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Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Oli Hazzard on Mina Gorji's 'Forbidden Fruit'

Forbidden Fruit by Mina Gorji

My first batch
of Poplar-cap, –
lightly fried,
on toast,
made me hesitate.
Dangers of the delicate:
the Deadly Web-cap
(easily confused
with Chantarelle)
or Avenging Angel
whose pale green cap
can kill,
the glycosides
in Bluebells
and in Buttercups
that blister skin
and make the heart
and hemlock
that’s so easy to mistake
for Parsley, Fennel,
Lady’s Lace.
from New Poetries V © Mina Gorji

In Milton’s Grand Style, Christopher Ricks famously remarked that the original meanings of words take us ‘back to a time when there were no infected words because there were no infected actions’; it was Satan, an avenging angel, who introduced speech that was ‘ambiguous and with double sense deluding’, undoing the bond by which, for Adam at least, actions accorded to words. Mina Gorji’s poem ‘Forbidden Fruit’ stages a scene in which these Miltonic pressures upon meaning and action return with real life-or-death consequences; for Gorji’s mushroom-muncher, like Eve (who ‘knew not eating death’), ambiguity can be fatal.

The danger is both frightening and exhilarating, as anything forbidden is, and this confusion of feelings is performed with brilliant subtlety throughout the poem. After the realisation of the ‘dangers of the delicate’ (a phrase to be savoured), the poem’s pattern of syncopated k sounds – its erratic heartbeat – quickens and amplifies; and it does so precisely because it knows it is being overheard; it is the sound of a mounting, self-perpetuating, semi-irrational fear of poisoning, combined with a thrill of morbid speculation.

Yet the unsettling sonic momentum generated as the poem progresses seems to be resolved in the two lines that conclude the poem: ‘Parsley, Fennel, / Lady’s lace.’ This is, of course, a false resolution, not just because of the potential duplicity of the plants’ appearance; ‘Lady’s Lace’ here has two sonic and semantic allegiances, one explicit, one hidden. The first is its association with the harmless and alluring parsley and fennel, and their shared soft consonance; the second is a concealed relationship with the repeated k sound of the lines that precede it, suggested by the root of lace – laqueus – which means, aptly, noose or snare, a meaning that, like the pronunciation, was softened and subsumed over time. In a crafty move, the allure of the assonance entices us with its ‘ornamental pattern’, only to ‘snare’ us with the latent k lying in wait behind it.

While the poem is partly about pleasure, it is also a warning against complacency – an assertion of the importance of precision in naming and recognition that is reminiscent, I think, of Marianne Moore. Yet ‘lady’s lace’ introduces further, more disturbing implications about certain associations the language has encoded within it, which are consciously and unconsciously perpetuated in our speech and actions: it reminds us that the ornamentation of the female body is never far, in (usually male-authored) literature, film, art etc., from the intent to entrap. The achievement of Gorji’s poem is in its remarkable suspension of resolution; it remains as ambiguous, as unknowable, as the mushrooms it catalogues - even after we have tasted it.


  1. It reminds me of my own poems, all 400 of them, now forever lost.. but here is a kindred spirit, a deep-seeing and beautiful young spirit.. may God protect and guide her. How we underestimate the value of such voices, who see Life as-it-happens and record what they see in only the vision that is so specially granted to them..

  2. Love the free and defined expression here!