Episode 45

Two Tablespoonfuls by Caleb Parkin

Caleb Parkin reads ‘Two Tablespoonfuls’ and discusses the poem with Mark McGuinness.

This poem is from:

The Coin by Caleb Parkin

The Coin book cover

Available from:

The Coin is available from:

The publisher: Broken Sleep Books

Amazon: UK | US

Bookshop.org: US

 

Two Tablespoonfuls

by Caleb Parkin

Two Tablespoonfuls

                                             she asked the Crem for. Or it might have been, two tablespoons, the former being an official measurement, rather than an informal tag or nickname: table-spoon, tablespoon, tablespoonful, Nanna, Mama. Table-spoons being part of the profusion of 18th-century spoons: mustard-spoon, salt-spoon, coffee-spoon, half-spoon, step-spoon.

She didn’t ask for the equivalent 29.6 millilitres: how do you measure that out from the cremulator? Can you ask whether it’s more demerara or caster? Just two tablespoons from the interred mass; a sprinkle of grey icing on an earthy chocolate cake. Pot a rose up on top, though, and watch it wither.

Not dessertspoons, soupspoons. Both lack gravity. No, she requires the best spoon / best-spoon / bestspoon. The Sunday roast spoon: two slices of pale meat, peas unpodded, carrots like worn-out suns. The favourite spoon.

Not three teaspoonfuls, the ten-a-penny, clink-in-the-cutlery-drawer kind used to stir sugar into wan tea. Two tablespoons – for serving or eating. Not half a fluid ounce, because this was not fluid, but more flour, self-raising.

Were they for a diamond, a pendant, to be mounted on a glinting sceptre? Or who’s to say they wouldn’t end up funnelled, bottled, nestled in the spice rack between Marjoram and Nutmeg?

It used to be that you carried your own spoon around to every table: your personal spoon. Not the stainless-steel municipal free-for-all of shared spoons, rows on rows of them, names taking and sloughing off hyphens: grapefruit-spoon, slotted spoon, sugar-spoon, love spoon.

Two tablespoons. The table and the spoon, joined for decades, centuries, by a hyphen, until they became a measure in themselves. Those two full spoons she took, then fired that hyphen – a dart into the bullseye, a missile into the sun.

 


Interview transcript

Mark: Caleb, where did this poem come from?

Caleb: I think, like some of the most interesting poems, it kind of… there’s the Emily Dickinson phrase, ‘Telling it slant,’ and I think some poems arrive at you slant. And so, during NaPoWriMo last year, as it now is, so in April ’22, something I’ve been doing every year for the last few years actually is getting some poets together on Zoom to write a couple of times a week. And, well, I suppose it happened during lock-downs, and I was like, ‘Well, it’d be really nice for us to connect.’ So we kind of got together on Zoom and had quite a nice group where people would bring prompts, we go to breakout rooms, and it was… yeah.

And so, this was written during one of those. Actually, last year, what I decided to do was actually get a group of poets together who wanted to write into a theme. And so we all came with this kind of theme or a sense of something we were working on. And I knew I was kind of thinking about two things. I was thinking about toxicity, which is something that’s going in my second collection, I’m really thinking about toxicity in, well, poison and landscape and behavior, and so all of that. So that was here. And also, I was brewing this pamphlet with Broken Sleep, The Coin where I was thinking about matriarchs and the matriarchal lines.

And then, I can’t remember what the prompt was, but I ended up doing some research about spoons.

Mark: So I see.

Caleb: It got really interesting. Yeah. So it became this… so I’m mindful of, I’m mindful of, I mean, I think it’s very unlikely that the relative involved here will listen, but, all families have their complex dynamics. And actually, what I think is interesting is when you approach those dynamics from something else. So in this case, spoons, and researching spoons, and thinking about that, and it means that actually whatever’s going on with those complex dynamics is lurking just behind the poem rather than it being really like on the nose. And so, for me, that’s how this poem is working.

So, I went off and I researched spoons while we were on this Zoom call. Came back with spoon facts and then wrote what ended up being this kind of experimental, kind of essay about spoons. But behind it is all this other stuff going on with the family dynamic and relationships and that kind of thing.

