The Meditations is a curated series of reflections on writing and storytelling from contributors to the thirty-third issue of Going Down Swinging. This reflection comes from Daniel East on his piece ‘I Used to be a Young Poet’.
I RELATE MY ENTIRE LIFE in terms of food analogies. The intricacies of love, the baffling ordeal that is modern life, even my enduring affair with reading is best expressed through the process of cooking, tasting and savouring. Like most I crave junk food (TV) when I’m hungover but I prefer my junk food to have some sense of authenticity and inspiration – I’m a fan of the Italian family-owned chicken shop (South Park) not McDonalds (Family Guy). Even a chicken burger needs to be appreciated. Even the filth we consume to appease our fatigue should be of a high quality. There is nothing new in this, but it demonstrates the usefulness of a stomach compass. Who could disagree with the assertion that Family Guy is the Hungry Jacks of animated comedies? Damn near anyone with a mouth I suppose. But therein is the trick – some people prefer that sort of thing. After all, it is just a matter of taste.
I learnt something about my writing process while living alone in 2008. Left to my own devices I ate the same food with little to no thought put into its creation. I wouldn’t cook good meals even though they made me happy, because I had no one to share them with. Many years later I realised that I am naturally reclusive but my happiness seeks company. So too with my work: when I have no audience or need to share the piece, the work is sloppy. In my current sharehouse I instituted a house cooking policy. We take turns preparing dinner even when we don’t eat together. The ritual of preparation gives us a space in which we can air grievances, share laughter or offer sympathy – and what better goal for the poet than this?
I was grateful to have ‘I Used to be a Young Poet’ published in GDS #33. What this poem represents to me was a departure from a university aesthetic to a more mature one. I read obtuse works and wrote essays – my goal was perfection. After leaving uni I found I read abstract poetry less and less. I moved from John Ashbury to Kenneth Koch because Koch made me laugh. I found I loved reading aloud to people, particularly new friends who did not share an equal passion for the written word.
It was around this time I looked back over my work and found nothing honest. It is a strange feeling to examine your own work and find parts of it good, but a unique sense of your authorship missing. As if you had struggled not to include yourself in its creation. Ben Frater’s posthumous book had been released and I looked for him in it. I don’t know if I found him but I wondered: if my own work were lovingly collected, what would people think of me? What would they relate to? If I were to die you could not point to any singular piece as bold or fearless. So I decided to do that.
The meal I make that most reminds me of home is the roast. My mother is a dreadful cook and because a roast is difficult to get wrong I would look forward to the nights when she put one on. Cooking in this way requires patience, timing and is simple enough to provide near infinite variation. The trick comes from a working knowledge of your oven.
‘I Used to be…’ is a roast poem, or seems that way to me. It is direct, unadorned and doesn’t feel like it tries too hard. A lot of the angst I felt as a university writer, the self-imposed pressure to be original or unique, is reduced by a gustatory relationship with writing. I cooked up the work, it was eaten, one moves on. We all eat, we all demonstrate taste, some are gourmets, others eat whatever is put before them. But sharing a meal made with care is the most common ritual of celebration.
GDS #33 is a banquet. There are sorbets, entrees, laksa, paella and some fantastic chorizo. There are poems like cold beer on a hot day and others like a cup of tea on a veranda during a storm. I was really happy to be invited. Well of course I brought something. I couldn’t just show up empty-handed, could I?
Buy a copy of the issue here or from your local bookstore.