Review by Meredith Davies Hadaway
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O Taste and See
When I first read Stephen Massimilla’s poems about food—”Coconut,” “Celeriac,” and “Appetitive Evening” in The Summerset Review (Winter 2014)—I was fascinated by the evocation of smell, taste, and touch—the happy marriage of language and the senses in poems inspired by food. If there isn’t a name for this kind of poem—some culinary version of “ekphrastic”? —someone should invent one because this is a union that dates back three thousand years and is likely to endure. What is great cooking but a poetic attention to the world around us—its sensory gifts, its nourishments, its multitude of forms and preparations? Food has its seasons—spring’s tender asparagus, summer’s abundant fruits, autumn’s squashes, winter’s roots, as does poetry—from epithalamium to ode to aubade to elegy.
Now Tupelo Press has paired poet Stephen Massimilla with chef Myra Kornfeld to bring us a generous feast of a book, Cooking with the Muse: A Sumptuous Gathering of Seasonal Recipes, Culinary Poetry, and Literary Fare. This hefty volume features works by Homer, Lu Tong, Rumi, Chaucer, Basho, Dickinson, Hopkins, Machado, Stevens, Hurston, Heaney, Plath, Oliver, Berry, Collins, Graham, and Hirshfield, among many others—each thoughtfully placed with a dish from among 150 seasonal recipes, 200 full-color photos, and insightful essays on various culinary and literary topics—all lovingly assembled by two connoisseurs.
Full disclosure: I’m a poet and not a cook. It’s a testament to the delectability of this volume that I found it nourishing, no matter. But I also passed along a few recipes from my advance copy to Kees de Mooy, expert cook, gardener, and spice enthusiast, who declared the recipes to be transcendent—in the way of all great poetry.