I thought it would be nice to start the new year with a poetry reading recommendation! During my brief visit to Chicago in September, I met poet Eleanore Tisch and got a copy of The Salad Box Poems as well as her other chapbook, Water : Write : Wave. Both are well worth any reader’s time, but I’d like to focus on the former.
The Salad Box Poems take the quotidian, throw-away object of the disposable salad box and run with it: the Box does not just contain, temporarily, food, it isn’t just made of crude oil and will outlive any of us on a landfill.
Again and again, the Box and the people who use it trade places: “the Salad Box throws me away” explains the speaker early on, and “we put in the Salad Box what the / Salad Box would put in us if / it had thumbs.”
The Boox gains its own voice and becomes a way of talking about social inequality, discrimination against speakers of ‘foreign’ languages, even about the soul, when the Salad Box is the one who has the answer to the repeated question, “what does it mean / to be clean?”:
“to be clean is to be / emptied and / awaiting the next / pour into”, among other things, and “to exist fully, / always, / all / at / once.”
Vice versa, “this is what it means / to be dirty // to never bury. // to hurry up and / get over it. / to insist that every / individual is responsible / for healing only / themselves.”
Clearly, this simple object has outgrown the purpose it was designed for. It speaks as a wise woman, an oracle, – “how has our Salad Box grown / into a shape with ganglia?” asks the speaker just over half-way through the chapbook. And then, this: “who told us / she was disposable / (and why did we believe him) / in the first place?”
The Salad Box’s idea of being clean is not one of single use, but of continued purpose, which makes sense seeing that plastic is such a durable material. It takes centuries to decompose. And the pronouns here – in case you missed them: the Box is not an ‘it’ but a she, the whoever: he. Why did he tell us she could (should) be thrown away? Why did we believe him?
In another turn, the speaker remarks that we risk speaking as a disposable object: “to speak / as a Citizen / instead of a Salad Box / we must remember / how it felt / before / […] the erosion of all things / that were kinda okay / about the Country”
In the end, is the Salad Box an oracle, part of our sisterhood, a preview of what becomes of us?
Tisch’s poetry is accessible and fun to read – she clearly enjoys playing with words. Just check out the sound-play on page 5, where the sibilants and hard sounds of “my smokestack, / my pink pocketbook lipstick” are echoed in the next stanza’s “slackjaw” and “listen pal”.
The poems don’t have individual titles, they are in numbered sections which count down and up again. To me, this reads as an invitation to start anywhere, to play with the order of the pieces.
You will find a similar playfulness of language in Tisch’s other chapbook, Water : Write : Wave, which focuses on water as a central image. If any of this makes you curious, go get a hold of a copy of Tisch’s work and start 2020 reading some good poetry!
The Salad Box Poems is available here: https://bunkysbooks.com/products/salad-box-poems-by-eleanore-tisch
Water : Write : Wave is available here: https://dulcetshop.myshopify.com/products/water-write-wave-eleanor-tisch
If you’re looking for more short poetry books to read, here are some other chapbook reviews I’ve written:
- Christina Rothenbeck‘s Girls in Art
- Elizabeth Wolf’s Did You Know?
- Taylor Mali’s The Whetting Stone
- Roz Kaveney’s Dialectic of the Flesh