biscuits and other ambiguities

coffee and ginger biscuits
When I’ve quoted Sandburg – “poetry is the achievement of the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits” – in the past, I have always felt the biscuits were there to represent the everyday, functional side of life: I’ve always assumed he meant Rich Tea, not Hobnobs.

But apparently yesterday was National Biscuit Day, which set me thinking: as I am not really sure which nation was celebrating, I don’t know whether the biscuits in question are the ones you eat with morning coffee or with gravy. And even if it were definitely a British celebration, they might be cheesy biscuits rather than gingersnaps.

Now I am wondering whether Sandberg was thinking of American biscuits – the plain scones eaten with thick sausage gravy – with all the social and regional connotations that they bring to bear. Suddenly hyacinths have become the clear and unambiguous aspect of the quote: a natural Truth alongside the unnecessarily complex human view of things.

I have more hyacinths than biscuits in my archive of poems: my photos are almost entirely bereft of human figures and I think my writing also deals more with nature than human foibles – so it was tricky to find a poem to include.

In the end, though, I found a very old piece with galletas in. (Another ambiguous term, although I seem to have used it in the sense of cracker, rather than sweet biscuit.) It’s one of the few poems I originally wrote in Spanish and is definitely light verse rather than poetry.

Mi amiga la foca

Mi amiga es una foca
siempre con la boca
pronto será una ballena.

Come cualquier cosa,
tanto salada como sosa,
y es una auténtica golosa.

No le satisface
toda la comida que su madre hace
(quien cocina todo el día
para alimentar su voraz cría).

Siempre quiere comida
incluso cuando está dormida;
no me deja sugerir
que se detenga para digerir.

Sólo le interesa
la próxima hamburguesa,
espaguetis, macarrones,
aceitunas, boquerones,
pan, galletas, queso…
y todo eso.

Sigue comiendo,
y tan gorda se está poniendo
que me parece que se hincha
como un globo: ¡A ver si no se pincha!

There’s an English version, too, which doesn’t have biscuits or crackers in it, as it was an early experiment in translation and I decided to focus on the tone and the general idea rather than on specific and precise details.

Eating disorder

My friend’s as fat as a cow
but she goes on eating anyhow;
there’s nothing frail
about her: she’s a whale.

She’ll eat anything and everything, sweet or savoury, it
doesn’t matter, though pasta’s her favourite.

Her mother has no time to do what she oughta –
always cooking for her daughter.

Her appetite would take some beating:
she just goes on eating
ignoring all suggestions
about her digestion:

she binges on cheese,
Devon cream teas,
mixing her toasties
with beef, yorkshires, roasties…
and all of that stuff:
it’s never enough.

Now, she’s round as a ball:
as broad as she’s tall;
if she doesn’t stop
she’ll pop.


Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

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