Over the past few years, I’ve featured a few prompts that deal with food poems and ways to “cook up” some exciting poetry based on food. On the subject of food poems, I was recently honored with inclusion in a Black Lawrence Press book titled Feast: Poetry & Recipes for a Full Seating at Dinner edited by Diane Goettel and Anneli Matheson. Feast is an amazing collection that’s both a poetry anthology and a cookbook—with poems and recipes to nourish body, mind, and spirit.
I’ve already gifted friends with copies and recommend the book to all as a perfect any-time or holiday gift. And ... with the winter holiday season coming along soon, I hope you’ll consider Feast for the poets and cooks on your gift-giving lists. It’s a lot of book for a very affordable price. You can order:
Directly from Black Lawrence Press (PayPal is accepted)
In honor of Feast and Black Lawrence Press, I invite you to “dig in” and write a poem about a food—but wait, you’re going to need some “gravy!” For this poem, the challenge is to use a food item (or food in general) to bring forward a meaning that’s deeper than a simple meal or nosh. In other words, create a second meaning in your poem that takes the content from food to something “other.” You’re going to start with food as your subject but then you’ll need to give your poem its head, some wiggle room, an opportunity to extend its subject beyond the obvious—look for layers of meaning and make your poem a feast of its own!
1. Think of a food that you especially like or intensely dislike.
2. Think about that food in terms of your senses: what it looks like (sight—color, size), what its texture is (touch—smooth, rough), its fragrance (smell—flowery, earthy, astringent), its flavor (taste—sweet, sour, spicy), its noise associations (sound—music, a voice).
3. What emotional connections does that food have for you? Do you associate it with a happy or unhappy experience? Does thinking of that food call up certain memories of people you know or have known?
4. What is it about this food that makes it more than something edible?
5. Alternatively, instead of basing your poem on a single food item, you may choose to use food in general as an extended metaphor in your poem
1. Try to write in the active, not the passive, voice. To do that, it can be helpful to remove “ing” endings and to write in the present tense (this will also create a greater sense of immediacy).
2. Be on the lookout for prepositional phrases that you might remove (articles & conjunctions too).
3. The great author Mark Twain once wrote, “When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when close together. They give strength when they are wide apart.” This is especially true in poetry. So ... as you work on a poem, think about adjectives and which ones your poem can live without. (Often the concept is already in the noun, and you don’t need a lot of adjectives to convey your meaning.)
4. Avoid clichés (and, while you’re at it, stay away from abstractions and sentimentality).
5. Show, don’t tell—through striking imagery, a strong emotional center, and an integrated whole of language, form and meaning.
6. Challenge the ordinary, connect, reveal, surprise! And … remember that a poem should mean more than the words it contains. With that in mind, push past your surface subject until you find your poem’s second, deeper subject.
7. Create a new resonance for your readers, a lit spark that doesn’t go out when the poem is “over.”
(My poem from Feast, which begins with blueberries and moves into memories of a special family relationship (BTW, the recipe that goes with the poem is for Bluemisu—blueberry tiramisu—but you’ll have to order a copy of the book for the details).
Blueberries as big as the end of your thumb,
Real sky-blue, and heavy, and ready to drum
In the cavernous pail of the first one to come!
– Robert Frost, from “Blueberries”
Imagine the “Mona Lisa” with blueberry eyes;
Vincent Van Gogh’s “Blueberry Night;” imagine
Vermeer’s “Girl with a Blueberry Earring” and
Gainsborough’s “Blueberry Boy.” Imagine
blueberries, one at a time, between stained fingers—
sugary, tart—large or small (not all created equal).
Full in the sun, even their shadows are warm:
silvery patina, bluer than blue sky, bluer than blue.
First the pop and then pulp between your teeth.
Listen to the birds (sparrows, chickadees)—blue
fruit sweet in their beaks. Oh, briarless bush! Bluest
fruit. No core, no seeds. Nothing ever to pit or peel.
Definitely not the forbidden fruit, no Eve down on
her knees—never the cost of paradise. Blueberry
muffins, pancakes, wine! Highbush and low—blue
on the crest of Blueberry Hill—and years ago, my
mother mixing the dough for blueberry pies, the
rolling pin round in her hands (our dog asleep
on the kitchen stair), my father at the table, and
me on his lap, close in the curve of his arm.
(From Feast: Poetry & Recipes for a Full Seating at Dinner, Black Lawrence Press, Copyright © 2015 by Black Lawrence Press, reprinted by permission from the publisher.)