Poetry Annual · Fall 2003
Recipes from Oblivia
Edible Amazonia: 21 Poems from God's Amazonian Recipe Book.
Steven Ford Brown, translator.
Bitter Oleander Press, 2002.
104 pages. $11.00 (paperback).
Reviewed by Josh Hockensmith
It's uncanny how often authors describe Bolivia as the most forgotten nation in the Americas, as though it were a formula for beginning to write about the country. With this reputation, though, it's only appropriate that Bolivia has produced a writer like Nicomedes Suarez-Arauz, the poet laureate of amnesia.
In the 1980s, Suarez-Arauz founded the Amnesis movement and published the Amnesis Manifesto. It begins, "The totality of human experience is circumscribed by amnesia." His latest book is a collection of recipe-poems about the waters of oblivion that have surrounded his home region and threatened to sweep it into extinction ecologically, economically and culturally since the Conquest.
As the title suggests, Edible Amazonia confronts the appetites driving the wholesale consumption of the region. The sweet-sounding "Milk Jam Delight" recipe, for example, calls for brown sugar and milk, then:
add 28 toasted Indian girls
until it congeals . . .
Whip well and empty out
one more jungle village
The ingredients aren't all so bitter, though, and Steven Ford Brown's crisp translations capture the poet's tenderness toward his home as well as his ironic wit and anger at its exploitation. Other recipes tell how to mold petals out of sweet potato flour and to scatter them as spring flowers throughout the jungle, or how to preserve the "taste of aromatic Amazonian earth" in the first sip of coffee each day. But overall, Amazonia is a beleaguered region. In "Tree," after a description of how to create the magnificent river itself "with its thousands of pluvial veins" and multitudes of tribes and languages, the final image is of sacrificial fires:
Then with a brush in flames
begin to cover it with fire, . . .
setting it ablaze as an offering to the heavens.
The recipe-poems of Edible Amazonia drive home the god-like proportions of the destruction caused by humanity in the region, and how necessary is our creative and passionate human response.