Mark: So there’s almost a bit of misdirection going on here?

Caleb: Yeah.

Mark: You know, you’ve got these fascinating taxonomy of spoons. I had no idea there were so many, and we’re relatively impoverished these days in our cutlery drawer. But, obviously I was thinking about the poem this week knowing that I was talking to you, and one of the things I wrote down was, spoons are a bit like the weather, that we are talking about, the weather to avoid, talking in Britain, particularly, to avoid talking about something else or as a distraction. And it’s, I think you’re right that family life is very much like that. There’s very often there’s a subtext going on behind what we’re ostensibly talking about.

Caleb: Absolutely, yes. And my interest also in this subject of the ashes, which is here, this kind of request for two tablespoonfuls. And, I should say, ‘the Crem’, with a capital C is the crematorium, where bodies are processed in that kind of Victorian process of cremation. And I should say that the cremulator is the machine, at the crematorium, the bones go through once they’ve been through the cremator oven, and the cremulator turns it into the ashes, and sometimes there are bits of bone left in there. And I was kind of… I’ve always been kind of interested in that, being a poet and being a bit morbid.

So, when I worked in radio years ago, I made a program about cremated remains, about ashes, and we went to a crematorium and had a tour and kind of talked to the bereavement services manager and looked in the drawer under the cremators – yeah, he checked with us first – at the bones and all of this kind of thing. And so I find that, kind of the physical mechanical processes of that, really fascinating.

And so in this case, we have this kind of situation where someone’s requesting a very specific amount which then was conveyed to me, and then I was like, ‘Well, that has to go in a poem. Like, it’s too delicious.’ I mean, you don’t tell a poet anything, we’re awful!

And then I was just like, ‘Well.’ But then this was the kind of… I had these two tablespoonfuls in my head, and then it was… yeah, and then when this kind of prompt arrived, it kind of led me to write about it. I can’t remember what your question was now. I’m just, like, rambling.

Mark: It was really… actually, it wasn’t a question, it was just building on your observation about the fact that often we talk about one thing, particularly in a family, but to avoid talking about something else. And that would be very typical of family life.

Caleb: That’s it. And actually, I suppose, ashes are so interesting because they’re kind of a metaphor for the person and the relationships. And so, when I made this radio program, I found that very interesting. And there was some reflection in the treatment of those ashes that was reflecting the living relationships. So, for example, when people… there was often quite good-natured sharing of ashes. So, not seeing it as a singular person, but instead breaking up the ashes to go to different places to reflect multiplicity. Whereas I feel like in this poem, there’s a sense of wanting my own bit of the ashes, you know?

Like, it’s kind of, I need… well, as I say at one point in the poem, there’s the favorite spoon, in the sense of… so, that sense of wanting your slice, your share distinctly and separately, which is what, again, you know, this became a stand-in for… yeah.

Mark: Well, I mean, this is the telling it slant thing, because there’s so much… you’re talking about spoons, but really there’s so much, to me at least, of just British family life that goes into this. And opening up to the history, the spoons that we’re familiar with, the tablespoons and teaspoons and so on, but then there’s this whole spoon hinterland behind it, isn’t there? That’s the kind of the cultural inheritance, I guess, that we’ve got.

Caleb: Yeah, just that incredibly human thing, spoons as well, I think we’ve had them for so long and as a… yeah, they’re so everyday, and I think that sometimes a poem can do that to make people really re-look at this thing that you’re using every day that’s around, and that they’ve got this, as you say, like, spoon hinterland behind them. And they have affordances, and I love this idea of affordances in objects, like what they kind of… there’s the bit for the hand and there’s the bit for the mouth. They’re incredibly kind of connected to us as –

Mark: So, an affordance, sorry, excuse my ignorance, means what?

Caleb: Yeah, so an affordance, I guess like a chair, in terms of human affordances, is what it affords us. You know, a chair affords us to sit in it because it has a layer, the way that they afford to bodies and to different bodies. And of course, yeah, so there’s a lovely book called Paraphernalia. Well, I can’t remember who it’s by right now, but it’s about kind of the extraordinary lives of everyday things, and I really like stuff in my poems, like objects. So, spoons, I think, are quite rich. Yeah.

