December 10, 2012

Books For The Giving Season

NPR's Alan Cheuse's seasonal book list made from "piling up books on my reading table, books I've culled from the offerings of the past few months, which because of their essential lyric beauty and power stand as special gifts for you and yours" includes a book of poems and a book for the season by a poet.

The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink by Kevin Young

Here is gustatory poetry for all seasons, from summer berry-picking to autumn harvests, winter holiday meals to maple syrup springs; poems about breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks; about meat and drink, soups and salads, desserts and snacks, coffee and Coca-Cola. The joy in these poems knows no bounds. Who knew that so many wonderful poets, from Li Po to Yeats to Mary Oliver and Gerald Stern, wrote so many wonderful words about satisfying this particular appetite? The taste of milk, the taste of apples, the taste of wine, bread, cheese, the company of loved ones, the presence of friends, all here, tripping off the tongues of some of the country's, and world's, most gifted poets.

Here's the opening of one poem - Joy Harjo's "Perhaps the World Ends Here"

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on ...

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.


Christmas at Eagle Pond by Donald Hall (Author), Mary Azarian (Illustrator)

At the top of the stack on my book table rests a slender volume, a 70-page novella, Christmas at Eagle Pond, by former Poet Laureate Donald Hall. In this straightforward piece of narrative nostalgia, Hall conjures up a story of what it would have been like if he had visited his grandparents' New Hampshire farmhouse for Christmas in 1940. In doing so, he has made one of the most engaging Christmas narratives in a long line of these by U.S. writers, a story filled with the brisk December cold, horse-drawn carts and trains, recitations at the local meeting house, and as Hall gives us, a bountiful description of the holiday meal:

"Called to the table, we found it covered with food from end to end: chicken and stuffing, vegetables, mashed potatoes, gravy, butter, vinegar in a cruet. Uncle Luther presided at the far end of the table, Gramp sat at the near end by the plate stacked with chicken ... First thing, Luther closed his eyes and said grace, 'Dear Lord, we thank Thee.' "

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