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Sunday Column: Poetry in 140 characters or fewer

Ruth Reichl in 1999 (AJC archive)

Ruth Reichl in 1999 (AJC archive)

In this week’s Sunday Column I consider the singular Tweeting style of former Gourmet magazine editor Ruth Reichl.

Tweets Show Poetic Taste

Over the past few weeks, the food Twitterati have been paying rapt attention to a new voice belonging to one “Ruth Bourdain” (@ruthbourdain). This is not a real person but a mash-up of Ruth Reichl — the former New York Times restaurant critic and editor of now-shuttered Gourmet magazine — and Anthony Bourdain, the book author and “No Reservations” host. Even the freaky avatar frames Bourdain’s perma-scowl in Reichl’s flowing dark hair.

Essentially this poster takes Reichl’s spare, evocative, upbeat snippets of yumminess (posted as @ruthreichl) and frames them in Bourdain’s profane sarcasm. Reichl tweets, “Good night. Hot kimchi, slicked with chiles. Smoky, sweet grilled beef in crisp lettuce. Sake. Slow stroll home down electric streets.”

“Ruth Bourdain” counters: “Bad night. Hot kimchi slicked w/chiles = spicarrhea. Smoking beef in lettuce ZigZags laced w/Sake didn’t help. Streets electrified by ConEd.”

You get the idea.

Much of this is inside baseball, but it resonates with anyone who reads Ruth Reichl’s indelible tweets. Many of her 28,000-some followers have a strong opinion, and I’ve heard more than a few express exasperation with her constant delight in everything she eats. I have messed with Ruth tweets often enough in texts and e-mails to friends that several people have asked if I was Ruth Bourdain. (For the record, no. My style would be much more “Ruth Roseannadanna” if I ever undertook such an activity.)

Yet I suspect that some people who claim to hate Reichl’s Twitter stylings secretly love them, and those who love them have probably thought she should bring it down a notch now and again.

What riles people? Well, Reichl always makes her food sound so perfectly homey, so perfectly urbane, so perfectly satisfying, but never, say, like greasy Chinese takeout eaten in front of an open fridge. She presents a world where all crusts shatter into buttery shards and all citrus perfumes your fingers with promise. Her food travels directly from piehole to soul.

Consider a few choice nuggets:

“Woke with the sweet scent of last night’s pork chop on my fingers. A lovely bone — tender, meaty, moist.”

“Grating cheddar. Shredding scallions. Slicing shallots. Tangled onto buttered bread, melted into crisp-edged puddle.”

“Avocados — soft, gentle, butter-rich. Scatter of onion, tiny dice of jalapeno, lashings of lime and shower of salt. Seductive little lunch.”

New York Times food writer Kim Severson describes these tiny missives as “haiku-like, ” while Bourdain jokingly refers to the “Tao of Ruth.”

Both are, in fact, on to something. What Reichl writes within the 140-character limit of Twitter is verse, not prose. A smart, famous food writer without a permanent gig these days, she knows that her main format for interacting with fans and readers is through Twitter. So she cuts right to the heart — the poetry — of cooking, dining, eating and making a place for good food in her life.

She cuts out the unnecessary parts of speech: no personal pronouns, no predicate verbs; she jumps right into the action. Her meter rocks back and forth, pausing after every few beats. The picture fills in — a tiny cameo of gastronomy.

Sure, she could tweet the obvious. Among the examples above are (I think) a grilled cheese sandwich and bowl of guacamole. But the process is what interests her, excites her. She makes a 10-minute lunch sound like a nooner.

Reichl is interested in that moment where food and appetite meet in a sensation of being alive. She isn’t afraid to sound a little, well, Ruth-like as she reaches for words that have the right sibilant sound or long vowel. What she wants to say on Twitter can only be expressed in verse.

I may make fun of Reichl’s sometimes precious musings from time to time, but I think she’s exploring a new kind of food writing.

3 comments Add your comment

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by John Kessler. John Kessler said: Sunday Column: Poetry in 140 characters or fewer http://bit.ly/a2t1Z1 [...]

jimmy

March 29th, 2010
9:01 am

Nice thoughts John…I do groan on occasion, but I do look forward to reading her tweets and she’s established a very distinct twitter style.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by John . John said: Sunday Column: Poetry in 140 characters or fewer | Food and More …: So she cuts right to the heart — the poetry … http://bit.ly/dpSnWC [...]