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Devouring and Creation: the Poetry of Food and that which Feeds our Poetry

In both his letters and his poetry, John Keats implored artists to “live unpoetically” by focusing on an “acuteness of vision”. This means listening, watching, touching and tasting what is going on around us every day.

We do not isolate special occasions in order to squeeze out a poem, we are moved by something that at first we might not understand in poetic terms. We explore its significance in our own language until it becomes new to us in our work and our reading.

In poetry, as in life, we take in sensations and experiences from outside ourselves. They become folded into us, and our art, until invariably (and hopefully) they emerge in the way our ideas, our behavior and our attitudes become changed by them.

This is especially visible and pleasurable in the study and creation of food poetry. In this course, we take the raw ingredients of our lives – the stuff that makes us grow and the stuff we grow – and we examine how our exploration of it shapes ourselves, our reading and our writing.

How will this course be structured?

Each week I will distribute handouts with food poems from various eras – from C16 to the present day – together with associated topics for discussion and study. We will examine poets who stick to their theme and anchor the reader firmly in the kitchen. And we will consider work where food surfaces obliquely, like the scent of a cut strawberry rising from a white plate.

We will explore (and subvert) the way we think about the food metaphor:

1. The senses

a. Not everything that sizzles is fried
b. What do black lines mean to you? A poem or a whopper?
c. Are you a lemon or a vinegar dresser?
d. Would you cut up or pick up a fig?
e. Could you annotate chocolate without saying ch*c**at*?

2. What do the descriptions of food in a poem tell us about the way the poet writes poetry? How does the metaphor attend to:

a. Its business
b. Its voice
c. Its posture
d. Its appetite

3. We will look at the way a serious attention to food, as something both commonplace and precise, might nourish our creative process and we will look at the effect of this attention on the way we work – both in form and content.


Most of us keep a journal – it might be a record of appointments on iCal or words and images from our private selves. I will ask that each day, when we think of a food thought, we write it down as a word, an image, a full sentence or just take a picture and bring it in. I will set writing exercises each week. Some of these will be pre-assigned in the handouts and others will emerge from the workshop as we progress in our task of attending to food in our everyday lives and in our art.

In the 1st half of our class, we will discuss the work of other poets and in the 2nd half we will discuss our food diaries and workshop the poems that emerge from them and from our exercises. It is likely that our work will feed into other poems that you are working on at home and you might want to bring these in for some close and supportive reading.
This is a poem written by Thomas Lux (b. 1947)


Refrigerator, 1957

More like a vault — you pull the handle out
and on the shelves: not a lot,
and what there is (a boiled potato
in a bag, a chicken carcass
under foil) looking dispirited,
drained, mugged. This is not
a place to go in hope or hunger.
But, just to the right of the middle
of the middle door shelf, on fire, a lit-from-within red,
heart red, sexual red, wet neon red,
shining red in their liquid, exotic,
aloof, slumming
in such company: a jar
of maraschino cherries. Three-quarters
full, fiery globes, like strippers
at a church social. Maraschino cherries, maraschino,
the only foreign word I knew. Not once
did I see these cherries employed: not
in a drink, nor on top
of a glob of ice cream,
or just pop one in your mouth. Not once.
The same jar there through an entire
childhood of dull dinners — bald meat,
pocked peas and, see above,
boiled potatoes. Maybe
they came over from the old country,
family heirlooms, or were status symbols
bought with a piece of the first paycheck
from a sweatshop,
which beat the pig farm in Bohemia,
handed down from my grandparents
to my parents
to be someday mine,
then my child’s?
They were beautiful
and, if I never ate one,
it was because I knew it might be missed
or because I knew it would not be replaced
and because you do not eat
that which rips your heart with joy.


And a poem of mine that is linked but made separate in its central image:


Savoy Hotel, London

Those nights downstairs at the American Bar;
it’s not just the chairs that show gilt in the telling.
Back then we were almost quite something.
You and London were lean;
your eyes, a fraction off centre as you
struggled not to say,
We have this connection. My God,
You overplayed.
And not just your hand.

My role in this mellow
drama was to shift that arse
you loved to chase and twitch my best side
close to the oh-so-Maraschinos.
Too long ago, they were fruit in a tree.
Some tree.
I guess they were something for me
to play with; the pretence
we were ever friends was just
a way to simulate sharing.

30:70 and I never found out
who made the best bet
but I do know that’s the wrong word.
Early is just another kind of late and
anyway, you were always
there each night, every night. There’s
no fool like a blind
fool; thank God I didn’t see the edge
till I was over and out
the other side.


To join Rosie in an exploration of the most sensuous and satisfying poesy – the devouring and creation of food poetry – find details and booking information here or contact the Poetry School at [email protected] or 0207 582 1679. 

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