Winter’s chill, somehow, seems the perfect weather for thinking about the intersection of poetry and chocolate. The elaborating wordplay of the genre, its ability to suggest so much in content while hacking away at excesses in form, should be a perfect match for the sublime sensuality of creatively developed and enhanced cacao.
Sadly, often it is not.
There is the oft cited Rita Dove’s Chocolate noted in previous posts, but given how beloved the subject, there is surprisingly little chocolate poetry of note. A recent Google found a quasi-epic from Michael Rosen as he blended childhood joy and disappointment at its passing with his Chocolate Cake
A new Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory book cover appears gratuitous, not least because the book biz is hurting enough without shooting itself in the face with artwork.
But maybe it is genius?
Perhaps it’s a diabolical plan to spend a bit for a new, outrageous cover in the British market that is so off-putting as to inspire worldwide publicity and drive book buyers to pony up for other copies of Charlie? It may be the fiftieth anniversary of the title, but that doesn’t mean it can’t use a bit of push to get off the shelves. (Maybe instead of the ugly cover they should have made more of the lost chapter?)
In that spirit, our rose-colored-glasses, glass-half-full selves are inspired to note a few more books about chocolate that deserve their own push as holiday buying season opens up. Having started with Charlie, we’ll note that piggybacking on the anniversary celebration is Inside Charlie’s Chocolate Factory, a miscellanea of information on how the book came about.
With any luck for embattled publishers, readers of that Secrets will age into exploring further the niche chocolate has in the mystery genre. Current queen of the genre, Johanna Carl (who kindly answered questions here) is newly represented in her Chocoholic Mystery series by The Chocolate Clown Corpse. Also new is the initial “Chocolate Covery Mystery,” Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates], which situates bad happenings in a small chocolate shop in Maryland.
Not everything goes with chocolate, but it’s worth exploring and experimenting and daydreaming about. So, while some avow there be few more unlikely pairings than chocolate and pierogis — the doughy dumplings of Eastern Europe cuisine usually stuffed with fried meat or potato — there are, in fact, those who have gone there.
Tangentially, the internet coughed up the eye-catching comparison of chocolate barfi, the Indian dessert bite, and baked beans on toast, which as segues go will have to do as we move to the even more tangential idea of haikus and chocolate.
There is about three-quarters of the year to go until National Poetry Month, and even after its onset there are a few days prior to April 17th when the Haiku — the Japanese originated three-line verse of seventeen syllables, broken into lines of five, seven, and five beats — is celebrated. So we have time and will likely need it as we work on what will be appropriate for the day. Still, when the mind begins to wander during these dog (we like to think specifically of a chocolate Labrador) days of summer, you just let it bushwhack the path (via Norway’s Kristjaan Panneman and his chocolate haikus until you arrive at the terminus. In this case, and long after the headline tease, here’s the beat we need to spend the next eight months improving on:
The Only (so far) Chocolate and Pierogi Haiku
Chocolate? Yes, chef!
As a pierogi’s inside?
Good enough. More, please.
We know National Chocolate Week is a silly, marketing-driven week of obligation with a non-pedigree provenance. However, that doesn’t mean we’re letting it escape unnoticed. So, with due respect and honor to this third week of March, 2013, please allow us to introduce CAC’s Limerick Laureate, the bard and babe of Bayside (Queens), Madeleine Begun Kane.
And, serendipitously is how she came to our attention. Swiss intern Hans Suberbraune said that meeting Kane and her husband, Mark, was the one redeeming feature to an otherwise horrible date — that he claims was part of an inglorious St. Pat’s Day weekend, although he isn’t always believable and we aren’t ruling out that he was actually doing some corporate espionage to inform some of the culinary experiments he runs in the lab at the back of the shop. She let him know about her weekly limerick-off — all are invited to participate — and also turned him onto some of her chocolate limericks, including …
Dear candy shop, leave out the filling.
Those rich, creamy innards ain’t thrilling.
I like choc’late that’s pure.
Milk or dark? Both allure.
Must I choose? Okay, dark gets top billing.
