Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Math Behind Poetry

Consider a series of names. 
Of fruit. 
And the few words that rhyme with those fruit. 
Or rhyme with some kind of descriptive about fruit.
Now consider which fruit names bounce and bump against each other in a tongue-pleasing way. 
Next consider which fruit are in season. In. The. Same. Month.
And can be sourced by someone in a town with no Whole Foods.
Consider which fruit happen to be in season and available in the many weeks a certain person struggling with permutations is off speaking at ALA, a conference, or photographing whales in Canada. (Totally worth it for the whales!)
Now, try to take the picture in between the moments when other people are buying fruit for the shocking purpose of actually eating it. Do not interrupt the commerce of the kind fruit and vegetable vendors who put up with your crazy ways even back during the Rah, Rah, Radishes adventure. 
If you’ve had to buy an entire case of cactus, calling all over town, or found longyans in Ohio, or lychee in Chicago, in Chinatown, make sure the photo is good. Because you might not get that chance again. 
Make sure that the fruit all looks fresh.
If it is a slice of watermelon, dab it often because it will soon begin to sweat and melt like a beauty pageant contestant under hot lights. 
Oh, sweet little fruities. 
Now, retake some of the photos because you and the editor have suddenly decided to shift a word, which has knocked out another stanza, which has caused a cascade of unforeseen PERMUTATIONS. 

Permutations = a poet’s daily life.  Because April is poetry month and I'm in the blog therapy over whether or not I might actually be a poet (see Katie Davis's blog tomorrow, April 27th.) it seems a good time to understand choice and variability and order. Poetry is math. Poetry is permutations. 

For some of the permutations, I have stories of misadventures and photos. For instance, we did not call the book Paw Paw Pomegranate, as my husband suggested, because of the photo below. I had to do a conference and when I returned all the wild Paw Paw gatherers in Michigan could only find looking, though surely delicious example of the fruit. 
Paw paw not looking like a cover fruit. Sorry!
The best part of the book was that it gave me to poke into places I’ve never been. I was a culinary tourist in my own town, and every other town I visited last year. While in New Orleans for ALA I heard of a far off market, the Vietnamese market, and got a taxi to take me there. Loree Griffin Burns, a nonfiction author adventurer I’d just met, came along for moral support. Oh, how exotic we find such a place tucked away where no one would know it existed. (It is awesome. The seeds of many of the fruits and veggies were originally brought to Louisiana by Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s and now a huge urban farm has been created to sell the vegetables to major New Orleans restaurants. Yes, I am pondering doing a book just about that.)
When we showed up to our secret spot after the $50 taxi ride with a doubtful driver, we found an entire television crew was set up and rolling to shoot a segment for Travel Channel “Bizarre Foods” episode with Andrew Zimmern. Scoop! While we watched, he tasted breadfruit. While rolling, he reached behind the camera and handed me a slice of breadfruit to taste. Here I was preparing to be the photographer but I ended up having to sign a photo waiver for his crew. Ooh, turnabout! No, I did not make the show. But you can see the priest and breadfruit tasting scene in one of his New Orleans shows.  None of my many photos from there made the book. But it was fun.

How New Orleans Vietnamese Market looks
 before you wipe your glasses (and camera)

Camera now wiped after emerging from air conditioning
Bizarre Foods crew got there first. Scoop!

Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods tasting breadfruit
whole breadfruit

The bonus of this crazy exercise in permutations? There’s a lot of leftover material. Oh, sad and soggy stanzas. Oh the fruit parties I had to throw with all the leftovers from shoots and from buying produce from the grocers and farmers. Oh, and Go, Go, Grapes: a Fruit Chant is coming out May 22nd. Yippee!
Yeah, I was finally done with permutations. That’s what I thought on Dec 24th of last year when for the first time in two years I went to the Farmer’s Market without my camera. Ah! How relaxing just to buy vegetables. Uh oh. Saw some hickory nuts and fava beans and had an idea. An hour later, I was at it again. Soon after, it was under contract.
Permutations.  Here we go again!


Alicia said...

Loved this post -- it reminded me of the enjoyment I get when I try fruit in new places (salak in Indonesia, rambutans in Singapore, and passion fruit in Australia). Culinary adventures are the best. And I must confess to missing Whole Foods now that I live in upstate New York. Can't wait to read the book!

April Pulley Sayre said...

Ooh, looking up salak now, Alicia! I haven't tried that one. Our favorite of the exotics was mangosteen. Structure and taste are fabulous.