Today I happened to pass one of my favorite spots, Myzel’s Chocolates—a small, idiosyncratic shop in midtown Manhattan, with a world of confections. For the licorice lover—that strange, fierce, embattled tribe—the store is a must. Myzel’s has the best licorice selection in the city: salty, sweet, terrier-shaped, boat-shaped, cute, creepy, hard, soft. “Licorice of the world,” they advertise. “Over a hundred different kinds.” And today a sign in front of the door read: NATIONAL LICORICE WEEK.
I can’t pretend to be part of the licorice cult; my interest begins and ends with the black jelly bean, or maybe the sort of jelly-filled mint you get at the register at diners. I’m too babyish, too simplistic for the mysteries of licorice. Licorice is ancient, healing, forbidding. People who truly fiend for licorice (unlike people who love stale Peeps) are always intriguing, not least because it turns their teeth a strange color.
So in honor of National Licorice Week—which was, it turns out, sometime last month; I guess Myzel’s is really milking it—I turn not to the genuine article but to poetry about it. John Betjeman recorded this version of “The Licorice Fields at Pontefract” as a track on his album Late Flowering Love, from 1974. And it sounds like ’74: it’s a campy novelty item, yes, and at times the poet seems unable to keep up with the driving beat or the exuberant horns behind him. But bear with me. The tongue-in-cheek pastoral motif and sing-song rhythms of “The Licorice Fields” make a certain sense when they’re set to music that evokes a Yorkshire fair.
Okay, it’s ridiculous. For a more dignified version, listen here.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.