Mark: Okay, I’ll put that link in the show notes. We’ll find it afterwards. So, yeah, I mean, to me, as a reader, I was thinking, there’s all kinds of resonances of this being very particular about the particular kind of spoon. I guess, as well, I mean, you talk about… I mean, this is just my reader response. So you talk about somebody wanting their share and being very precise about that. But, again, I don’t know anything about the relationship between the people that you’re talking about. But I picked it up a sense of formality and wanting to accord a certain dignity to the person or the relationship, and a sense of, is it going too far to pick up love, or compassion, or affection here, behind the formality?

Caleb: No, not at all. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. No, absolutely. And I think also if you write about family and you write about relationships, and you write about tricky relationships, it’s really important to try and do that with degree of kindness and humility. And, I mean, David Sedaris, if you know him, the American autobiographical essay writer, one of his things he says, ‘I don’t think I do that here. I take a different stance.’ But his thing is, the teller, the storyteller needs to come off worse in his tellings, which I really like. So you can’t…

Mark: Oh, that’s a nice…

Caleb: … make everyone else the worst, you know, always make yourself the hero. But I think instead what I’ve done here is to actually… Kim Addonizio, the American poet, some great books on poetry, craft and process, and talks about a coolness. And I think there’s something here in the kind of essay style that I’ve chosen which affords some coolness and a bit of space from what otherwise might be, you know, bereavement and cremated remains and family dynamics. So, by doing that, I think it kind of gives some space.

But I think you’re totally right, and I didn’t want to… even when a relationship is tricky or has those naughty aspects, that doesn’t mean there isn’t love there and compassion and a degree of formality. So I think it’s… but I think that’s made possible through the coolness that the form and the tone gives it.

Mark: And just thinking again about your comment about the fact that we take the spoons for granted, and, like, we take so many objects for granted, and I think maybe a funeral is a moment where we realize we’ve taken a relationship for granted, or, the fact of a person’s existence. And it really brings us up short against that, doesn’t it?

Caleb: Yeah. Yeah, and again, I think there’s a case for directness and a case for, you know, bereavement to be given it’s howl as it were in… but also I think it’s good to, yeah, give it kind of space to reflect on those things. And I suppose here I’m reflecting on different generations in my family too, and kind of observing and doing that, because yeah, this is my family. So there’s something about stepping back a bit, which is really important. And so maybe there’s a parallel, you know, stepping back and looking at spoons, stepping back and looking at my family, like seeing them both afresh a bit.

Mark: Well, yeah, and you do that in a really interesting way in the whole pamphlet, The Coin, because it’s quite unusual. It’s about a male poet looking at the matriarchal line in the family, which, it struck me as just something that doesn’t happen all that often, but we probably get more poets about fathers and sons. I think maybe female poets were a bit better at this and having poems about mothers and fathers, but, could you say something about that?

Caleb: Yeah. Patriarchy! I think… here’s patriarchy again, stomps into frame. [Laughter]

Mark: Yes, it’s a regular guest on the show.

Caleb: Yes, yes. It’s a regular guest in the world, isn’t it? So, I guess like, that was something I was very conscious of, and I think of this as a very queer pamphlet, but not necessarily in that it’s about what audiences might perceive of or perceive of as queer themes. It’s because it’s challenging gender norms in the sense of saying, ‘Well, you know, what if as a man and as a queer man, I feel more connected to female lineages in my family and the matriarchal line as much as I do to the male or fatherly lineage?’ And as you say, I think so often it seems that you can only write really if you’re a man talking about fathers, or women talking about mothers, because it’s like really gender normative.

And actually, gender in the ways we do gender and the ways that we relate to people are far more complex than that. And so, I had this kind of body of work building over years when I was really thinking about my connection to my mum, and my connection to my nans who are no longer around, and I wanted this to be a kind of living monument to my mum, who is still around. But as the book kind of recounts, she’s had a couple of treatments for cancer, and so it kind of goes into that in the book too. And to kind of, yeah, be a kind of monument to my nans, to my nan and my gran, Betty and Joy who feature regularly as well.

