Epicurean Ecstasy: More Poems About Food, Drink, Herbs & Spices by Cynthia Gallaher
The Poetry Box, 2018. 96 pages.
Reviewed by Gail Goepfert
Gallaher’s book, Epicurean Ecstasy, is a poetic smorgasbord about food, drink, herbs & spice. From the first flip of a page, the varied tones and reaches of these poems are plattered in the table of contents with titles such as, “Brown Rice Life Coaches,” “Peppermint Hello,” “Cool Beans,” “Leaf It To Raspberry,” and “Sleeping with Valerian.”
There is lush wordplay throughout the book, and a generous portion of alliteration as in the poem, “Doesn’t a Cut Apple Look Like a Pair of Lungs”—“pippin, piñata, pomona / pomme, a poem.” Playful use of simile is seen in, “Found Champagne Poem in an Unclaimed Wisconsin Corner” that opens the book:
yes I found this poem
like we found this special bottle
marked down in the corner bin
of the dusty liquor store.
We’re invited to taste-test a bit of sci-fi in “Massachusetts Cranberries:”
…are they gathered like scarlet colonies
of miniature planet Mars vanquished to earth,
set loose from ancient-armored spaceship barrels.
At times, the poems grow lyrical, using personification, as in “All-American Blueberries.”
Great Spirit, as always, creative,
plucked blueberries from outer space, say the native,
leaving tiny bright holes in each place,
to let bees beam them down, into bowls.
stardust waxy bloom disappears in your hands,
and there loom berries, fully dressed,
in dark navy microfiber, pressed
beneath lacy underpinning.
Throughout the book, we are treated to informative or factual tidbits. In “Cherries vs. Cherry Blossom: “The most exquisite cherry blossom tress / bear no cherries,” say the Japanese, and in “Chocolate and Cocoa: Valentines Crafted 3000 Years Ago”: “before this dark treasure was converted into Swiss truffles / cocoa began as Mayan food of the gods
“The Irish Potato Famine” is an example of a poem prepared from a historical context. She drops us into Ayurvedic medicine in “Neem: Pro-Agriculture Ayurvedic” revealing that if we want to “shoo mosquitoes [neem is] better than DEET,” and it’s safe: “neem does mammals, birds, / bees, earthworms, helpful insects / no harm.”
There are clever poems; perhaps most so is “Dr. Aloe Vera.” Gallaher describes the “generously endowed physician /seated on your windowsill” tapping on the shoulder of Otis Redding with words from his song, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” mixed in:
“were you sittin’ on the
sun-drenched dock of the bay
wasting time in your skivvies?”
And don’t miss punny witticisms like, “Thank you very mulch” in the “Urban Composter.”
I find the most engaging poems are when the poem includes the narrator’s voice as in “Season’s First Crop: Asparagus”:
I’ve been in a long engagement
with my garden, waited three years
to steam, serve and spread these vernal shoots with butter.
Another poem of this variety that weaves in a poetic narrative is “Multi-taskin’ Watermelon” lifts us out of the farmer’s field or the garden and takes us on the road to a rock festival, planting us “with 60,000 others in Stevens Point” to listen to the Amboy Dukes and Ravi Shankar. The narrator describes the precarious night, effectively rooting the reader in this space and time—visually, emotionally and geographically.
I sleep with the watermelon under my knees
so no one will steal it,
meanwhile, strolling hippie dudes
choose 2 am to storm the pup tent,
not for watermelon,
but its payload of four lasses sleeping shoulder to shoulder.
Cynthia Gallaher’s sixty-four poems sing about foods and herbs that find their way onto an everyday menu or else that tell of rarer finds. Her book will appeal to chef, foodie, or botanist alike, guiding the reader from field to table, fork and knife in hand.
Gail Goepfert, an associate editor at RHINO Poetry, is a Midwest poet, photographer and teacher. Her first chapbook, A Mind on Pain, was published in 2015. Tapping Roots was released in 2018 from Kelsay Books, and a second book, Get Up Said the World appears in 2019 from Červená Barva. Recent or forthcoming publications include Kudzu House, Stone Boat, Postcard, Poems and Prose Magazine, Open: Journal of Arts and Letters, and Beloit Poetry Journal.