My first taste was unintended. Found by chance one evening in Istanbul, the pomegranate’s seeds had been crushed with orange juice. I took a train to Antalya a week later, by which time I was hooked and sought them out: on small street-corner fruit stands, the globed fruits were stacked in anticipation. Money changed hands and the metal arm was pulled down quick and hard. Dashes of deep-red hit the sides of the glass like milk from a cow.

How to cut a pomegranate - photo

Radio 3’s Free Thinking devoted this year’s Valentine’s Day episode to love and literature. I arrived at Old Broadcasting House on Portland Place with Imtiaz Dharker’s luscious poem, ‘How to Cut a Pomegranate,’ slipped in my pocket. There, I joined writers and love experts, Lavinia Greenlaw, Andrew McMillan and Laura Mucha, in conversation with Anne McElvoy.

The show’s producer, Fiona McLean, had asked us ahead of the recording to think of an image which best summed up the idea of love. I made my choice in an instant: there is no fruit so sensual nor so challenging as a pomegranate. As Dharker says:

‘Never cut a pomegranate
through the heart. It will weep blood.’

At the very end of Slack-Tide, Elizabeth tends to her own broken heart by saying yes to a friend’s invitation to fly a kite, and to another’s, to listen to jazz and mix some Cosmopolitans. First, though, she goes out to buy a pomegranate, resolving to: ‘take out the seeds, and eat them slowly.’

If she’s careful, and patient, she’ll find that Dharker is right:

‘Separate one crystal.
Hold it up to catch the light.
Inside is a whole universe.’