At first glance, a reader might miss the “i.” And see terror, from the root for “fear,” which many people feel these days. But the French word terroir comes from terra, land, and refers to the quality an environment…
When I was a child, I wanted to be a librarian. Later, I thought I would enter the foreign service. After a BA in English, I had many jobs and attempts at more education, including a semester in law school, and then, in my thirties, entered a PhD in English program at the University of Maryland. I credit the reading and writing I did there—and my poetry critique group in Baltimore—with turning me into a flexible writer, one who revises. I published a first book of poems the same year I earned the PhD for a dissertation on the coquette figure in the novel. I argue that the coquette is a female artist without a genre, so she practices her art on people, which in US fiction leads to her being punished (often by dying), at least until Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country but even as late as Toni Morrison’s Sula. Since those years, I’ve used literary theory to analyze poetry (in a postmodern poetry handbook, Windows and Doors: A Poet Reads Literary Theory) and more recently I’ve relished the challenge of creative nonfiction. I read as widely as I could, learning as much from books I didn’t like as from those I admire. Writing that argues, implicitly or explicitly, draws me in. In many memoirs, I noticed missed opportunities to enlarge and look out, to link the personal with the political.
Ten years ago, I started researching parsley, while trying to write a foodoir, a memoir with recipes. After a few years of writing short pieces “about” food, I realized I had another book to write first, about identity and place, with the result that food appears only as an occasional motif in Terroir: Love, Out of Place, a book published in November 2020. One chapter focuses on spirituality and religion, ways of knowing and seeking. I mention the parsley I grow, and use it as symbol of resilience, but I don’t go into detail, for example by discussing the fairy tale or the properties of the soil. While Terroir: Love, Out of Place was being copyedited I returned to “The Terroir of Parsley” as a separate essay, infused with a sense of the high desert I’ve been living in for twenty-two years and now am thinking about leaving. My essay in CRAFT is a photograph from another angle, or a close-up through a different-colored lens. It might not be the last time I write about parsley.
NATASHA SAJÉ is the author of three books of poems; a postmodern poetry handbook (Windows and Doors: A Poet Reads Literary Theory, Michigan, 2014); a memoir-in-essays, Terroir: Love, Out of Place, published by Trinity UP last November; and a chapbook of poems from Diode Editions this summer. She teaches at Westminster College in Salt Lake City and in the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA Program.