Review of Still Hungry
“Getting our Fill
Gordaneer’s poetry collection suits all tastes.
It’s a simple gesture to prepare a meal for another person, or inversely, to eat one that’s prepared for you. How you go about doing so can simply do the job of satisfying bodily needs, or the gesture could be loaded with subtext that may demonstrate a tender attention to detail. In her poetry collection, Still Hungry, Alisa Gordaneer explores moments of trust and acceptance that sustain us beyond simply feeding our bodies.
“Everyone seems to have their food ‘things,’ which I think makes us all that much more individual,” says Gordaneer. “Honouring those things – habits, taboos, dietary concerns, allergies – seems to have becomes an extension of honouring the person and your relationship with them.” Within the universality of communion thorough the sharing of meals, Gordaneer’s characters demonstrate the idiosyncrasies of their relationships via the thematic use of taste sensations. Arranged to form a loose narrative, and grouped into sections labelled Salt, Sour, Bitter, and Sweet, Gordaneer’s poems move through tonal and contextual notes, through various cravings, through a life of young family love, marital breakup, abstinence and self-denial, and finally, reconciliation and the return of desire.
“Circumstances change and we look for different flavours,” she says, “because we’re curious and can’t resist tasting new things.”
Salt is the taste of love and family. In “Eating Dinner and Your Father’s House,” a salty patriarch trades up tinned meat for a four-squared meal, and despite his lack of culinary tact, he succeeds in both gathering and providing for his kin.
Sour is the aftertaste of love gone wrong. In “Peppermint,” a relationship is soured by acts of adultery during the holiday season: “It will be January before the tree is down, needles on the floor and / catching in your socks. You will appreciate the pricks then, / having become one // or so I will say.”
Throughout the Bitter suite, Gordaneer focuses on eating habits that turn against the body, particularly those that involve suppressing one’s appetite, or condemning it altogether. In “Deserve,” the cycle of bulimia shows how the hungry for company leads to desperate, yet futile, acts. “Waste” gives up on turning down meals when “no amount of guilt can change the world,” all while fruit rots on the counter. “Rules” is terse and direct, outlining a draconian regimen where “a class of water is a meal.”
With a “maniacal / dinner fork poised,” Gordaneer’s characters regain their appetites in “Breaking the Fast.” What follows is the sweet course, a return to smacking lips and salibating for communion with sighs of fulfillment. In “Soup,” the speaker craves substance, “trying not to spill,” and in “Saturday,” characters indulge in “all the sleeping-in-flapjacked-happiness of maple morning.”
“To be fed by another is to accept what they give you,” says Gordaneer, “what they have created in your name, to receive their energy into your body. It’s kind of weirdly holy. You have to trust in order to receive.””
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Summer vacation has finally arrived. This leisurely pace brings impromptu trips to the beach for picnics with friends and family, and for inspired musings on Canadian literary fare.
There is something about sharing a meal in the open air—with the sand between your toes and the pages of poetry turning in the ocean breeze—that makes the food all the more tasty!
I recently sampled Alisa Gordaneer’s book of poems Still Hungry (2015), which is thoughtfully subdivided under the headings “Salt,” “Sour,” “Bitter,” and “Sweet.”
Within and between these sections, appetites ebb and flow with the seasons and with life’s experiences. You come away from these poems realizing how flavours are intimately bound with certain memories. How food connects us with others and marks our daily lives—the losses and the joys—leaving us hungry for more, or for less. If you visit Gordaneer’s website, you will be invited to contribute to an ongoing conversation about our varied relationships with food and the many themes evoked by Still Hungry.
In the poem “Picnic” (included in the section “Sweet”), Gordaneer conjures the longed-for idealism of summer, as a couple attempts to recapture the intimacy of the early years of their marriage. Dusty from disuse, wine bottles and glasses are remembered and retrieved. An old picnic blanket, a wedding gift, is “unfurled like a flag” on the sand—a declaration of their (hopefully) continued love and appreciation of one another.
Especially delightful is the fresh and sensual picnic menu.
Olives for those “hot days far away” (83).
A choice of creamy cheeses (including blue) to elicit tender touches on the skin.
And most poignantly, the speaker requests “everything from the beginning” (83). It’s an alpha-inspired list of veggies and fruit, all green and golden:
artichokes, asparagus, avocados.
Although the speaker tells the partner to “bring love,” uncertainty lingers, as their temporary display of unity appears, at times, untruthful (83). Nevertheless, this picnic-for-two signals a desire for communion, an enduring appetite for intimacy and fresh fulfillment.
“Victoria’s Alisa Gordaneer Launches Book about Hunger and Food Issues
When Victoria author and journalist Alisa Gordaneer realized that virtually everyone around her had some sort of food issue, she knew she was on the right track with her new book—and decided to build it into a social research project.
Still Hungry, being released by Winnipeg’s Signature Editions this April, examines the complicated relationships virtually all contemporary foodies have with food, hunger and desire. From starvation to satiation, this collection of poems considers the complexities of how we eat, or don’t, in a society where abundance and starvation co-exist. Ironically, the theme for this year’s National Poetry Month, which is the month of April, is “Food and Poetry.”
“We’re so fortunate to live in a country where so many of us really do have enough to eat.”Gordaneer says.“We Instagram our meals to prove that we’re not going without, we super-size our portions because we can. And then we resist eating, dieting to pay penance for having eaten well. It’s a kind of madness. That’s what this book is about.”
Given that thousands of Canadians live with eating disorders, and thousands more live with food allergies, sensitivities and other difficulties, the question of being still hungry begins to take on a new dimension.
“Food is not just about eating and survival,” says Gordaneer,“although it plays an essential part in our well-being. Food is a metaphor for filling our needs, trusting others to look after us, and being able to survive in this world. It’s also an area fraught with complications and personal demons.”
In addition to her poetry collection Still Hungry, Gordaneer is working on a social research project that invites others to share their stories about their own food issues for a future anthology. She has begun collecting these stories on her web site: alisagordaneer.com
“Why is food, which is such a source of pleasure and comfort, also such a source of anxiety and concern?” she asks.“If we open that dialogue and exchange ideas, maybe we can figure out what’s at the root of our various food issues. I hope it’ll become a whole new kind of dinner conversation.”
Alisa Gordaneer is a poet, writer and editor who has taught at the University of British Columbia, the University of Victoria, Camosun College and Royal Roads University. She has worked as a newspaper editor for both Victoria’s Monday Magazine and Detroit’s Metro Times, communications consultant and freelance journalist, and writes regularly for Victoria’s CVV Magazine. A member of the League of Canadian Poets and a board member of the Creative Nonfiction Collective Society, she has won many awards for her poetry and nonfiction. Still Hungry is her fourth published collection of poetry, following the chapbooks When All Else Fails (2005), Dissecting Grace, and War Stories (2004), all from Emdash Publishing. When she’s not writing, Gordaneer enjoys playing fiddle, inventing new things to eat, and hanging out with chickens.
Join Alisa Gordaneer to launch Still Hungry at Lacey Lou Tapas lounge, 1308 Broad Street, Victoria, on Monday, April 13 at 7:30pm. Admission free, open to the public.”