Feeding the Muse: Wallace Stevens

Feeding the Muse: Wallace Stevens

“Slice the mango, Naaman, and dress it / With white wine, sugar and lime juice. Then bring it, / After we’ve drunk the Moselle, to the thickest shade / Of the garden.” —from “Certain Phenomena of Sound”

As we prepared for “The Hungry Muse,” our 29th annual Seminar, in January of 2011, we consulted the letters of the great writers of Key West’s past to learn what they ate in the island city and create a selection of historically plausible menus. Up this week: Wallace Stevens.

Had Wallace Stevens never visited Key West, his early poetry almost certainly would have lacked its distinctive feel of exotic experience. At home in Hartford, Connecticut, he was a strict New England businessman, ungiven to personal excess or displays of passion. In Key West, on the other hand, Stevens allowed himself eccentricities normally relegated to the page. He mailed unusual tropical fruits home to his wife, Elsie, and wrote of drinking Scotch in his pajamas in the moonlight beneath the palm trees. He enjoyed green coconut ice cream, mangoes, and cocktails. Over-enthusiasm for the latter spoiled one dinner with Robert Frost, and led to an ill-planned assault on Ernest Hemingway, a notoriously talented fighter. Home again in Hartford, Stevens could find his balance: “Of course I don’t drink, you know; I have been on the wagon ever since I came back from Key West, very largely because I did not have sense enough to go on before I went.”

Like Stevens’s personality, this menu may at first seem unforgiving. But give the Montrachet a chance to open up, and by dessert you will find yourself overwhelmed, enriched, and nourished.

“If there be something more to love, amen.”

COCKTAILS: Gin-based. Have one too many. “There are no ladies here, so one can do as one pleases.”

SOUP: Conch Chowder, “a thing in which Robert Frost is interested.”

FIRST COURSE: Wild doves on toast. “I can’t say they exceed anything else I ever tasted.”

WINE: Montrachet.

MAIN COURSE: Judge Arthur Powell’s catch of the day: Grilled snapper, whole. “Tomorrow several of the crowd are going out in boats for the big fish but I do not intend to go along. One day is enough.”

DESSERT: For the author of “The Emperor of Ice Cream,” this is obviously the main course. “Let be be finale of seem.”

1. Sapodillas, spooned from the shell.

2. Fresh mangoes, sliced and dressed with white wine, sugar, and lime juice.

3. Green coconut milk ice cream


COFFEE: Cuban coffee, black.

NIGHT CAP: Havana cigarettes and Scotch. To be taken in the moonlight under the palm trees in pyjamas.

MORNING AFTER: To soothe the jangled nerves of last night’s revolutionist: fresh sparkling orangeade.

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