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Vittles X Magma Poetry Special
Six food poems and illustrations.
Good morning and welcome to a food poetry special in collaboration with Magma poetry. The Hater column returns next week.
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Vittles X Magma Poetry Special
This Monday’s newsletter is a collaboration with Magma poetry magazine’s 86th issue on the theme of FOOD, edited by Ella Frears and Sean Wai Keung. These poems were selected from the issue by Sharanya Deepak, Rebecca May Johnson, and Jonathan Nunn. For more exciting food poetry and prose, get a copy of Magma #86 here.
The London launch will be happening on the 4th July at Malt Bar on Maltby Street, and Vittles editors Sharanya Deepak and Rebecca May Johnson will be in conversation at the event, alongside poetry readings.
The Glasgow launch will be a potluck event at Mount Florida Books on the 13th July.
Crêpe / Mien Mui Jin
The tang of quartered tangerine
awakes the palate.
I take the fancy restaurant spoon
and cut into the crêpe
folded like thin, warm blankets
on a lazy Sunday morning.
The sauce it sits on,
buttery with a hint of liquor,
does not remind me of you.
It is the earthy sweetness
of pan-fried batter that hits home.
You have taught me
something simple, something
universal with eggs, flour,
sugar, and water. Afternoons
whiled away with plates
of broken, uneven pancakes.
Their Hokkien name,
something close to mien mui jin,
eludes my tongue.
It takes miles away from home
to know the appetite is its own country:
you never like me going abroad.
Yet, you always haunt the cites I live in,
cites you haven’t been to—
as I crush mint and dried peel
into a dollop of cream, I swallow
the sound of your name: 婆婆, 婆婆,
sorry if I have been a bad grandchild.
Tim Tim Cheng
Almost Like Being in Love
The Swiss soufflé of the evening expanding into— possibly— night.
The prudent response is to retire homewards, to the skipping-rope of one’s bed.
I have never been one for a prudent response.
I have always been one for a prudent response.
My lies are like currants sprinkled through the yeasted dough of a confession.
A confession is formed by twisting a story into a spiral and pinching the ends shut.
The Swiss roll of the evening not holding its shape correctly.
It might collapse into a semi-rectangular mass (like a bed). Nowadays new mattresses arrive rolled up in a bag, like the truth.
When they spring open, that’s when the lies get in.
My lies might be the cream in a Swiss roll holding the sponge of truth together.
The Swiss steak of the evening slowly braising in its own sauce.
The layers of the steak are bookends holding the feelings in.
Once a sauce sets, the feelings can’t be changed.
It’s not like a confession where I can make it fit into any old bed.
My thoughts are the miniature pearl onions swimming in a sauce of lies.
The Swiss cheese of the evening melting partially into night.
A rectangular slice of time lying atop an open-faced sandwich.
The sandwich is the rest of the night, like the sandwich’s filling is my thoughts. Sometimes I lie awake in a bed like a trap waiting to be sprung.
The holes in a slice of time are where the truth oozes out.
While cooking Rebecca May Johnson’s recipe for kale, garlic, chilli and parmesan emulsion
Approaching the solstice, my body made no sound.
In the kitchen, kimchi fizzed alive in a jar.
to recover – to return / to regain / to make up for a loss
Outside, adolescent swans dropped dark-cloud feathers one by one into the pond.
Hints of burnt sage / citrus peel scraped clean.
I pressed record.
I washed kale leaves in the sink, saved the pale green water to feed the prayer plant.
to be recovered – to be well again / to be re-discovered / unlost
The winter light would not be caught, could not be melted in a bowl.
Rebecca’s recipe instructs me to keep tossing the pan, to not stop moving.
This is how the emulsion occurs –
The constant pulling motion of my arms and hips against the counter while the tap drips.
recovery – a return to a normal state / the process of regaining control /
(in swimming) the act of returning the arm or leg to begin a new stroke
My worries disperse in slow motion, splintering outwards in the shape of a star.
I listened back. Butter softens, froths in a pot.
A drawer opens / a border seals itself.
An oceanic sunrise / a panful of green.
recoverable – (of something lost) able to be retrieved / (of an energy source)
extracted economically from the earth
In the recording I begin to hear myself – the liquid soundscape of my body –
I stir and stir.
Nina Mingya Powles
How to Win Best Courgette
Long before she was my grandmother
Celia loved a horse.
She rode her bicycle to visit the horse –
a famous horse as big as a shed.
She petted its nose, inspected its nostrils,
felt the twin snorty blasts.
She couldn’t ride it; she fed it apples.
She liked the crashing sound as the teeth came down
on the flesh and the juice.
