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Poetry on the Menu

April is National Poetry Month (it's also International Cesarean Awareness Month and School Library Media Month, but I couldn't find the food angles on those), and the literary food journal Alimentum is celebrating by distributing "menupoems" to participating restaurants in New York and a smatterin...

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An example of some less refined food poetry (Courtesy Flickr user DML East Branch)


April is National Poetry Month (it's also International Cesarean Awareness Month and School Library Media Month, but I couldn't find the food angles on those), and the literary food journal Alimentum is celebrating by distributing "menupoems" to participating restaurants in New York and a smattering of other cities.

This is the second year in a row the journal has compiled a broadside of food-related poems, designed to look like a menu. Last year's menu included a translation of a Pablo Neruda poem called "From The Great Tablecloth," a poem by Doug Magee called "Praline To A Kiss," and several by the "menupoem inventor," Esther Cohen, including "Posthumous Hummus" and "He Only Wants," which starts (PDF):
he only wants caesar salad with chicken although there are occasions, rare enough, where he will order shrimp
I tried to think of other food poems, and two quite different ones came immediately to mind. First, the simple yet evocative "This is just to say" by the American poet William Carlos Williams, which I learned 20 years ago in a college introduction to creative writing course. It begins:
I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox
The other poem, dissimilar in both style and intent, is Robert Burns's "Address to a Haggis." Whereas Williams paints a quiet domestic portrait, Burns raises his homeland's humble national dish to heroic status, a proud symbol of Scottish identity. Here's but a nibble:
Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o' the puddin-race! Aboon them a' ye tak your place, Painch, tripe, or thairm: Weel are ye wordy o' a grace As lang's my arm
Very loosely translated, that means, "you, haggis, are one gorgeous, noble ball of innards." The poem in its entirety, along with a more thorough translation, is provided by the World Burns Club.

Kim O'Donnel at A Mighty Appetite also served up a few tasty food poems on her blog last year, including two by a former New Hampshire poet laureate, the late Jane Kenyon.

Do you have a favorite food poem, or has food ever moved you to pen verse?
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About Lisa Bramen
Lisa Bramen

Lisa Bramen was a frequent contributor to Smithsonian.com's Food and Think blog. She is based in northern New York and is also an associate editor at Adirondack Life magazine.

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