Primary Flavors

There are three primary colors: red, blue, yellow. There are four primary tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter. There are four primary aspects to poetry: lyric, narrative, rhetorical, and meditative. Such are the principles you'd learn in any introductory class to painting, cooking, or poetry. When I began thinking about this post, I had wanted to write something that would somehow bridge the poetic and the culinary, to discover the profound aesthetic laws that guide excellent end rhyming and chicken preparation. I texted an idea to my friend: how about relating the four elements of poetry to the four elements of taste? His response: "All the food writers went through a period of umami as being the defining ideal flavor over the need for competing balance."

I had to clean the dishes. My ignorance about trends had betrayed me. I had known that the visual arts and poetry go through trends. For a while, you didn't need to talk about painting. Sure, Lucian Freud. Maybe a backyard pool by Hockney. But everyone's doing installation. Similar currents drive the culinary arts. For a while, perhaps a long while, activating certain parts of the tongue gained priority over other parts of the tongue. And poetry...what about poetry?

By the time I had come back to poetry, the water had finally warmed. I went through the plates, the bowls. Poetry has an upper limit of music, Zukofsky once observed, and I find myself on some mornings going through little shreds of speech that have become melody. For instance: I cannot forget an offhand remark made by an astronomer on a documentary filmed for the Discovery Channel. The astronomer was describing the peculiar conditions that give Uranus its peculiar teal complexion. Then it happened: "all that featureless blue." A flourish of tongue, teeth. The pressure of the sternum, the expansion and contraction of a throat. Language in all its evocative possibilities. For a time, for a time too long to be a trend, the gesture of those words will remind me that there's an almost idiotic tug to the sensuous. I can't ever let go. 

The dishes are finally finished. 

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  1. I think you linked poetry and the culinary world well when you said, "...certain parts of the tongue gained priority over other parts of the tongue." I'd assume that trends, at least in poetry, happen because our aural and intellectual "tastes" have shifted (though I do like the idea of becoming enamored with how word roll off the tongue, and that being a driving force in trends). It's kinda like eating something powerful, which, at first, tastes amazing. And you go back for seconds. And fifths. And twelfths. And you eat the whole bag/tray/plate. But you really don't want to open another bag of the same thing. I think a lot of power in trends, that's often ignored (especially when we look for causation) is that we get bored easily. Sort of a law of diminishing returns.

    Then again, as you gestured to at the end, there's something to be said about our innate obsession with the sensuous. And I wonder if we're predisposed, in either poetry or food, to like certain flavors more. A lot of me assumes we like the flavors we grew up with. Chris Rock said that you'll always love the music that was popular when you started having sex. Probably true. This explains those embarrassing soft spots I have for certain songs I'm not keen on sharing at the moment. I wonder if that's true for Literature as well. If so, I fear our upcoming generation's obsession with sparkly vampires and sushi.

  2. One should never fear sushi, for it embraces all flavors. Not only the herald of umami, but the sour from the usage of pickled vegetables and sauces, the sweet tenderness of the flesh of fish, the occasional bitter from seaweed wrappers and sprinklings of toasted sesame seeds, the salty from...well...salt. Many have even gone the way of spicy now, embracing the familiar chilies of various nearby lands and provinces in addition to the more foreign jalapeño and habañero. But I think all that does is reassert this emblematic need to find the new and embrace it. I often wonder if this perhaps isn't just a sign of our need to fulfill an underscored imperialistic tendency to conquer, embrace and -- fusion.

    I think there's an intensely competing impetus lurking in the background here between creator and consumer. I wholeheartedly agree with the notion that we often seek novelties, aesthetically, in food, in writing. But I think everything we are educated with today tells us that, in spite of that desire to try something for the first time, we oftentimes are encouraged to chisel away at the piece of marble until it turns into a fully formed naked guy. It is through repetition that we become the chief curators of expression, and yet those that desire our end result never want the path along the way that enables us to create for them the something of nothings. I think food rebels against this notion lately in the culinary world though, aspiring to provide plates based on what remains in the kitchen, what arrives to the back door, what hides in the pantry, and what works into a loose pattern of seasonality. Without it, I'd never wrap my hands around all those infinitely ridiculous pumpkin products every fall. But I'd also never think to inject pumpkin spice into order to embrace all them flavors.