Celia could lie, if a lie were needed.
She could steal an apple from its pantry nest,
avoid her father.
I never saw her near a horse myself,
only once in a field where a horse had been,
putting her blade through the crust of its dung,
opening the green interior.
The preparation started days before the operation.
My mother supplied anatomical plates,
divided the work into four.
We used lancets, knives, aluminium basins,
secateurs, copper cauldrons,
We remained confined in the basement
for three days like alchemists
preparing their potions.
I learned what to remove, where
to make an incision, what to do if a knife slips.
I rehearsed and calculated how to remove the liver.
My mother assisted me for my first time:
I incised the lower part, separated meat from flesh,
used the secateurs to break the thoracic cage
and practise a whimsical caesarean.
After the extraction, I removed the veins from the lobes.
I became a surgeon for Christmas dinners.
My mother sectioned the head and the base
of the neck with a cleaver, removed the trachea,
vertebrae, and the corn seeds pouring from
the oesophagus like a broken pearl necklace.
She filled the neck with a stuffing made up of
breadcrumbs, eggs, minced duck meat and shallots.
She rolled back the neck’s skin and sewed it
like a needlewoman working on a mat.
My mother used to sell foie gras in supermarkets.
She often recalls the customer who refused to buy
Eastern European foie gras because she feared
transportation would stress the ducks.
My grandmother was assigned to clean the gizzards.
She was always assigned to clean things up:
giblets, children, incontinent elderly people
– all the thankless tasks others didn’t want to complete.
Before the men became cursed and died,
she used to wash the hearts
her husband cooked in duck fat
like a wizard intending them for dark magic.
The meat must stay covered with coarse salt
to drain the water for forty-eight hours.
My cousin chops pieces of skin,
minces the meat left over
to make chichons,
a very salty duck pâté.
The smell of fat permeates the basement.
She uses salt to purify the place, to heal wounds.
Joan: food preferences:
notes to live-in carer, February 2021
Lunches, small portions. Mum likes especially:
Egg and chips
Steak pie and other ready meals
Smoked haddock, poached in milk
Chicken in all forms
Pie from the bakers on the Broadway shops
Roast dinners of any kind
Jacket potatoes with baked beans and or bacon
Little gem lettuce
Doesn't eat desserts but sometimes will have ice cream
Has gone off chocolate but like spoiled sweets and fruit jellies. No toffees. Sometimes has a cake, a jam doughnut, fruit scone, iced bun or custard tart around 4 o'clock. And I offer her a cup of tea then, but she doesn't often want one.
Mum gets very dry lips, she has a chapstick on her trolley
Ella Frears is a poet and artist based in London. Her collection Shine, Darling (Offord Road Books 2020) was shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. She hosts Tears for Frears on Soho Radio.
Sean Wai Keung is a Glasgow-based poet and performance maker whose work often explores concepts of mixed-ness, identity and migration. His first full-length poetry collection, sikfan glaschu (Verve Poetry Press 2021) was subsequently shortlisted for the 2022 Kavya Prize.
Juliet Antill lives on the Isle of Mull. Her poems have been published in The Dark Horse, Poetry Wales and New Writing Scotland.
Tim Tim Cheng is a poet and a teacher from Hong Kong, currently based in the UK. Her pamphlet Tapping at Glass (Verve 2023) explores womanhood, multilingualism and psycho-geography. She also edits and translates from Chinese to English. timtimcheng.com
Julie Irigaray is a French Basque poet. She has published Whalers, Witches and Gauchos (Nine Pens). She was commended in the 2020 Ambit Magazine Poetry Prize and selected as one of the Best New British and Irish Poets 2018.
Nina Mingya Powles is a writer, zinemaker and librarian from Aotearoa New Zealand, currently living in London. She is the author of several poetry pamphlets, zines and poetry books, most recently Magnolia 木蘭 and a collection of essays, Small Bodies of Water.
Penelope Shuttle lives in Cornwall. Her 13th collection, Lyonesse (Bloodaxe 2021), was longlisted for the Laurel Prize 2022. She is a contributor to The Verb, and her radio poem, Conversations on a Bench, was broadcast on Radio 3 in March 2022. Forthcoming: a pamphlet titled Noah (Broken Sleep Books, December 2023).
Jane Yeh's collection Discipline (Carcanet 2019) was chosen as a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. She was named a Next Generation poet by the PBS for her previous collection The Ninjas (Carcanet 2012).
Vittles is edited by Jonathan Nunn, Rebecca May Johnson and Sharanya Deepak, and proofed and subedited by Sophie Whitehead.