Unearthed, Ruth Taaffe

Dempsey & Windle, 2021          £8.00

My vegetable love

Two utterly delicious poems about vegetables are my favourites in this debut pamphlet from Ruth Taaffe.

The potato and beetroot are quite literally ‘Unearthed’, as the title of the pamphlet and poem featuring the former suggest, with the poet elevating these humble vegetables to the ranks of Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘Valentine’ onion.

Who would have thought an uprooted cluster of spuds could be likened to skeletal remains? But indeed, the comparison works extraordinarily well, as Taaffe draws upon a series of startling images and in doing so, captivates this reader:

they’re waxing
like moons nudging out the belly of the earth
with elbows, knee joints, hip bones.

The root nest emerges from soil, jointed and ghostly white. The poet goes on to describe ‘hands that sift for a memory / of an unheld child’ as the potatoes are revealed:

The birth day brings forth
a colony of princes crowned and white
as a cluster of skulls. Bone-rounded flint-
chiselled, sculpted like eggs by the ground.

I love this imagery, as the writer expounds on the history and greatness of this modest vegetable: ‘the ringing bones of ancestors / born of the land from the manifold soil.’

The poet also emphasises nobility in ‘Beetroot’. With ‘meat’ that has the ‘dense taste of grit and moss’, ‘a hunted heart, large in the palm / of a hand. You are a blood blister of the earth.’

There is darkness here too. The beetroot is a ‘Blasted ember / from the furnace of despair’:

Boiled and rolled from pan to bowl,
weighty as a bloodied fist. Slippery as wine
and glassy as a toffee apple,
you shine

on the knife that slices your rubies

I like this revealing of the vegetable as sinister and beautiful, and find the observation and imagination here transformative, entrancing.

This poet has unearthed many more delights in this pamphlet; I recommend you delve deeper yourself to discover what else awaits.

Vic Pickup