So, I think of it, yeah, it’s like quite a queer pamphlet in that regard, and to kind of celebrate the possibility that we can take inspiration from whoever in our families, really. So, I think that was what was behind it. And then it goes to some other places with some other matriarchs that were around for me growing up as well. Names have been changed, but…

Yeah, so it’s interesting how… and it’s interesting you say, I suppose that the women do this better, but that’s also because it’s often women or queer people, non-gender-conforming people who have to think about gender, because the default gender in the world is, like, straight, white, cishet men kind of vibes, you know? And so actually then if you’re slightly to one side of that, then it’s like, ‘Oh, hang on. What’s all this? What is all this?’ You know?

Mark: Right, right. Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Caleb: So I think it’s good to… and I write quite a lot about… as lots of queer poets do, and gay male poets write about, gender and masculinity comes in quite a lot because it needs… I think that needs pointing out, like, ‘Hey, masculinity is a thing, by the way. It’s not just the norm, it’s a thing that you’re doing.’ But in this case, I’m also saying, like, ‘Well, what if I want to celebrate my femme qualities? What if I want to celebrate, my connection to a female energy, you know? I’m a man, that’s fine. I’m completely fine with that, but what if… what’s wrong with it…’ or, not what’s wrong with, more kind of, ‘Yeah, I wanted to kind of celebrate an aspect of having a femme energy that connects me to the matriarchy’.

Mark: Well, that’s great, and look, as a straight bloke as well, it worked for me and I found it a really fresh and thought-provoking book that made me obviously start – because when we read poems about other people’s relationships, we start to think about our own family – it made me start to think about those family connections and relationships and showed me a different way into it. So, and I think this is maybe an important point to make, that queer poetry can be inclusive for everybody. It’s not just, important as that is, about queer poets expressing themselves, I think there’s something that we can all learn from a new perspective.

Caleb: Yeah, and that’s poetry though, isn’t it? You know, I find like, I was thinking the other day, like, looking at my reading lists and what I’m reading in fiction and poetry, and the joy of it is this direct line to so many different ways of thinking and so many different experiences and perspectives and ideas that I think is wonderful in the poetry world. It’s one of the things I absolutely love about it.

And I suppose, with the collection as well, when I was thinking about queer eco poetry, which is still something, this pamphlet is kind of somewhere a bit different, whereas the collection I was thinking quite a lot about queer in eco poetry and in environmental terms, I think there’s ways that LGBT+ people can be leaders in that rather than peripheral, or marginalized. And so, I think, it’s always, how can we shine a light and offer some leadership in some of these areas that we know more about, like gender, because we think about them more. So, I think that’s an amazing thing, and certainly that was in my mind, I guess, with this.

And, kind of, it’s a more vulnerable pamphlet than the collection which has quite a lot about ideas, as well as experiences, if you see what I mean. Whereas this, I feel like is experiences and there are ideas within there too. I suppose I hadn’t thought of it like that before, but yeah.

Mark: Okay. And so, clearly, you’re drawing on a rich seam of experience in this poem, and also it had this very interesting genesis. So, how did you get from there to the finished form of the poem, which is, it’s a prose poem, isn’t it?

Caleb: Yeah. So, I mean, I guess like… I was thinking about this… just flicking through the pamphlet, and I really like… I don’t know if you do this, when I get to a poetry book of any sort, I have a flick-through because I want to see what shapes the poems are. I want to see, you know?

Mark: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely, yeah.

Caleb: I want to see what the poet’s up to, and for me, I find it really pleasing when I go through one of my publications and there’s lots of different things going on and it’s kind of, because each poem needs its own container. And I suppose by the time, there’s not really any other kind of prose… there’s a couple of prose poems doing different things. There’s one which is a bit kind of slashy, so it uses slashes, which I quite like. But then this one appears after quite… and there’s quite a few short poems as well. These short poems with fairly short lines, and this one kind of spreads out across the page and onto two pages.

So it has a kind of… because it’s a kind of essay, really. That’s how I treated it, was like an essay. So the first version of it, which I looked up before, it really wears the research because I went onto Wikipedia, I went on some other history sites, and there’s like quotes from Wikipedia and all this. So I was thinking there’s this consideration in poetry, how do we integrate and kind of completely meld with the research rather than wearing the research? Because that can feel really clunky. So, it’s kind of really woven through, whereas in the first version, there were like direct quotes from, you know, which I think you can do.

