I'll be presenting at the SLSA conference in a panel on Appetite and Creativity with Stacey Balkan and Iemanja Brown. The panel reconsiders various forms of consumption as creative acts. My paper examines Ronald Johnson's late cookbooks and early poetry. It's titled "Wild Enchantment: Taste in Ronald Johnson's The American Table and A Line of Poetry a Row of Trees."
At mid-century American gastronomy was defined by exploration. Chefs and cookbook authors, such as James Beard, were encouraging home cooks to discover and experiment with the globalized influx of international foodstuffs. During this rich period, New American poet Ronald Johnson wrote award winning cookbooks. However, existing scholarship rarely addresses the ways in which they nuance the many relationships to food that he investigates in his poetry. My paper intervenes in this oversight by examining key alimentary motifs in his gastrophilosophy, namely how he translates the wildness of natural ingredients into performative rhetoric, how his notion of appetite creatively recombines regional and nationalist ideologies of the past, and how he practices taste as a process of embodied discovery. By reassessing the alimentary metaphors in his first book of poetry, A Line of Poetry a Row of Trees (1964), through his late cookbook, The American Table (1984), I argue that Johnson critiques the destructive tastes of early American colonization and replaces them with an appetite for the differential material relations common to enchantment. Food in Johnson’s poetry is a vehicle for sharing the vital substance of material relations across temporal and cultural limits. Food in Johnson’s cookbooks performs the ethical relationship to materiality Johnson’s poetry evokes by imbricating the cook in the shared unpredictability of culinary practice. In sum, reading Johnson’s work as a gastrophilosophy shows how taste can revitalize an essential and ethical dimension of enchantment in the American ethos of expansion.
Hope to see you there!