Monday, June 25, 2018

Table Manners — Catriona Wright (Signal Editions)

Today's book of poetry:
Table Manners.  Catriona Wright.  Signal Editions/Vehicule Press.  Montreal, Quebec.  2017.

Today's book of poetry is breaking a couple of our own rules with this post about Catriona Wright's Table Manners.  Today's book of poetry only posts blogs/reviews of books we receive directly from the publisher or directly from the poet.  In this case, there was third party activity.  I inherited this book from another poet, who I have tons of respect for, who was thinning out her collection.  Just so you know — Today's book of poetry encourages all of you to do the same, thin out your poetry collections and send the overstock here to Today's book of poetry.  In exchange, we'll be happy to send two Crying Charlies to each of you.

So Today's book of poetry was reading Table Manners without an agenda.  I didn't have to think or worry about whether or not I should write about it.  Then Today's book of poetry started reading.

Now, Today's book of poetry longs to be a "marzipanimaniac."  Today's book of poetry wants to be at a dinner party with Catriona Wright.  This is poetry Anthony Bourdain would have loved, he would have read it in his kitchen and then posted it on the wall.  [Today's book of poetry greatly laments the passing of Mr. Bourdain.  We always admired his passion and his humane and open heart.]  Wright not only burns but she cooks as well.

Table Manners is a movable feast.  Wright is not only an excellent poet but clearly a gastronome as well.  This banquet doesn't stop with one pleasure, this feast is for all the senses.  Catriona Wright's ribald sense of humour is a properly oiled cornucopia.

Think Julia Child cooking with a willing Erica Jong, or Martha Stewart supplying her level of expertise to a baking dominatrix.  Yes, this poetry is as fun as it sounds.

Dietary Restriction

At night I dream of performing polygraph tests
on pomegranates. By day I watch Tampopo and think slurp, slurp.

Poco a poco I even begin to feel the miso-loaded mist on my face,
to taste the universe distilled to a rococo so-and-so of noodles and beef.

I can't even seek the brief, shamed-inflected relief
of bragging. The whole point of this penitence is to be humble, humble.

When I visit my ancestor's shrine I find it closed
and encased in a giant yellow dome. No note. Nothing to explain.

why my past has been replaced with a Cyclops's lemon drop.
My strength is diminishing fast. I ask a four-year-old girl to eat

a blueberry muffin in front of me and describe the sensation.
When she says yummy and sweet, I slap her,

then fall to my knees and beg forgiveness, kissing
her feet and relishing the coconut sunscreen sting

on my lips. Bit by bit the hunger lessens. Water's subtleties
reveal themselves and I stop picturing gods

wearing aprons. Of course I slip up from time to time, pursue
the latest reviews of it-joints, read the menus,

all those menacingly homespun promises: Drones deliver
skewers of pork honk and yolo yam slammers to your table.

Meals come with sides of triple-fried panopticorn fritters and grits.
After a self-flagellation quickie, the drool dries

and I can return to prayer. As my bones rise to the surface
I receive compliments, envy, concern, then threats

to shove a feeding tube down my throat,
just like they did to my Aunt Gertrude

or was that Eleanor? I don't, can't remember
anymore. Boredom and doubt and history, invasive beetles,

have bored out my family tree, and now the only thing tethering me
to this life is self-discipline, this devotion to hunger, I am still impure

but improving my ability to discern the saints who deserve songs
from those who deserve slaps. I must admit that

if butterscotch rained from the skies, I would join the riots
and streak down the street, syrup,

hot and thick and fawn-coloured, speckling my shoulders.
I would roll in the gutters

until every inch of skin
was covered in stiffening sugar.


Getting your hands all greasy reading Catriona Wright's menu, Table Manners is one splendid culinar-literary delight after another.  Wright's intellect is as voracious as her appetite as she romps gastro-atomic.

Today's book of poetry just read the back cover of Table Manners only to discover that we'd mentioned some of the same glorious and famous knife wielders.  Well, Today's book of poetry is not surprised, Wright makes a clear impression and it's not hard to see where she is going.

Table Manners offers pure insightful delight, wittier than whipped cream on a Tijuana Brass album cover.

What a Girl Wants, or, Pledging Allegiance

I escape fig slingers, brie gropers
and dulse munchers only to be brought low
             by marzipanimaniacs, their dainty creations,

miniature cabbages cherubic with grubs,
blind songbirds with silver beaks, skunks
             stinking only of soft almond.

All the loveable scamps of the woodland
and garden, the campy gnomes
             and blushing squash blossoms.

