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Eat This Poem: Q&A with teaching artist Albert Albonado

Teaching artist Albert Abonado, author of the poetry collection JAW (Sundress Publications), professor of creative writing at SUNY Geneseo, and host of Flour City Yawp on Rochester’s WAYO Radio, sets the table for an exploration of food as rich material for poems in Eat This Poem on March 20.

Albert took the time to chat with us ahead of the workshop about the uses of food in favorite poems & movies; the themes of his poetry collection; and sustaining a sense of community in Zoom world.

First off, how are you? What’s helping you feel grounded or connected right now, or providing distraction, balm, or a kind of clarity?

All things considered, I’m doing alright. The questions of connection is such a great one. The abundance of Zoom readings giving me access to the broader literary community has helped me feel grounded. A friend and I co-host a poetry open mic in a coffee shop. We have since gone virtual, and that allowed me to remain connected to a more local community of writers, which has been so important during these isolating times.

Speaking of things that provide balm or comfort, your upcoming workshop Eat This Poem explores the ways that food offers rich material for poems. We often think about the ways that food can provide comfort, but what else can food do when it comes to poems?

One of my favorite movie scenes comes from Ratatouille, the moment the critic Anton Ego takes a bite of the titular meal and we, the audience, are thrust into his memory, a tender one involving his mother making a similar dish for a young Anton. I loved the intimacy of that moment. Food in poems can do this. It can elicit memory or function as metaphor. It can explore the cultural and the personal in the same space. It can act as elegy, as desire, as celebration.

JAW-Albert-Abonado-book-cover-Just-Buffalo-Literary-CenterYour book JAW was published just over a year ago—happy book birthday! Does the book as a whole, or do particular poems, connect to this idea of food & meals providing a link to memory, cultural tradition, etc.? What other questions or ideas does JAW ask or consider or explore?

Thank you! The title does come from how I often use the jaw and other jaw related images in poems related to food or speech. The book itself examines those links between the personal and the historical; food often plays an important role in that interrogation. The poems often explore the intersections of identity, family, and loss through food.

Favorite poems or lines of poetry that evoke food?

One of my favorite poems that evokes food is “From Blossoms” by Li-Young Lee. I love this particular stanza from that poem:

“O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.”

What’s a favorite meal that sticks in your memory, and/or what’s the meal you dream of sharing post-pandemic?

Every year my family has a large gathering of friends of family spread all over. It’s a weekend-long feast. Every dish I grew up with, from pancit to lumpia to dinuguan to lechon are part of an amazing spread. The pandemic kept us from having this annual tradition. I’m looking forward to the day that we can get together and share the same meal again.

Eat This Poem with Albert Abonado is March 20 from 1-3 PM EST via Zoom. Register here.

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