Poet Of The Week

Rozanne Gold

     October 24–30, 2022

Rozanne Gold is an award-winning chef, food writer, journalist and end-of-life doula. At age twenty-three, she was first chef for New York Mayor Ed Koch and later the consulting chef for the Rainbow Room and Windows on the World. Dubbed “one of the most important innovators in the modern food world” by Julia Child’s biographer Bob Spitz, she is the author of thirteen acclaimed cookbooks (including the 1-2-3 series and Radically Simple) and winner of four James Beard Awards. Rozanne has written for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Gourmet and Bon Appétit, where she was the entertainment columnist for five years. A finalist for the 2020 Sappho Poetry Prize, she is a board member of Brooklyn Poets and cofounder of the Death & Living Project. On Friday, October 28, she will read at Brooklyn Poets for the launch of her debut poetry chapbook, Mother Sauce.

Kitchen Work

 

Instead of jewels, I gather gooseberries—

the taste of jade. Or mince the flesh of tomatillos

to moisten them with fresh lime, coarse salt,

and virgin oil. Note to self: Take notice.

At my birth, tickling my ear with her gorgeous finger,

she said I will never forget you. Cherries, grapes,

eggs, we were born from imagination.

A recipe holds the future. A bit of my mother’s

knuckle grated into the latkes we made together.

I bury the cleaver in the carving board

to forget that she had to die one day.

We laughed and sucked the mangoes

dry over the sink, the cabbage shrinking

in the dish as I cradle her face

between my hands.

Beneath the lavender in the window box

I find dead birds, such perfume in

loneliness, the holiness of that place.

And so many mouths to feed—

Now the clinking of an ice-cold kitchen—

the room exhales its sheer white curtains.

Walls the color of custard peel away.

Paint, potato, skin. One lives a full life

to tell a simple story.

I slit the onion, and watch it weep.

 

—From Mother Sauce, dancing girl press, 2022.

Brooklyn Poets · Rozanne Gold, "Kitchen Work"

Tell us about the making of this poem.

It’s all here for me: the past, present and future. In fact, one of the many titles for this poem was “A Recipe Holds the Future.” But it is, instead, called “Kitchen Work.” Oh, “the loneliness, the holiness of that place.” A space flooded with memory and meaning. I wanted to capture my deep connection to my mother, the sensuality of food, the always-present anticipation of grief, finding a dead bird in the window box right after my mother died. I wanted to capture how a kitchen’s warmth can turn “ice-cold,” and how sorrow gets projected onto a weeping onion. There is a photograph of my mother and me cooking together in Gourmet magazine (December 1999), during which time she grated a bit of her knuckle into the potato pancakes. That moment also lives in the poem. I thought about Joy Harjo’s poem “Perhaps the World Ends Here”:

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

And the writing of British poet Sean Borodale, author of Human Work, who calls the kitchen “a stage for acts of eating and uttering; for the ebb and flow to the human mouth.” He writes: “How we make food to eat and share, how we draw and transform others’ bodies into being our own flesh and blood, becomes the stories of matter itself.”

I began the poem in my MFA program in 2016 and finished it up about five years later! Yes, fourteen revisions sound about right.

What are you working on right now?

I am working on a hybrid collection of poems and essays that reflect my life as a daughter, cook, mother and end-of-life doula. And I hold this statement from the book Through the Kitchen Window: Women Explore the Intimate Meanings of Food and Cooking (Beacon Press, 1997) near to my heart:

Feminist scholars have paid close attention to the ways in which women’s association with domestic labor, particularly cooking, has been a key source of their oppression. However they also pointed to the ways in which women have forged spaces within that oppression, where cooking becomes a vehicle for artistic expression, a source of sensual pleasure, and an opportunity for resistance, even power.

What’s a good day for you?

My morning coffee. Being creative. A deepening of any relationship. A new idea. A great conversation over dinner. Scrabble. A walk on the wild side.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

My new husband who is a lifelong Park Sloper said I needed to move to Brooklyn. I came kicking and screaming. I told him, rather emphatically, that girls who grow up in Queens do not want to move to Brooklyn. I used to come to get my hair straightened or to go to Coney Island with my father to buy knishes. To give you an idea how reluctant I was, I kept my apartment in the city (and paid rent) for a whole year after getting married before fully committing. I’ve now been here thirty-five years!

Tell us about your neighborhood. How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?

Park Slope is lovely with its beautiful architecture, Prospect Park, Brooklyn Public Library and more, and I adore the Saturday morning farmers market at Grand Army Plaza. But it never felt like a cohesive place for me and no one comes trick-or-treating on our block. I long for the old days that I’ve only heard about. Where there was a great butcher, cheese shop, a dive bar and even a block “concierge.” I don’t travel around Brooklyn very much but adore Brighton Beach. Few things make me happier than eating pelmeni and drinking vodka on the boardwalk, all sweaty and sandy from the ocean. And because Brooklyn Poets just moved to Brooklyn Heights, I am feeling a new allure about that neighborhood.

Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.

