Kei Miller - 15 February 2010
I have these little guilty pleasures Ã¢Â€Â“ shows that I occasionally watch obsessively. My latest phase is the American reality TV show, Top Chef where some rather accomplished chefs compete week by week, creating dishes, all in the hopes to walk away with the Top Chef title in the end. ItÃ¢Â€Â™s fascinating stuff, but perhaps most worryingly is how it changes my cooking habits Ã¢Â€Â“ and the number of pretensions and affectations it produces in me Ã¢Â€Â“ like donating all my round plates to charity, because I suddenly found them clichÃƒÂ©d, and spending an inordinate time plating my dinner before eating it, trying to get that perfect swoosh of the sauce on the side of the plate.
But pretensions aside, I appreciate how one art often helps us to appreciate another. I listen to the chefs talk about cultivating a good palette and to me this is exactly how poets might work hard to cultivate a good ear. I am intrigued by how chefs try to balance a plate and how they work to bring different components together, and how in ambitious cooking we try combinations that the regular person might not expect but that work Ã¢Â€Â“ that surprise us but are still that comforting balance of salt and sweet, spicy but not overpowering. I think TS Eliot would approve of this kind of cooking that takes us to unfamiliar places.
I wonder though if a Top Poet show would ever work. Probably not. Probably it wouldnÃ¢Â€Â™t make for particularly good viewing. Still it would be interesting the weekly challenges that would test the contestants poetic mettle. I can imagine what some of the tasks would be:
Week 1: the simplest but hardest task Ã¢Â€Â“ write a poem that expresses your point of view, and does the kinds of things you like poetry to do.
Week 2: write a sonnet, 14 lines, strong iambic rhythm, but be inventive with the rhyme scheme
Week 3: write a prose-poem, no line breaks. And it shouldnÃ¢Â€Â™t feel like drab prose. It should be a poem whose perfect shape is as prose.
Week 4: take any great poem of the 20th century, and respond to it.
Week 5: write a poem that tries to say something very complex, but that only use monosyllabic words.
And so on and so on....
Though I wonder if IÃ¢Â€Â™d survive past week 2. I think IÃ¢Â€Â™m going to try to do these challenges.