So I thought that was… yeah, so it kind of had to be really tightened up. And once I had… I did a kind of couple of more glosses on it and it got long-listed in the Keats-Shelley Prize for Elegy, and it was my wildcard. I put in two. Actually both, which was lovely, both the poems I submitted were long-listed, neither were shortlisted, boo hiss. But the other one was a kind of environmental poem which I felt was much more kind of, yeah, kind of epic and expansive. And then this one, which I was like, ‘I’ve no idea what they’ll make of this,’ so I chucked it in. So, I always say like, ‘Do enter your wildcard as well because it’s… ‘ Yeah.

Mark: That’s a lovely way of thinking about it. Yeah, I do that as well. I’ve put in, exactly, ‘Okay, these are maybe more of a straight bat, and let’s see what they make of this.’

Caleb: And also the one that you wrote last week, and then at the end of editing all the ones you’ve been working on for ages, edit the one you wrote last week and chuck that in as well, which is really… I feel like it’s really rogue advice in poetry world because everyone’s like, ‘No, you have to.’ But I feel like you’re building that muscle and you’re building that intuition. So, yeah, like, I don’t know. Sometimes just being a bit more cavalier about it is not a bad thing.

Mark: Great. Okay. So, how cavalier were you with this then? I mean, you say it started off as being a bit like an essay with lots of direct quotes. But, I mean, was it in prose at that point as well?

Caleb: It actually was. And, there’s this question of what is a prose poem? I heard it articulated recently as, it’s just prose written by a poet, and I thought…

Mark: [Laughter] That’s probably true, even of the novels, isn’t it?

Caleb: Yeah. Yeah, I reckon. Yeah, and I feel like quite often poem drafts start off without delineation anyway. But with this, there’s something about it that felt like it didn’t need line breaks because it was more about what was going on between and through the research, and the kind of questions that I’m asking, and it just kind of worked as this kind of essay form, I think. And because I won it, it felt, this is a late entrant into the pamphlet manuscript, because I was like, I said to Aaron at Broken Sleep, I was like, ‘Hang on, no. The penultimate one needs to be this now,’ and kind of, and he was like, understood why. I can’t remember what the one before was, which is a good sign, what was in the manuscript before.

And it just made absolute sense for it to go as the penultimate poem, not the last one.

Mark: And I’m intrigued because you keep… several times, you’ve described it as an essay. And an essay is a nice kind of ambiguous form, because on the one hand there’s something, at least in modern culture, almost authoritative or factual or prosaic about an essay. But, obviously, when Montaigne created the essay, he called it ‘Essai’, as an attempt to try to… you know, he wanted to just… he was interested in his own mind and to figure out what happens. So it’s, I feel like there’s that nice duality about what you’ve got here, and maybe this is the slant thing. It comes on as very factual, doesn’t it? And very, matter of fact. But actually, there’s an awful lot going on.

Caleb: Oh yeah, it’s all… I mean, I’m being cheeky in this, as I want to do in many of my poems, but with the kind of mustard spoon, salt spoon, coffee spoon, half spoon, step spoon. Those are not real spoons, when…

Mark: Oh, really? Oh, that’s delicious.

Caleb: They’re not real spoons.

Mark: Oh, but this is the 18th century, I thought that… you completely convinced me. Well done, Sir! Well-played.

Caleb: Just kind of, I don’t know, when you were adopting that kind of cool voice of, kind of ‘authority,’ because I’ve already set up. You know, at the beginning of a poem, you want to kind of set up some context. There’s one of… so one of my mentors, Carrie Etter, she was always like, ‘What’s the context?’ And you give the context. And there’s loads of ways you can do that. And so, I suppose here, we’ve got the creme, we’ve got… I’m thinking just about the kind of narrative, and then nana, mama, we’ve got the kind of family maternal relation. And then the half spoon, step spoon. So I want to complicate the kind of relationships a bit.

And then as you go through, you know, there’s… I’m just kind of unsettling the facts at the same time as presenting them.