Acrostic Limerick Treat Though desserts can be very enticing, Remember — beware of the pricing: Ended up with a bill Awf’ly high — bitter pill. Thanks heavens for chocolate icing!
Dark choc’late, caffeine, and red wine
Might harm us, or may be just fine.
Ev’ry news item muddies
My mind with new studies.
Please make up your mind: What’s benign?
Limerick for National Chocolate Day
Oh, no! Did I make a mistake
While baking that chocolate cake?
An ingredient doubled?
Or tripled? I’m troubled!
I should have bought something from Drake.*
Yet Another Excuse To Eat Chocolate
If you want yet another excuse
To engage in some chocolate abuse,
It seems eating those sweets
Will create smart elites
And can Nobel Prize winners produce.
She was also kind enough to agree to answer a few questions:
Cupid Alley Chocolatieres: What were your favorite chocolates growing up and are there particular shops or chocolates that are particularly special treats today? Madeleine Begun Kane: I can still almost taste those delicious Loft’s Chocolate Parlays of my childhood. They were relatively pricey, so my parents rarely bought them. But once in a while, guests would show up with a candy box packed with Parlay bars wrapped in foil. Alas, our dog loved them too: One day she managed to climb on the table and eat an entire box. But she generously left us the wrappers.
When I was a kid, Krisch’s in Massapequa Park, Long Island, New York was my favorite place for post-concert chocolate ice cream sodas. And to this day, they’re still selling wonderful ice cream and chocolates.
But my favorite chocolatiere is Lazar’s Chocolate, in Great Neck, Long Island. Their milk chocolate turtles and butter crunch are irresistible.
CAC: Can you explain what ties together all the different aspects to your personality: oboist, lawyer, and now award winning humor writer? MBK: Many writers, especially humor writers, have a music background. After all without rhythm, it’s very hard to be funny. And of course it’s tough for a lawyer to survive without being a pretty good writer.
Nonetheless, such a trio of professions is challenging to explain. But I do summarize it in
What Will I Be When I Grow Up?
Ev’ry decade I change my career.
The first used my musical ear.
I tried lawyering second,
Till humor scribe beckoned.
What’s next? I just can’t wait to hear.
CAC: Do you find any connection between your interest in chocolate and limericks? MBK: No, but I’m open to suggestions.
CAC: Do you have favorite chocolate recipes? MBK: I suspect that kitchen implements are involved. So, no.
CAC: Was there a particular inspiration for your limerick contest? MBK: My weekly limerick contest evolved almost organically: Many years ago, people began to sometimes respond to one of my limericks with their own. This gave me the idea to invite people to write their own limericks using my line. Finally, just over two years ago, I formalized my Limerick-Off challenges into a real contest with Limerick of the Week and other awards. I now run it both on my humor blog and on my Facebook page, with a new limerick contest posted every Sunday.
CAC: Regarding inspiration, how did you come to write the poems about chocolate? MBK: I’ve written thousands of limericks about nearly every imaginable topic. So it would be more surprising if I didn’t occasionally write about something so tasty as a good chocolate.
CAC: What current and future projects are you particularly excited about? MBK: Speaking of those thousands of limericks, my plan is to publish several topical books of my limericks: Money Limericks, Marriage Limericks, Legal Limericks, Technology Limericks, Political Limericks, Travel Limericks, etc. I confess that I’ve started this project several times, but something else keeps bumping it. I’m hoping that this year I’ll finally find enough time to put at least a couple of those books together.
Have a happy and ever-delicious National Chocolate Week.
Something about the time change and imminent vernal equinox (Wednesday, 20 March, if you want to mark your calendar) has us thinking about bark, chocolate bark. The thoughts go bad for business and good for writing stories.
Chocolate bark is the lazy man’s (or woman’s) perfect gift to him/herself or others. Buy a bar of good chocolate; melt it slowly so it doen’t burn or turn (putting it in a soup bowl and then the bowl in a post of simmering water on the stove will work); lay out some nuts or dried fruits on a piece of wax or parchment paper; pour the melted chocolate over them (or spread the chocolate first and then sprinkle the fixin’s and maybe even a few grains of sea salt); keep flat and refrigerate for 20 or 30 minutes; divide the chocolate and conquer the audience. More specific recipes can be found here, here and in a low-sugar, somewhat crunchy granola form, over here.
