This is the first episode of a series called New Recruits. Every week (or maybe every other week) for as long as I have willing participants, I will release a new episode in which a person who doesn’t normally read poetry will read a poem and answer some questions about it. These poetry newbs will mostly be my friends or members of my family, but if you are reading this and you consider yourself a poetry newb and we don’t know each other very well, feel free to send me an email and I’ll hook you up with some good words. I have chosen poems that I think are particularly suited to the reader featured each episode. Of course, these are poems that I love as well, but that’s only part of the equation.
I have also decided to include only contemporary (AKA living) poets in this series for a couple of reasons. First, because I want the poets to be able to join in on the fun. It’s cool to hear somebody else read and respond to your work, and dead poets don’t get to have that experience anymore. Most of my favourite poets are dead, but there are also plenty of great living ones who would probably get a kick out of knowing what new readers like about their poems. Also, this past summer, I taught Jamie Sharpe’s Animal Husbandry Today (poem from this book to be featured in a future episode) to a class of grade 12 students. I sent Jamie an email afterwards to tell him that my students loved his book and that one very enthusiastic young lad read his bio on the back cover and said out loud, “oh, this guy lives in bumfuck nowhere” (an excellent description of Yukon Territory). Jamie wrote me back, “I don’t think I encountered a living poet, taught in a classroom, until my second year of university. To me, back then, being a poet was just as anachronistic as blacksmithing (funny that one of our best living poets, Michael Earl Craig, is also a blacksmith).” I’m including living poets because they exist and because they’re writing cool shit and because poetry should always be news.
In this episode, my mother, Lesley, will read a poem from Susan Holbrook’s book Throaty Wipes, published by Coach House in 2016. I picked up Throaty Wipes from Meet the Presses Indie Literary Market a few weeks ago. I have several favourite poems in this book—one that stands out as particularly fun and innovative is “Better Blowing”— but for my mom I chose part two of a three part suite called “Disposable Thumbs.”
Here she is reading it:
Oh, and a quick note, my mom didn’t have any context for the poem (who wrote it or when). This won’t be the case for every episode, just how it went this time.
Q & A
Which line of the poem do you like best?
‘It fed her and could / now feed me’
I think because it captures the amazingness of this organ that is rarely thought about. It is our first food and the line makes me wonder what it must taste like.
What does this poem make you think of?
I think of polenta even though polenta is never mentioned in the poem; it is only in the title. I love polenta, it is comforting and warm and had the consistency of baby food. I think polenta could cure depression just as eating your placenta could cure post-partum depression. It also makes me think of freshly baked bread from the oven. The baby is the bread and the placenta is the polenta. Also, I think of the temporary-ness of the placenta. It works so hard for such a short time and then it is no longer needed. But it was crucial. It also makes me think of meat. And kale. It makes me think of foods, cake, nourishment, love, and all the messiness that goes along with that. The good and delicious and the messy and the ugly.
Are there any words in this poem that you don’t understand?
‘vol-au-vent,’ but I looked it up.
Would you like to understand them?
Oh. I already looked it up.
Do you have any questions for the poet?
Did he or she eat a placenta? What did it taste like if they did? Did it make them feel good? How do they really feel about Kale? Do they like polenta? What inspired the writing of the poem? What do they mean by ‘uncontrolled meat’? What is their ethnic background?
Lesley Solomon Izsak is a genetic counsellor at Mackenzie Richmond Hill Hospital. She has also been a teacher of dance. She likes animals and old things and she has never eaten placenta.