Friday, June 16, 2006

Skate update, and more on poetry reviewing

Since my first triumphant experience with skate wings in black butter, back in April, I tried cooking it again and was appalled by a penetrating ammonia odour coming from the fish. What was going on? Had I added too much vinegar, causing some toxic reaction? Delia mentioned nothing about this possibility in the book I was using for my recipe.

So I did a little further research and here's what I found. Apparently skate, like shark, can become contaminated by the urea both species carry in their skin. Not all pieces of skate will have this: the ammonia odour comes from poor handling when it's first caught and processed, and you should be able to smell it in the raw fish. Ideally you should sniff the fish before you buy it - impossible to do through a grocery store's shrink-wrapped packaging of course. Better to make your purchase through a fishmonger if you can find one; and of course they'll be least likely to sell you improperly prepared fish, so safer all round. (I guess this would be more of our self-inflicted damage from allowing mass-procurement supermarkets to take over food handling from knowledgeable specialists.) However, if you do find yourself with an ammonia-scented morsel, you can rescue the day by soaking it in lemon-infused water for 30 minutes to remove the smell (and taste). I guess that's one more reason skate is a sadly neglected fish... but try it anyway.

After discussion about the tone of poetry reviewing in Canada, I came across some interesting reading from the archives of Chicago's venerable Poetry Magazine where they once had a major fisticuffs over poetry reviewing. Plus ca change..



Blogger Tracy Hamon said...

Thanks Rhona. Although I needed to have the dictionary open for the review, I found it quite interesting, as well as the editor's letter. The review read, in its own unique way, like a prose poem, but maybe that was part of the critique?

6:46 p.m.  
Blogger Rhona McAdam said...

Yeah, that reviewer was not afraid of a latinate word or two, was he? Still, you do get the sense he'd read the book he was reviewing, which isn't always clear in some of the reviews I've seen.

10:35 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem of dead metaphor or cliché is always urgent in writing poetry. But this urgency can create undesirable side effects. It can encourage the use of recherché metaphor that is fresh but not defining or even particularly significant in implication. Also, it can cause you to reject a good line that only seems a suggestion of dead metaphor or cliché because it contains one of those hard-to-handle big messy words such as "love." One of the best pieces of advice I've ever been given on this topic came from an English teacher, way back when, who said that sometimes the writer is cornered by the need for a cliché and the best way to deal with that is to be as straightforward and unemphatic about the unhappy situation as you can. Love your site!


5:38 p.m.  
Blogger Rhona McAdam said...

Why thank you, highbrow. I would have loved to quote Donald Hall's piece on dead metaphors in its (considerable) entirety because he made so many interesting observations. But I think he would agree with your English teacher, as he ended his article saying "Of course, the ways of failure are infinite. A poem without a single dead metaphor will most likely be wretched anyway."

5:53 p.m.  

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