WITS Voices: Eating Poetry

By Kathleen Flenniken, WITS Writer-in-Residence


A friend of a friend was looking for a poem her fifth-grade son could memorize for a class project. The question came to me and I made a couple of suggestions. The boy chose “Eating Poetry” by Mark Strand. His mother sent a photo of him studying the poem with his dog.  That got me thinking: Strand’s classic poem is perfect for fifth graders—fun, a little weird, unpredictable, wild.  And perfect for imitation.

Eating Poetry, by Mark Strand

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

The librarian does not believe what she sees.
Her eyes are sad
and she walks with her hands in her dress.

The poems are gone.
The light is dim.
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.

Their eyeballs roll,
their blond legs burn like brush.
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.

She does not understand.
When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
she screams.

I am a new man.
I snarl at her and bark.
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.

When my fifth grade classes talked (and laughed) about this poem, they immediately understood how it might be imitated, and how they could eat any number of things. I sometimes like to offer lists of possibilities to elementary students, so we went through some possible subjects they could “eat.” Then we discussed the form:

  • First, find a subject. Your title:  Eating ________.
  • What are you chewing on/what runs from the corners of your mouth/ what can you taste? REMEMBER: This is not literal. You don’t eat a dog and taste blood and bones (unless they’re Milk Bones?)  If you’re eating snow, you don’t have water in your mouth. Maybe you taste rooftops and curlicues of smoke coming out of a smokestack?
  • Who is watching you eat? How do they respond?  Make it unexpected. Trust yourself and try to be a little off-the wall.
  • What happens next? Again, it doesn’t need to make sense. None of this is possible so anything is possible.
  • Make images.
  • Use your senses.
  • Use metaphors and similes.

I was delighted by the level of imagination and word choice in these poems—they have lots of energy and precision. Perhaps the best part: their slightly wicked glee. . .

 

Eating Woods, by Jonah

I taste the
bark of a
lumberjack’s
axe and
the smooth
crisp taste of
fire

The boss hates
how I crunch
the hard worked
wood in my
steel mouth.

All the wood
is gone the
boss is
furious and
mad and
I am
gone…

My dogs
are barking
the fire is
burning with
the wood
I
ATE

 

 Eating Money, by Wolf  

I eat four quarters and cough out one
buck. I have been eating money.

Donald Trump cannot believe what he
sees.  He runs to save money, but he
is too slow for me.

The money is gone. Trump is fading.

Hillary Clinton is coming with the
Democratic Donkeys to take over the
White House.

The Republican Elephants were gone
and the Mexicans finished them in Mexico.

Donald is the last Elephant.  I hee-haw
at him, he flees.

I am the money god, but I ate
all the money so I am relying on taxes.

 

Eating Fire, by Bryce

Petrol runs from my mouth.
I can only taste the strange combination
of hatred and anger and a comfortable warmth.
I have been eating fire.

The camper stands by and stares,
fear wild in his eyes.
He is frozen in shock.

Heat comforts my tired body, like a comfy
chair and blankets,
as clowns’ laughter fills the forests.

The clowns run through and carry
off the camper over their heads, like he
is some sort of rock star.

 

Eating Sleep, by Ruby

The dreams of tiny children and their dream unicorns dribble out of my mouth

All the onions in the world take a quick glance at me and continue walking on water like nothing is happening

Tons of summer cabins start to hammer themselves back together as they fall into the green music hovering above the ground

Then they dive into the lake of trombones greeting sea horses tasting moldy watermelon east of the spotted pineapple

 

Eating Clouds, by Nora

The soft sensation of clouds evaporating in my mouth
there is no joy like mine
I have been eating the clouds

A man walking his dog is in shock,
he is frozen with amazement.
he starts to sit down on the bench and watch

The sky is naked,
the sun shines so bright like never before,
there are birds in their nests and flying up.

Their feathers start to fall off
and their pink, bare skin starts to show.
The old man is now yelling for me to come down.

He does not know what to do.
When I finally come down, I stare,
he stares.

I am a new person.
I run at him.
I stop and start to walk away with joy in the pitch black night.

 

Eating Tanks, by Colin

I taste the places the
tanks have been: a lonely field of
grass in the middle of a war.

It tastes like mud and
dirt, and a little bit of snow

The military soldiers mad
with disapproval

But, then again, terrified of
what I might eat next.

The military dogs barking,
then yelping.

What shall I eat next?
More tanks, maybe jeeps. Or
perhaps helicopters.

The general starts yelling “retreat, retreat!”

The general runs toward me
and handcuffs me and locks
me up because of my appetite.

 

Eating Color, by Chloe

Taking color in my hands
I crunch it down.

The red, orange, yellow, green and blue
drips from my mouth to the floor.

When it hits the ground it turns
to a fluorescent pink butterfly.

It suddenly turns into two butterflies, then three,
then four, pretty soon there are eleven butterflies.

A friend showing that she is amazed, squeals.
She loves butterflies. She picks up the color

and stuffs it in her mouth. She also has
butterflies, but hers are blue.

Suddenly the butterflies pick us both up.
We fly to a world of color.

To me everything is pink, for her
everything is blue.

Then we return to our own world, but we know
we will go back because…
we both pick up the color again.

 

Eating the Sea, by Jake

I taste the fin
of the shark. It
is so delicious.

I am eating the sea.

The fishing boats
gasp at the sight.

They turn on their motors
and are away in a matter of seconds.

I don’t care. I keep eating
until I see the Titanic.

I panic

then I realize there
is nobody watching me but the fish

So I eat the Titanic, too.

It tastes like old clothing,
wet food, and abandoned treasures.

 

Eating Summer, by Caroline

I taste sweet lemonade & the chlorine
of pools. I taste the rubber of pool
floaties. I taste no pencils, paper, or books
for a whole two months. I am eating summer.

The life guard is watching me in disapproval
& disgust. He yells at me
& stamps his feet.

Then the whole city goes quiet. And a
light snowfall comes. The pool freezes
over with a thick sheet of ice.

I apologize to the life guard because I
have eaten summer short.  We walk
home solemnly, shivering all the way.


FlennikenResizeKathleen Flenniken is the author of two poetry collections: Plume, winner of the Washington State Book Award and finalist for the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America, and Famous, winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize and named a Notable Book by the American Library Association. Her awards include a fellowship from the NEA and a Pushcart Prize. She served as Washington State Poet Laureate from 2012 – 2014.

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