Mark: Oh, that’s a nice way of putting it. Yeah, yeah, unsettling the facts.

Caleb: Yeah. I’ve never said that before, but that’s a good phrase, isn’t it? Yeah, and I think you’re right, you know, ‘essayer’, to try, to try out, to explore, to reflect. And I think it’s what we’re always doing with poems, really. We’re trying to discover and find out and collaborate. Hugo Williams has this thing of… this phrase I really like, of collaborating with the language, like all poetry is research. We’re collaborating with the language. And I think, and in this, I suppose, there’s things like the hyphens become really important.

Mark: Yeah, and you set those up, don’t you? So, for the listeners, you may not be able to hear this, but you’ve got, first of all, you read ‘table-spoon’, then ‘tablespoon’, all one word, and then ‘tablespoonful’, and you do quite a lot of this.

Caleb: Yeah, and then…

Mark: And then that sets up that extraordinary ending.

Caleb: Well, exactly. So, yeah, I think that’s also this, when you start to edit and then you say, ‘Okay, so this hyphen is actually super important,’ and then it presents, as you say, the challenge of, how do I read a hyphen, try and do it with little pauses and things like that? But because some types of spoon did become tablespoonful, that’s in the dictionary, and others did not. So there is a sense of, which things were close enough in our relationships to them over history? Which things were close enough, they lost the hyphen, and which were not, and which actually were still two words, like ‘love spoon’,for example, which is a Welsh object, the love spoon, the carved love spoons.

Mark: That is a real one, yeah.

Caleb: Yeah, but they’re not hyphenated and they’re certainly not a ‘lovespoon’, all one word. So, but I think these things… and then that becomes a kind of metaphor for the joining of people and relationships and distance or lifestyles.

Mark: And the lineages and…

Caleb: Lineages, yeah.

Mark: … breakages and joinings and… well, that’s wonderful.

Caleb: And as you mentioned, the last image of firing, the hyphen as a dart into the bullseye, or missile into the sun is this kind of stubborn rejection of the hyphen about a kind of joining and in a quite a forceful kind of togetherness in it, I suppose.

Mark: But it’s also, I mean, it’s an extraordinary pair of images to end on. It’s quite surreal. I mean, I guess the rest of it is surreal in another way, but I really didn’t expect the ending. Did you? I mean, at what point did you get to that ending?

Caleb: I think I didn’t expect it until I started… I don’t know. Sometimes when you’re drafting a poem, you start to approach something, and I feel like it’s a bit like going on a little… it can be a bit trippy almost, or a bit like you’re going slightly on a sort of vision quest, not to overstate it. But you do, you get into this kind of full body… it’s a very kind of bodily experience of writing and seeing where it takes you. And because this hyphen had taken on its own quality and its own materiality at that point, I think my mind then starts to think, or starts to kind of picture, what’s the hyphen doing?

And I dunno, there’s something about like a bullseye in darts, probably from growing up as well and playing darts in the British Legion Club and things like that with my nan. And then that kind of, the missile into the sun is this really like aggressive, futile, I dunno. It’s just… yeah.

Mark: Yeah, but am I being too Romantic in saying there could be a suggestion of transcendence, as well, about the sun?

Caleb: Yeah.

Mark: But on the one hand there’s futility in destruction in a missile, and, the sun being even more powerful and destructive, potentially, than the missile. But then, it’s, the sun has quite another lineage in poetry where it’s associated with more positive things. Even Philip Larkin wrote a positive poem about the sun.

Caleb: Which one is that? I’m trying to think now. Is it ‘Aubade’?

Mark: ‘Solar.’

Caleb: Oh. Oh, and there’s Sunspots, the Simon Barraclough book, which is amazing. Have you read that one?

Mark: Oh, yes, yes.

Caleb: Gorgeous, gorgeous poem. And he has the… this is a slight digression, but he has that beautiful ‘Jubilate Agno,’ is it? You know, the ‘For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffrey,’ but it’s about the sun, ‘For I Will Consider My Star Sol’.

