These leaves of French tarragon are as succulent as they look, but our eyes are insufficient to capture what's hidden: flavors of pepper, citrus, and an earthy herbal base note that defies description. Just one thin leaf an inch long, crushed in the palm, releases enough scent to perfume a room.
Imagine what happens when a cup of leaves is blended with olive oil, pine nuts, garlic, and fresh-grated parmigiano reggiano, then spread over a plate of homemade fettucine, served alongside a steaming loaf of sourdough and a glass of Chianti.
Hidden flavor, contained—it's what we patiently awaited all winter, and less patiently through this cool, sluggish spring season. Now, in early May, the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies is relinquishing frosty nights and while there's yet snow in the forecast for this week, the tarragon is hearty and will make it through fine.
So will the salad garden, with its collection of greens like these shallots, bursting up on the border between Red Rapids lettuce and Bordeaux spinach.
That spinach itself is an experiment. I've never tried this variety but I can see already that it's a winner. By week's end, I'll be serving it up, topped with a few mandarin oranges and a vinaigrette
Gardening is about potential. The vegetable gardener looks out on a frozen patch in February and knows that with planning and preparation, he can coax amazing flavors out of the earth. It's some work to do so, but it's not that hard. What was most challenging, at least to this gardener and at least early on, was the waiting. Patience was never my strong suit as a young person and gardens have been my mentor in this regard.
Speaking of mentors, check out the OnionGnome. Damn it if he doesn't stand still every time I come around, but something tells me the minute I fall asleep, he registers the unconscious state and sets to work.
No, I'm not losing it. I'm just setting up a point here. It has to do with creativity in general. I've done a handful of workshops referencing Stanley Kunitz's marvelous book, The Wild Braid, written in the last years of his 100-year-life. He wrote about his two passions: poetry and gardening.
I've found similar tracks in my life, though I've got a long way to go compared to Kunitz, on many levels. But I keep finding parallels between poetry and gardening, and it feels like I've only just seen the edge of that, with much more to discover.
Just last week I found myself doing a phone interview with a young college student who is working on the ethnography of Denver's poets. It seemed an intriguing line of inquiry and I agreed to talk with her and offer what I could. I'm hardly an expert, but four years as the city's poet laureate did teach me some things and provide insights.
And though I didn't use the analogy in our conversation, any "poetry society" is a bit like a garden, with diverse plants, some in competition, some in cooperation, some in relative isolation. They bloom at different times, in different colors and configurations. The fruits are to taste—readers pick what they like, ignore what they don't, or in the worst cases, seek to choke out or cast shade on what threatens them.
But each plant has potential.
That's a strawberry there, waiting to happen. With the right conditions—and in my garden, the conditions are very right for this plant—this blossom will fruit into a delicious, thumb-sized, red packet of wild strawberry flavor far more intense than anything you will ever buy in a store. So I keep the conditions right, encouraging high acid soil in this patch and growing garlic nearby, which seems to enhance the health of the strawberry plants and vice-versa, (a technique called companion planting).
I think it's healthy to cultivate different kinds of poets near one another. I think we can appreciate the garlic poets for thier pungency and the strawberry poets for their sweetness, and that it diminishes neither to open the appreciative consciousness a bit broader.
But if you have much exposure to the poetry community, you know how it often goes. As laureate I advocated broader acceptance and inclusiveness, and for so doing took more than a few shots from self-important folks. Screw 'em. I get that the PoBiz is for some all about careerism, advancement, and scrabbling for a bigger piece of a small pie.
Anyway, it's not about me, it's about cultivating a garden of poetry all around us, and the big winners are the readers who might get to enjoy a better, diverse poetry permaculture. I feel rather sorry for the bastards who write in front of a mirror and feel it necessary to choke off anything that isn't like them, creating the horror of a monoculture that dominates so many academies.
I don't know if I was helpful when I shared these thoughts with the scholar of sociology. She seemed excited about the idea of broadening, rather than narrowing, what we allow and appreciate in the Poet's Garden. Ultimately, I'll keep looking for ways to work along these lines, building connections and enjoying the panoply of flavors, colors, and scents—in the garden, and in the poems.