Catriona Wright: Table Manners A Review

“I’m useless / at any other frequency” declares the speaker of “Gastronaut,” the inaugural poem to Catriona Wright’s food-themed collection Table Manners.

“I just chose to care about this instead of something else. My life is now / tuned to bone marrow donuts and chef gossip.”

As you might have anticipated, the locus of Wright’s three-sectioned debut isn’t really about food, as much as she has inexorably fused it into the centre of her speaker’s manifold concerns, to which food to the rest of us accounts for only an aspect.

Food talk is, much like poetry talk is, involved with the fraught union between content and form. What will be ingredient to, how the meal will be prepared, often the details are impossibly particular. Food is, however, which I cannot say for poetry, necessary for survival. But the ways we interact with food as human, historical bodies; as we are recanted in the millenia-spanning “Origin Story”; and the ways food is fundamental to so much of our storied, cultural sustenance (such as we see in a poem written from the the perspective of one of Hitler’s taste-testers), makes for a perfect dwelling ground for the kind of transcendent understanding often engendered by a subject like poetry.

Quail egg yolk & / nine grains of pink sea salt.” Wright delivers, “We are of an age in an age / of life beyond our means.” Her work here is unmistakably engaged with these notions. Percolating between the foamy, whimsical imagery of her frequently alliterative couplets and her delightful, lavishly-rendered stanzas is a kind of familiar poignancy that is often conceived of in the alienating face of a life filled with innumerable gourmet restaurants; of having to choose a best place to go if one was in the mood for sushi or Thai fusion tapas.

Something worthwhile to dwell on on a full stomach. Often while reading Wright’s poems, I would find myself distracted by the appearance of an out-of-left-field food item. Other times, poems like “BBF” and “Fallow Day” made me wonder if lines like “I fed her red gummy bears all through that doubt,” and “the heat of a perfect grilled cheese witch,” were necessary in conveying a sense of what is already a unified and holistically-minded book of poetry.

Haute couture veggie gigs, fig slingers, brie gropers; all of this amounts to a rich, if not thematically saturated, translation of the various overwhelming frequencies we worry over and negotiate at the various tables of our lives.

 

Book review by Adrian Ngai