I’ve been in Brooklyn for thirty-five years and have had many of each—good, bad and in between. But what I loved most (so far) is the little “restaurant” I created on my stoop during Covid! It was called Café Rozanne and friends and strangers would come by to dine. Two at a time, they would sit on two chairs with snack tables in front of them filled with food and lots of wine, while my husband and I sat on the steps lined with blankets and pillows. I ran it for two summers under our huge weeping cherry tree. Guests stayed three to five hours! Even Gregory Pardlo came for a nice, long visit. And John Turturro and his wife came, too. One summer, fifty-two guests came, two at a time. All starved for friendship and conversation.

What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?

I feel rather new to the world of poetry (after getting my MFA in 2016) and found it challenging to find a community outside of school. I really went in search—and found myself at a workshop with Annie Finch in Martha’s Vineyard, taking class with Jay Deshpande, studying with Robert Balun in Brooklyn and Laure-Anne Bosselaar in Santa Barbara. I even hosted a series of poetry retreats at the Garrison Institute with Robert Polito, Tina Chang, Gregory Pardlo, in order to create the community I was looking for. But it is Brooklyn Poets, under the brilliant baton of Jason Koo, that has given me an extraordinary sense of connectedness. So much so, I joined the board.

Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.

When writing my MFA thesis, I came upon the work of the brilliant poet Akilah Oliver, whom I knew nothing about. I fell in love with her work. Although she grew up in LA, in her later years she lived in Fort Greene. She died there young and needs to be rediscovered, honored, made important. Another Brooklyn poet I love is not a poet at all. She is the jazz singer Carla Cook, a Brooklynite who has inspired me in so many ways. And my poetry mother, Annie Finch, just moved to Brooklyn and so I will add her to my list of important Brooklyn poets, along with Tina Chang and the incomparable humanist Edward Hirsch.

Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?

Robert Balun was my first poetry mentor. Young enough to be my son, he inspired, supported, encouraged and taught me more than most people ever have. It was Robert who encouraged me to get my MFA and I am so grateful to him. You never know who your true teachers may be, nor when, or how, they will appear. Elaine Equi helped me find the jazz in my soul, while Mark Bibbins and Robert Polito expanded my world and sharpened my mind. And now the extraordinary Annie Finch continues to light the way.

Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.

I just finished reading Louise Glück’s most recent book, Marigold and Rose. I have a strange emotional connection to her work, and one that I do not always understand. Am a big fan of Sophie Calle (and reread Suite Vénitienne all the time). I love Jason Koo’s book America’s Favorite Poem and heard him read from it at a benefit for the Brooklyn Heights Library. He was amazing and the guests were mesmerized by both the poetry and the poet. This is a funny thing to choose but I am wild about the new Haggadah written and edited by Jess Greenbaum—with selections of extraordinary poems that connect to text. I say funny because I sometimes pick it up just to read the poetry during the year. And I’m reading volume eight of Carl Jung’s collected works. What better way to unlock your unconscious?

What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?

On my nightstand, The Living Fire by Edward Hirsch, Magdalene by Marie Howe, The Red Tent by Anita Diamant and The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon. Add to that the Old Testament and the 100 Greatest Books of All Time, and the complete works of Louise Glück.

Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?

I read one book at a time and feel obligated to finish it until the very end. The feeling of abandoning someone’s work is too hard to bear. I think I may have ditched a book only once or twice in my life. Maybe never. Not sure. I decide what to read next depending on a variety of factors—a good review, a recommendation, an intuition. I only read from physical books and I do write in margins. These may be related!

What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?

I’d like to write one really long poem and longer poems in general. My poetry tends to be spare and minimal (like the style of cooking for which I am known).

Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

I love to read on vacation and I love to write in the very early morning, anywhere. I adore being near the sparkle of water and I’m a sucker for palm trees, so put those two together and I am happy. I’m thinking Morocco, Sevilla, Jerusalem, the Nile. Other times, the 2 or 3 train beckons.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

I love the restaurant Sofreh because it is so evocative of place (Iran). I love the River Café because my father discovered it before all the critics did and it was one of the first places in the city that reminded us that we are on an island. I simply could not imagine life in Brooklyn (or life in general) without BAM. I think the Center for Fiction is swell and I believe that Brooklyn Poets on Montague St is the epicenter of something important. Standing in Grand Army Plaza looking at the great arch, the library, the entrance to Prospect Park defines space in a profound way.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate the eternal optimism of early spring,

And what I know to be true of you is true in each season,

For every bloody failure in me as good as news to you

If you have time, write a nine-line poem using these end-words (in whatever order) from Jay Z’s “Brooklyn Go Hard”: father, Dodger, jack, rob, sin, pen, love, Brooklyn, Biggie.

Is it true you were once my father?

someone who fought life    and love    like a Dodger

imagine that you never really cared jack

shit for the family you would just as soon rob

what was rightfully ours    your soul not your sin

could it be that neither the pencil    or pen

would write the right words    so we could at least whisper love

how can I learn to understand this new man from Brooklyn

someone I sleep with every night    no body    no Biggie.

Why Brooklyn?

Brooklyn, we go hard, we go hard. That’s why. On the other hand, I’ve learned to land more softly here as the months and years float by. Brooklyn is the home of my big rambling brownstone kitchen and the source of my most creative work.