Poet Kevin Young on an Ode to Pork, The Hungry Ear, and Food as Poetry

Categories: Interview

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Food and literature are long-term lovers. And poetry, in particular, has had a romantic relationship with all things edible throughout the ages. From Shel Silverstein to Jonathan Swift, some of the most famous scribes have penned odes to their favorite bites.

Poet and editor Kevin Young has compiled some of his favorite such poems in The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink, and he'll do some food-related readings at Friday's Animal Spirits event at the Freehand Miami as part of the ongoing poetry festival O, Miami.

Young has written poems about everything from okra and boudin to gumbo and sweet-potato pie. He even penned an ode to pork. That's a man after Short Order's own heart. So we spoke with Young about some of his fave food topics, his restaurant picks, and Pablo Neruda's elemental odes.

Short Order: Do you have any favorite food poems by other poets?
Kevin Young: There's a lot of them in [The Hungry Ear] -- and Pablo Neruda's odes, he called them elemental odes. I thought they were terrific -- ode to salt, ode to an onion. Stuff like that I think is really great.

Are there any foods that particularly lend themselves to poetry?
It's hard for me to say. I think people write about from salt and gravy to mushrooms and fruits. I think you see people in poems write about food and their connection to the earth. Often they're writing about the foods of their childhood and of memories -- sort of what Mark Strand called "the meat of memory." Returning to that original place, I think, is really important for writers.

Any of your food poems you'd call favorites?
A lot of them in my book Dear Darkness, and in The Hungry Ear there's a poem called "Ode to Gumbo" that I have a fondness for. But a lot of people seem to like "Ode to Pork."

What are some of your favorite restaurants?
I have a number in Charleston and Atlanta. I feel like Southern restaurants have really done amazing things lately. Because of poetry, I've gotten to know a lot of chefs, and it's been really great to get to know some of them. Some have "Ode to Pork" hanging in their restaurants, which is really great. I'm always surprised to see it. A lot of chefs are really into food as a kind of poetry -- as an almost nonverbal way of expressing themselves and also expressing connections with each other, which I think is something that poetry does.

What about cocktails and how the mixology scene has become a big part of the culinary world? Have you written about that at all?
I've also drunk about it! Yes, there is drink in the anthology. And, you know, I think cocktails are such an American invention. I love the history of them and sort of the invention of them.

Animal Spirits is free to attend and kicks off Friday at 7 p.m. at the Freehand Miami, 2727 Indian Creek Dr., Miami Beach. In addition to poetry readings, there will be a tattoo pop-up where 14 people will score free ink, light bites, and cocktails.

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Freehand Miami Hostel

2727 Indian Creek Drive, Miami Beach, FL

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