Quail huggers and kale apologists
warn me not to fall for candy's goofy
             charisma, not to confuse gimmicks

for genuine artisanship. I listen and nod
and lift a thimble to reveal the Sydney Opera House,
             a chaser for the Sphinx and Taj Mahal.


Our morning read was like a family reunion.  Today's book of poetry has been taking a quiet break as our resources were being stretched in other non-literary directions.  Kathryn and Milo and Maggie and Tomas were all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, Max was bushy-eyed and suspects he's being tailed, and Today's book of poetry was just glad to be back in the saddle, where we are loved and appreciated.  I wish you all were so lucky.

Far too many reminders of what is wrong in the world permeating the news — Catriona Wright's Table Manners is heavily weighted ammunition in the good fight.

Think of Wright's poetry as a menu of delights and you'll be converted.  Saucy, dark, tangy, sweet, tart, every damned one of them served up just right.

Hitler's Taste Testers

Me and fourteen other girls. After months, years, of sawdust
and ground acorn coffee, rancid margarine and biscuits
that required a chisel, it almost seemed a gift.

I am disgusted now to admit I was one of his yellow-feathered things,
but there it is. On that first day I shoved fresh vegetables into my mouth.
Asparagus sceptres ennobled with hollandaise, sweet roasted peppers, lettuce,

rice, rich clear broths. No meat or fish. He was a vegetarian
or pretended to be. It's difficult to describe the solemnity of seeing each meal
as your last. We cried with relief when our bowels moved bloodlessly.

But I was hardly a medieval court taster. I never even met him.
We were kept in a separate room, a forced sorority. Forbidden
from seeing our families, we slept on hard beds in a concrete bunker.

At night Anna and Irene analyzed lovers and brothers and other tyrants.
Marlene and Ruth debated belladonna versus arsenic versus hemlock.
Our cycles began to align. We laughed from time to time.

Ingrid did her best Lola-Lola, a blue angel falling
in love again while Ilse giggled, embarrassed, cheeks hot.
Ursula swept our hair into aristocratic knots and swirls.

I can't explain why all fifteen of us had to test his meals.
Or why we were all women. Helga thought him handsome, deferential
to our fragile bodies. Gertrud punched the wall until her bones went limp.

Equally important was that we be of upstanding German stock
as though we weren't just tasting his food, but digesting it too,
his outsourced intestines.

We were lab rabbits twitching in our cages. Karin wondered if our shared diet
made us more like him or he more like us. Hydrangeas with the same blue hue
dictated by acidic soil. I still can't eat Eintopf or GriefskloBchensuppe.

Frieda concocted bold escapes. Eleonore recited verses
from the Book of Job. Lotte found her faith. Sonja lost hers.
We wrote each other's obituaries, full of lewd jokes and accolades.

It went on that way until one night when a soldier who was sweet
on me dragged me from bed and pushed me through an open mouth
in the fence. The Soviets got there soon after

and shot the other fourteen
while the newlyweds dined
on cyanide.


Today's book of poetry loves good food, good poetry and is lucky to have the love of a very good woman.  Catriona Wright's Table Manners is a guarantee that you'll always have great poetry on hand to read before, during, or after dinner.

Bon appetit.

Image result for catriona wright photo

Catriona Wright


Catriona Wright is a writer, editor, and teacher. Her poems have appeared in Prism International, Prairie Fire, Rusty Toque, Lemon Hound, The Best Canadian Poetry 2015, and elsewhere. She has been a finalist for The Walrus's Poetry Prize, Arc's Poem of the Year Contest, and a National Magazine Award. In 2014, she won Matrix Magazine's LitPop Award. She is the co-founder of Desert Pets Press, a chapbook press. She lives in Toronto.

“Tightly woven and elaborate in its conceit, the poems in Table Manners linger both on the mind and palate.”
      – Gillian Sze, Montreal Review of Books

“…a baroque feast of juicy diction and inventive wordplay that explores food as social ritual and slippery signifier of desire.” 
     – Barb Carey, The Toronto Star

“Deft, dark, and unflinching, Catriona Wright’s work is stand-up comedy for the mind.” 
     – Emily Schultz, author of The Blondes.

“Catriona Wright’s shining debut, Table Manners, is the decadent feast of a sharp mind at play. The poems offer unerring precision of thought and a kaleidoscopic view of a stratum of human desire, performance and need that far eclipses that of mere survival.”
      – Dani Couture, author of Yaw

Catriona Wright

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