Mark: Right. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Caleb: Oh, it’s a really, really gorgeous book. So, I think… and also, like, the sun is another cremator, right? You know, it’s another kind of oven to fire this hyphen into. And then, so it’s got all that potential, I suppose. I was just looking back at the original draft and the sun image wasn’t there, actually. It came on the second, you know, the later draft. And actually, looking at what I’d done in the first draft and then the redraft was a lot of taking away, as it always is, I think is, you know, stripping back, leaving what kind of counts.

Mark: Okay, Caleb. Thank you so much for the reading and the really interesting discussion today. And I think that thought of, you know, stripping back to what counts is very much on theme for the poem and bereavement. So, maybe we should listen to the poem again in the light of that. Thank you very much.

Caleb: Thanks for having me.


 

Two Tablespoonfuls

by Caleb Parkin

Two Tablespoonfuls

                                             she asked the Crem for. Or it might have been, two tablespoons, the former being an official measurement, rather than an informal tag or nickname: table-spoon, tablespoon, tablespoonful, Nanna, Mama. Table-spoons being part of the profusion of 18th-century spoons: mustard-spoon, salt-spoon, coffee-spoon, half-spoon, step-spoon.

She didn’t ask for the equivalent 29.6 millilitres: how do you measure that out from the cremulator? Can you ask whether it’s more demerara or caster? Just two tablespoons from the interred mass; a sprinkle of grey icing on an earthy chocolate cake. Pot a rose up on top, though, and watch it wither.

Not dessertspoons, soupspoons. Both lack gravity. No, she requires the best spoon / best-spoon / bestspoon. The Sunday roast spoon: two slices of pale meat, peas unpodded, carrots like worn-out suns. The favourite spoon.

Not three teaspoonfuls, the ten-a-penny, clink-in-the-cutlery-drawer kind used to stir sugar into wan tea. Two tablespoons – for serving or eating. Not half a fluid ounce, because this was not fluid, but more flour, self-raising.

Were they for a diamond, a pendant, to be mounted on a glinting sceptre? Or who’s to say they wouldn’t end up funnelled, bottled, nestled in the spice rack between Marjoram and Nutmeg?

It used to be that you carried your own spoon around to every table: your personal spoon. Not the stainless-steel municipal free-for-all of shared spoons, rows on rows of them, names taking and sloughing off hyphens: grapefruit-spoon, slotted spoon, sugar-spoon, love spoon.

Two tablespoons. The table and the spoon, joined for decades, centuries, by a hyphen, until they became a measure in themselves. Those two full spoons she took, then fired that hyphen – a dart into the bullseye, a missile into the sun.


 

The Coin

The Coin by Caleb Parkin is published by Broken Sleep Books.

The Coin book cover

The Coin is available from:

The publisher: Broken Sleep Books

Amazon: UK | US

Bookshop.org: US

 

Caleb Parkin

Caleb Parkin has published in The Guardian, The Rialto, The Poetry Review and was guest poet on BBC Radio 4’s Poetry Please. He won second prize in the National Poetry Competition 2016, first in the Winchester Poetry Prize 2017 and various other shortlists.

His debut collection, This Fruiting Body, is published by Nine Arches Press, and he’s published three pamphlets: Wasted Rainbow with tall-lighthouse; All the Cancelled Parties, his collected City Poet commissions; and most recently, The Coin out in October 2022 with Broken Sleep Books.

He tutors for Poetry Society, Poetry School, Cheltenham Festivals, First Story, Arvon, and holds an MSc in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes (CWTP). From 2023, he’s a practice-as-research PhD candidate at the University of Exeter, as part of RENEW Biodiversity.

CalebParkin.com 

A Mouthful of Air – the podcast

This is a transcript of an episode of A Mouthful of Air – a poetry podcast hosted by Mark McGuinness. New episodes are released every other Tuesday.

You can hear every episode of the podcast via Apple, Spotify, Google Podcasts or your favourite app.

You can have a full transcript of every new episode sent to you via email.

The music and soundscapes for the show are created by Javier Weyler. Sound production is by Breaking Waves and visual identity by Irene Hoffman.

A Mouthful of Air is produced by The 21st Century Creative, with support from Arts Council England via a National Lottery Project Grant.

Listen to the show

You can listen and subscribe to A Mouthful of Air on all the main podcast platforms

Listen on Apple Podcasts

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