It’s so simple and sometimes can come out so well that we occasionally have nightmares about everybody taking up the idea, killing our commerce and forcing someone else into taking up residence in what currently is our space.
However, the simplicity of it all as well as the optimism that an onrushing springtime inspires does also spark imagination. First we considered the idea of a chocolate tree with chocolate bark. Then came the image of a chocolate bark (a type of ship) sailing on chocolate seas. What about a chocolate lab whose chocolate bark is worse than its chocolate bite? All of which brings us to the rhyming tale of an evil little house guest…
THE CHOCOLATE MOUSE
Who would imagine a chocolate mouse
Would skitter and scamper all over a house?
I wasn’t ready when it happened to me
Listen a bit more, maybe you’ll be.
It began with a ruckus, a rampage one morning
So loud I woke trembling, my toes curled in warning.
I crept downstairs with dread, expecting a crowd
Found the refrigerator open and TV very loud.
Furniture overturned, toys scattered around
But nobody there, or at least making a sound.
Suddenly I saw him. A long chocolate trail
Ending at the tip of a short chocolate tail.
The tail was attached to a small, chocolate mouse
Sipping chocolate soda, scattering prints about my house.
I hid from his view and surveyed what he’d done
Determined to put an end to his whole mess of fun.
I first planned a trip with chocolate cheese.
He nibbled a bit, springing the trap with no pain and ease.
He thumbed his nose seeing me and I couldn’t have that.
I schemed next to snare him with a chocolate cat.
But the cat preferred playing with chocolate string,
Which quickly unwound around everything.
To chase down the chocolate cat and the mouse
I now brought a chocolate dog into my house.
The one thing I never expected for sure,
When my new dog scratched, she shed chocolate fur.
Three animals were yelping and running amok
Mixing cheese, string and fur into chocolate yuck.
Disarray and commotion and gooey brown stuff
Were muddying each room. I shouted, “Enough!”
No more Mr. Nice Guy while hunting that mouse.
One of us would definitely be leaving the house.
I brought animal after animal into the fight
Sure with each one there’d be peace by the night.
My new chocolate bear chased neither dog, mouse nor cat.
The chocolate elephant I let loose didn’t move: it just sat.
From housing one mouse I now had a zoo:
Chocolate ducks, chocolate penguins, chocolate wildebeests, too.
I hired a zookeeper when I couldn’t move through the rooms.
Admitting defeat. One teeny mouse had brought doom.
I’ve found a new home that is quiet, clean and bright.
Best of all, no chocolate animals in sight.
Still, sometimes I wonder about that chocolate mouse
Who skittered and scampered all over my house.
And I ponder how rather than scheme and then fight.
Would the better course have been to grab and gobble at first sight?
Who can say if it will or won’t happen to you.
I’ve a new plan; do you know what you’ll do?
We know. The bark will be better than the story’s bite.
Notice of the Divine Chocolate and Christian Aid Poetry Competition focusing on the role chocolate plays in your life and with its 30 April deadline leaves us wondering why it is so damn hard to write a poem celebrating chocolate meaningfully and expressively? Both subjects are, after all, about taste.
Admittedly, taste is subjective so the personal expressions that seem so banal and often just self-indulgent to many readers, may have incredible resonance for one or maybe s/he and her mother … or, hopefully, the beloved.
Obviously, not everybody can be Pulitzer Prize-winning, former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove, but is it really that hard to muddle them flavorfully?
Why can’t more people more often reach the level of the silly-but-kinda-cute chocolate poesy homages of Peter Mansbach or earnest young teen naïf stylings of Henry Birch
In short, given the importance of both poetry and chocolate, why can’t people do better? [Go ahead, Google, Bing or Whateversearch it yourself if you think it is easy to find something better] Will aspiring or professional (?) poets do better? Check in on the Divine winners … or enter yourself. (We would, but we know our place and it is in back or behind the counter.) … and to all of us, good luck with meaningful expressions of words and chocolate.