Sam Sax is a 2015 NEA Fellow and finalist for The Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. He’s a poetry Fellow at The Michener Center for Writers where he serves as the Editor-in-chief of Bat City Review. He’s the two time Bay Area Grand Slam Champion and author of the chapbooks, A Guide to Undressing Your Monsters (Button Poetry, 2014), sad boy / detective (Black Lawrence Press, 2015), and All The Rage (SRP, 2016). His poems are forthcoming in The Beloit Poetry Journal, Best New Poets, Boston Review, Indiana Review, Pleiades, New England Review, Poetry Magazine, and other journals.
Here, he talks about dreams of Thai chicken wings, ice pops, and giving one’s self entirely to food.
On his all-time favorite meal:
The first dish that comes to my mind, which I suppose means something, is the chicken wings marinated in fish sauce & sugar at a fancyish Thai place in Portland, Oregon named pok pok, perhaps more so than the wings themselves is how I came to them.
I was on a yearlong poetry tour with a group of roustabouts & riffraff named The Unreal; we were living in a turquoise ‘97 Saturn & traversing the country performing poems. Since we were living entirely off the money we made at these shows our meals mostly consisted of the kindness of strangers [thank you!!] and splitting two five-dollar foot-long sandwiches between the four of us. At a Subway in Akron, Ohio, I saw a Food Network show that showed some chicken wings at a newish restaurant on the west coast & knew they would one day be mine. I told the group that when we get to Portland, in four months, we were going to those damned wings. I dreamed of this chicken from Akron across Indiana & Idaho all the way to the western shore of the great state of Oregon.
When we finally arrived months later, we’d lost two members and several pounds. The two of us sat down & I ordered two servings of wings (priced at 15 dollars a plate) and I’ve got to tell you, they were like nothing I’d eaten in my life. I’d almost rather not go on describing the experience for fear of diminishing it with something common as language, but let me say it was far grander than even the television let on.
On his food quirks:
Garlic & spinach belong in everything. Often these are the only two items I’ll get at the grocery store. I love the grocery store. I can spend hours combing the aisles and dreaming of what’s possible. And even in my most wild dreaming, I’ll mostly just return with these two items… then grow a bit sad at how limited my refrigerator is compared to the excess of the supermarket.
On eating breakfast on the porch:
I never thought I’d be a person much interested in birds. In my head birds were the province of the boring who had nothing to do but attend to those odd winged descendants of dinosaurs. My ornithological aversion drastically changed somewhere in my late twenties. Each morning I eat some yogurt and blueberries and granola on my porch with a cup of coffee.
For some reason Austin’s filled with weird small green parrots & the most unholy variant of bird, the treacherous grackle. On my first day in Austin I watched a grackle pluck out another grackle’s eye over some discarded Chinese take out, when a grackle sings it sounds like a door opening into unknowable terror. In the morning there are parrots and cardinals and sparrows hanging there in the branches and the way the sun filters through the leaves and the birds wings’ it even makes the grackle beautiful, just for that moment.
On snacking while writing:
I down coffee. Lots of coffee. I don’t usually snack while writing. Hunger finds me and I try to use it as a force to push the writing further. Often I’ll look up in a panic after obsessing for several hours over the placement of a comma and realize my body needs some kind of sustenance. I stopped smoking and doing drugs and drinking two years ago and poems and food are still two places where I can get my pleasure. How I prefer to eat is giving myself over to entirely to the food, head-butting a cheese steak, making love to a cantaloupe. When I attend to both practices properly (food and poetry) there’s no room for anything else in the world.
On his go-to late-night snack:
When I was younger I could eat a pint of ice-cream each evening no problem. This was also when I was smoking copious amounts of marijuana. Now, in my more sober snackings, I’ve turned to ice pops, the kind that say they’re a good source of vitamin C, that have “real” fruit chunks inside the frozen bar. Each time I release one I feel like I’ve really accomplished something.
On his final meal:
What an impossible question. I’d rather not know when the end comes. I think I’d like to treat all my meals from now on as my last one and that extends to the company I keep.