Farming is tough. To raise the potatoes we mash for dinner and the tomatoes which fill our summer sandwiches, growers are forced to battle banks, fight off pesky herds of deer, and figure out what to do when it doesn't rain for five weeks straight.
Wanting to honor our local farmers' Herculean efforts, we turned to folks who've taken on a similarly daunting task. Local poets who bravely wrestle with metaphors, meter, and sometimes rhyme generously responded to our call for poems about Pacific Northwest produce. All summer long, Seattle Weekly's food blog, Voracious (seattleweekly.com/voracious), has run poems celebrating what's newly ripe at area farmers markets. (The Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance chipped in recipes, which you'll find online.)
On Wednesday, August 29, we'll celebrate our "Producing Poetry" series with a reading at the Columbia City Farmers Market, 3698 S. Edmunds St., featuring seven contributors. The event runs from 5:30–6:30 p.m., and is open to the public. Here's a taste of what you'll hear, along with each poem's corresponding fruit or veggie:
Field Greens by Ann Spiers
The field greens,
encased in plastic, vacuum packed,
each leaf pre-washed, debugged,
cost me six dollars,
price of two lattes, skinny, extra hot.
Why am I buying this?
I own an acre, and rain falls on me too.
My push mower cuts through
sun-dappled green, its dandelions,
free salad, each leaf worth ten cents.
My ditch is full of water,
still running with winter flow.
Tat soi and watercress
emerge like a thousand bitter angels.
From the wood's confused edge:
sorrel, miners' lettuce, lambs quarters.
Everywhere, mint bullies wild mustard;
oregano self seeds among mystery grass.
But here at the farmer's stall
my hunger is sharp,
the greens so prepared
to be slicked with oil and vinegar.
The work is done;
I hand her my money, crisp from the ATM.
She gives me back four dollars,
wet, handled, also green.
Spiers is Vashon Island's poet laureate. Her son, Wiley Frank, runs Little Uncle with his wife, PK.
Peel by Georgia Johnson
She's all . . .
genteel in her paper-thin chemise.
With her, ripe is defined by heat,
by heft in the hand,
not so much perfume or
the give of flesh.
But oh, her scent
once the chemise is stripped
once those straps have fallen
it's no secret she can make a grown man cry.
Once bitten there's no stopping her,
you've got to go all the way with her,
as layer by layer drops away you find it's all
in the curve and swell of her tight wound heart.
The bitter then sweet of her sizzle
gives tongue full range of pleasure.
Cousins on all continents,
these broads command respect from
Morocco to Myanmar, from Paris to São Paulo,
stars in their own right like the great
sweet Southern Vidalia,
the Oignon doux des Cévennes,
that red-headed hot Bermuda,
the child-like Cipolla Rossa di Tropea.
Johnson is a culinary-arts teacher and Food Services Manager for the La Conner School District.
by Michael Dylan Welch
a broken bamboo cane—
grow along the ground
Welch is vice president of the Haiku Society of America.
What Bitterness? by Molly Tenenbaum
Never made sense what they said—
to cut off one end and rub it
with salt on the rest
or to salt and let stand
rinse and dry
when before any method or recipe
my mother sliced them in salad
and we all lingered
in the litter of dinner
to slide the remaining
vinegar salt pepper circles from the bowl
dropping them slippery tart to our mouths
although I will add
they've been used in art for example
at the museum café
refreshing the water
visually at first in the dispenser
with floating translucent circles
the greens in concentric colors more luminous
the more toward the seeds in the center
and then as fragrance in the glass invisibly
and as one more example my friends
whose two doors take two keys
dark green for the outer
pale green for the inner
"like a cucumber" they remind me
dropping a set in my hands and telling me
to make myself at home
In addition to authoring three books of poetry, Tenenbaum plays Appalachian fiddle and banjo.
For her produce poems, Kate Lebo erased selected words from the featured fruits and vegetables' Wikipedia entries. The original erasures are posted at seattleweekly.com.
For the former mayor, breeding is a cross
between a large spine and a deep thaw.
The more powerful ice over the mar. Berry
was released under the name Marion
after the county adapted to the hurt.
Most legislators have agreed not
to press the issue.
Lebo is a pie-baker and a 2012 graduate of the University of Washington's MFA program.
The heart of the beet is black by Marjorie Rommel
Each fall in the Skagit where roadside farms
form oases among flat brown fields that stretch
to the horizon, beets come out of the winter ground
bedraggled as bag ladies gone to moss, goblin faces
suffused with wine. Dark knobs piled in mountains
on rich soil intricately tire-patterned out onto wet
roads. Where rain washes the dirt away, they glow
like hot coals, like the red spot on Jupiter. Choose
one. Weigh it in your hand, test it for volume &
density—this is the vault where Earth keeps her
dark secrets. Cut top to bottom & held up to light
a slice reveals rich-stained windows, flying
buttresses, a bloody aurora. The beet is no
valentine. Its heart is so red it is almost black.
Rommel is a member of the Auburn Striped Water Poets.
Fungi by Clark Crouch
These woodlands know the step
of those who've gone before,
the natives of this place
who've shared their tribal lore.
We now walk where they walked
to harvest mushrooms there,
treading on the greensward
for our new bill-of-fare.
Where here in forest shade,
the mushrooms hide away
waiting for the hunter
to come along this way.
It's here the fungus grows
beneath primeval trees,
white caps tipped in greeting
with scent on gentle breeze.
Their names we scarce pronounce,
long Latin-sounding things,
but offering themselves,
as food which nature brings.
We harvest now the fruits,
the fungi of these lands,
to grace our daily meals,
to satisfy gourmands.
Ambrosia, food of Gods,
with clean and earthy scent
as flavors kiss the tongue
in moments of content.
Crouch, who lives in Woodinville, identifies himself as a "poet lariat."