every phallic symbol really is a sausage; every dark bowl of night is chocolate sauce.
I have noticed that a poem only has to mention a Five Boy Chocolate bar, Jubblies or chewing on a liquorice root and the reader of a certain age is easily grounded in childhood nostalgia. It’s an easy trick, it may often be a lazy device but memory like an army often marches on its stomach.
We all have our own iconography of food; say sardines and for me it’s Saturday tea, sardines on toast in front of the TV with my Dad taking down the football scores so he can check his Littlewoods pools coupon. It is my careful and fascinated excavation of their tiny spine from the flesh, the tomato sauce clinging to it like clotted blood. Milk conjures for me the slimy and vomit-inducing feel on the lips of the skin that builds up on untouched hot milk given to me when I had pneumonia. The word chip is mentioned and I see and hear my mother expounding the virtues of the ‘double frying in lard’ technique to me when I am twelve years old whilst the kitchen slowly grows smoky with neglected hot fat.
That’s the joy of using words, especially in poetry; striving for their precision for your purpose whilst at the same time the reader brings to those words their own personal images and meaning. I like that tension, that tugging on the rope of language between the reader and the writer. That could be a metaphor for the umbilical cord; for me its The Lady and The Tramp eating spaghetti (another point yet again to the effect of food and the Disney Empire on my psyche).

NB When searching for an image of a Jubbly the internet offered me a number of images of big breasted women. As a child I recall wrestling with the problem of trying to squeeze out and gain access to my Jubbly so I could suck on it whilst at the same time ensuring it did not shoot out onto the pavement. Meanwhile some sleazy marketing manager was either paying a covert homage to the Blackpool postcard or had fantasies of handling the large firm breasts of a woman. I rest my case about the connection between food and sex in particular.

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