As part of a post at Via Negativa introducing a new series called Poets in the Kitchen, I started looking for some cooking-related videopoems and poetry films to include. I soon had way too many, so I thought I’d gather them here instead for this occasional “top ten” feature. As I say at VN, the contrast between the abstract—some would say spiritual—nature of writing and the essential corporeality of preparing and consuming food is fascinating. Eating is a root metaphor in probably every language, one of the fundamental ways in which we think about our relationship to the cosmos.
How to Make a Crab Cake (poet: January Gill O’Neil)
Kevin Carey, 2010
This performance-style videopoem, produced to promote O’Neil’s debut poetry collection Underlife, serves as a good introduction to one of the most common approaches to culinary poetry: poet as faux cooking-show host.
An Ode to Frybread (poet: Melanie Fey)
Trevino L. Brings Plenty/Iktomi Films, 2015
What we eat is linked figuratively as well as literally to who we are. Again, the poet is in the kitchen, this time to ponder questions of identity and belonging.
Omelet (poet: Fiona Tinwei Lam)
Fiona Tinwei Lam, 2015
Illustrative poetry animations often feel superfluous, but perhaps because the poet herself was the director here, this animation (by Toni Zhang and Claire Stewart) works for me. It’s as if Lam is sketching out ideas in her head. And that contrast I mentioned between abstraction and corporeality may be part of it, too, the animation reinforcing the abstract nature of poetry and storytelling.
The Body Show: How to Boil an Egg (poet: Nora Robertson)
Jason Bahling, 2010
Another family story centered on eggs, but there the resemblance with Omelet ends. Robertson plays the deranged host of a kitschy 60s cooking show for housewives. “The simple act of boiling an egg forces her to publicly contemplate a succession of images from the vaginal opening of a hen, to slaves working in salt mines, to the virgin-devouring snake god of Ghana. The seemingly non-sequitur imagery comes together as she remembers the horror and heartbreak of her grandmother being forced to assemble hundreds of deviled eggs for a Hollywood dinner party.”
Sogni Culinari (poem: Pedro Mercado)
Clarissa Duque, 2015
Let’s venture deeper into surreal territory with this film based on a poem in Spanish translated into Italian and here subtitled in English. One great advantage food has over poetry is that (aside from food allergies and differences in intestinal microbiomes) it doesn’t require translation. Duque told an interviewer, “I learned when I was still a child how every single ingredient of a dish is like a magic recipe, itself capable of activating every human sense and evoking all kinds of sensations in the human body.”
Arroz Con Habichuelas (poet: Caridad De La Luz AKA La Bruja)
Advocate of Wordz, 2015
This is more of a music video than a poetry video, but in the spoken word community, the line between poetry and music is regularly breached. Here, a prominent spoken-word poet’s entertaining shout-out to a favorite dish and marker of ethnic identity suggests that our identities are simultaneously more mutable and more inescapable than we might like to think.
Render, Render (poet: Thomas Lux)
Angella Kassube/Motionpoems, 2011
This is one of two films (here’s the other) that Motionpoems produced with Lux’s poem and reading, but as with Omelet, I think the abstract nature of animation makes for an especially effective contrast with the contents of the poem—which, to take things to another level, uses culinary language to talk about poetry.
Little Theatres: Homage to the Mineral of Cabbage (poet: Erín Moure)
Stephanie Dudley, 2011
Did I mention taking things to another level? This masterpiece of stop-motion film incorporates the English translation of a poem in Galician, “Homenaxe ao mineral do repolo.” According to the film’s website, it is “the second in a series of six by Erín in her award-winning book, Little Theatres. Each poem is an homage to a simple, humble food, such as potatoes, onions, and cabbage. The poems examine our relationship to food, and draw new insights to how these basic foods relate to life, as well as how we relate to each other. […] The film Little Theatres is an interpretation of what Little Theatres are. It is an exploration of layers: layers of space, and layers of words, both spoken and written. The exploration begins and ends with a simple cabbage.”
Maize Dog (poet: Trevino L. Brings Plenty)
Trevino L. Brings Plenty/Iktomi Films, 2013
One last return to the kitchen for a meditation on ethnic foodways and identity, now with a thoroughly satirical bent. The poet is present only in the soundtrack, his place in the kitchen taken by an actress (Eva Williams) and the culinary arts reduced to their most basic, industrial form: the heating and consumption of processed food.
Inimi/The Room (poet: Jessie Kleeman)
Marc Neys (Swoon), 2015
A contemporary Greenlandic poet achieves the ultimate imaginative identity with food. Horrifying or liberating? Carnal or spiritual? Maybe all of the above.
Do you have a “top ten” list of poetry videos you’d like to share? Get in touch.