Somehow, this very American poetry collection centred on a hideous sounding pork offal dish called “liver mush” may well be the best and most interesting – certainly the most original – poetry collection I’ve read all POETRY MONTH.
As someone who has been vegetarian (and increasingly vegan) for almost two decades, mushed-up pork offcuts stirred with onion and sage that is then baked and fried isn’t something that sounds appealing to me as a foodstuff.
However, as someone with a dog who I ensure has a healthy and balanced dog diet, mushed up meat with vegetables in is something I see every single day of my life.
So, though I don’t want to eat meat – and deep down believe that the proprietors of abattoirs and meat farms should be executed (I don’t approve of prisons and understand that forgiveness is for the weak) for crimes against life – I’m able to accept that meat is something that exists and something that humans and other animals consume on a daily basis.
I don’t think I know anyone else anymore who doesn’t eat meat, though tbf, I don’t really know anyone anymore, and that’s the way I like it. I mean, maybe I’d like to have more friends, but I’d like them to be, y’know, perfect friends, and no one in this world is perfect, are they(?), and imperfection is pretty boring… well, not boring just fucking quotidian. People are never as perfect as books, right(?), so why waste time being disappointed by something that is imperfect when I can easily find a flawless literary experience???
So, yes, what I’m saying is that Liver Mush is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, and though it seems to be at its opening a “novelty book” about an old-school meat product, it ends up becoming a nuanced, beautiful and deeply emotional text about family, romance, regrets, growing up, ageing, mental illness, and learning and making peace with one’s place in the world.
Despite being called Liver Mush and despite every piece in this book (it’s 90% poetry, 10% prose) discussing Liver Mush either directly as a food or as a metaphor for an impressively diverse array of ideas and objects, this is far from a one-note text.
Expecting this to be a light, funny, book along the lines of 100 Haikus about Haemorrhoid Cream or 100 Haikus About Boris Becker’s Breakfast, and though there is humour in here, Irvin’s writing is far more evocative and meaningful than I was prepared for.
This is proper literature, using liver mush as a symbol and signifier of Irvin’s working class childhood, and the contrast between this and a more cosmopolitan (i.e. less liver mushy) adulthood.
When the narrator’s long-term partner finally embraces liver mush and begins to care about it as much as the narratorial voice does, it’s a genuinely moving moment and an example of unexpectedly brilliant romantic writing.
Some of my favourite moments:
- from ‘Everything You Need To Know About Liver Mush’: “it’s parts of a pig and corn meal and some other shit / it’s a little grey block of meat wrapped in plastic / you can fry it or eat it cold / it’s a funny word”
- from ‘The Other Shit’: “liver mush and scrapple are parts of a pig and corn meal and some other shit […] the other shit is spices / like pepper and salt / and sometimes red pepper / but the spice that matters most is sage”
- from ‘Prayer’: “goodnight well of endless liver mush / I welcome your bounty come morn”
- from ‘www dot liver mush dot com’: “I want access to liver mush at all hours of the day / even when I’m full […] I want a liver mush website […] I just want to scroll liver mush dot come / every morning / and fall asleep bleary-eyed waiting for liver mush dot come to refresh”
- from ‘T-Shirt That Cures Depression’: “every time I buy anything I hope it cures my depression […] I have books I haven’t read I bought to cure my depression / I have art I haven’t hung up I bought to cure my depression / I have a bike I don’t ride I bought to cure my depression / I have hats and shoes and jackets and sunglasses I don’t wear that I bought to cure my depression”
- from ‘There Was Limited Time’: “we only had 30 minutes / I talked about exercise / how much coffee I drank / I told the doctor / “wednesday I cried 4 hours straight / “most days I can’t get out of bed / “the effort to care physically hurts” / I didn’t mention liver mush / it felt like too cruel a joke”
- from ‘I’m Tired Of It Too’: “I hallucinate liver mush over everything”
- from ‘The Last Poem’: “I’m looking forward to / a future where I can / say with complete sincerity / liver mush saved my life”
- from ‘the ‘Vegan Liver Mush Recipe’: “People eat what they can. They love what can love them back.”
The book ends with a long – because it’s digressive and discursive – recipe for vegan liver mush, which is engaging and interactive, and – given the level of detail in the recipe and the passion with which Irvin describes it (as well as the willingness to adapt it to alternative dietary traditions,) – left me feeling keen to mix some up myself. (I haven’t yet – I’ll post a follow-up if I ever do!) I like to cook and to eat, and I enjoy beautiful poetry.
I like eating things that taste good and reading things that read good.
Liver Mush is unexpectedly brilliant. It takes its simple-seeming premise and goes so far beyond what a collection of poetry about food could be, and becomes explorative, evocative, and ultimately transformative writing.
This is the kind of book that reminds me why poetry is the greatest, stretchiest, form of literature we have. I highly fucking recommend this.
Order details via Back Patio Press here.
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Hell yeah, that book rules
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