prisoner of books, possessions—Marcel Marceau in my ear—treasures may take over every room—invade me like a big wave—suffocate, drown, dissolve—the soul, sugar in egg—a hardened glaze that cracks the mouth—

With some text drawn from:

Harding, Lesley and Morgan, Kendrah, Mirka & Georges: a culinary affair, Miegunyah Press: Carlton, Victoria, 2018.

Mora, Mirka, Love and clutter (with photography by Earl Carter), Viking: Camberwell, Vic. 2003.

Proust, Marcel, Remembrance of Things Past: Volume 1, Swann’s Way, trans. C. K. Scott Moncrieff. Project Gutenberg, May 1, 2023, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/7178/7178-h/7178-h.htm (and the original French, À La Recherche du Temps Perdu, Tome I: Du Côté de Chez Swann, August 13, 2021, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/2650/2650-h/2650-h.htm).

Note:

This poem began with my opening the book Mirka & Georges: A Culinary Affair, by Lesley Harding and Kendrah Morgan, about the lives of Mirka and Georges Mora, their association with the artworld of mid-twentieth-century Melbourne and their contributions to the city’s culinary scene through the cafés and restaurants they established. The book contains numerous recipes from the menus of these restaurants. I was drawn to Mirka’s recipe for ‘madeleines’—little cakes baked in seashell moulds to give them their characteristic shape. I baked these cakes from this recipe, though burnt my first batch, and the second was a bit dry, though they did have a nice lemon tang and sugary crust! I was reminded of all the baking I did as a kid, which I approached with an odd fervour, chasing the pleasure of delivering a well-risen cake or deliciously flavoursome slice to a hungry audience.

Reading up on the madeleine took me back through Proust’s infamous fictional rendering of involuntary memory, and also to the uncertain origins of this cake at the hands of several possible historical Madeleines. These details got me thinking about the vessels that ‘carry’ memory and history—indeed, Mirka credits her personal ‘clutter’ (her many collected books, objects, tools, toys and more) as holding many of her memories. But as my notes gathered apace, and the poem emerged, I also considered how new histories might form from unlikely connections between historical minutiae. Curiously, Madeleine was also Mirka’s middle name, given to her after the name of a kind and pretty nurse who was present at her birth. There seemed to be numerous M/madeleines (and Marcels, for that matter) criss-crossing the pages of my notes, asking to be choreographed into a poem!

I am endlessly fascinated with what a poem might ‘do’ in the world when it makes contact with a reader. By including recipe notes within the poem, I hope that readers might further explore how a poem can nourish, delight, generate activity, forge new memories in other minds.


Jessica L Wilkinson reads 'Madeleine'