Watch Out! I’m P-ing All Over the Place

January 9, 2010

There’s no telling what will get my brain going. Sometimes, I’m inspired by a quotation or an image or a television commercial. Sometimes a conversation will spark a completely unrelated thought, and sometimes I am distracted by ideas when I’m reading students’ essays. Recently I was reading a student paper that included Eve Merriam’s (1990) poem, “How to Eat a Poem.” I’ve read her poem before, but this time, I thought about the kind of poem I’d fill a plate with. I’m saving ideas for a class I’ll be teaching this summer and I knew that this could become an activity.

How to Eat a Poem

by Eve Merriam

Don’t be polite.
Bite in.
Pick it up with your fingers and lick the
juice that may run down your chin.
It is ready and ripe now, whenever you are.

You do not need a knife or fork or spoon
or plate or napkin or tablecloth.

For there is no core
or stem
or rind
or pit
or seed
or skin
to throw away.

This is a great neurobics exercise to jumpstart your brain. It’s the kind of thing I might assign as a BrainPlay option—home•work that’s meant to activate creative thinking. I began this exercise by asking myself whether I wanted to write about foods I loved or about foods I hate, the things I had to eat when I was little because they were good for me. Things like liver and tongue and brains with scrambled eggs. Peas came to mind too—used to hate ‘em and now I love ‘em. What if I filled my plate with p’s? So I did, writing words on round pieces of green paper and arranging and rearranging them until I finally had it—a plate full of p-oetry. Please do not imagine that I believe that what follows is a good poem. I do not. It is not. It is the equivalent of the kind of bad fast food that you eat when you are desperate and nothing else is available.

They’re Good for You
by W-OZ

My mother told me, “Honey,
please be sure to eat your peas.”
I took her words quite seriously,
and now I’m eating these:

Penne pasta with pastrami,
pumpkin pancakes,
pumpkin pie.
Pureed parsnips over pilaf,
and pad thai.

Portabellos and porcini,
pink persimmons,
pickled plums.
Pork chops topped with parslied peppers,
pretzel crumbs.

Pepperoni on my pizza,
pinto pudding
and plaintains.
Prawns, potato chips, and popcorn,
peanut butter,
plump pig brains.

Yes, I listened to my mother
and I’m writing
here to hint:
Give me porridge and papaya,
pears, pecans, and
pork pate.
Serve me peaches and paella,
pu pu platters.

Perfect pieces of polenta,
paprika, poultry,
Precisely prepared portions of
profiteroles and
panfried pike.
Give me Popsicles and pot roast,
pitted prunes and
parboiled peas.
I’ll take pistachios and pralines,
potted pigeon,
Pitas and popovers and other tasty puffy stuff,
all poached and planked and plated. . .
I’ve had enough!


Writing the words on separate pieces of paper actually helped me a lot since I could keep moving the p’s around until I was pleased. I’m saving this in the file folder I have started for the summer class. It’s easy to lose your ideas unless you deliberately plan to capture them.

What kinds of words might you have to eat? What kind of poem would fill your plate? What do you do to warm up your brain and get it ready to work?

I say some things, and gosh, I wish I hadn’t said them!
• Hubert Humphrey *

* This quotation from Hubert Humphrey is one I used as part of an anger management lesson, asking students what words they’d like to take back. We used paper plates and filled them with lots of inedible things we’d said to other people—words that no one should have to “eat” because they don’t nourish the spirit or mind. We also filled plates with words that help sustain enthusiasm and encourage growth. This all sounds a bit sappy, I know. Still, it’s easy to say mean things without even really meaning them, and they can stay in someone’s brain for a very long time. Be careful what you say in class–snappy and snarky comments meant to be funny can live on in unintended ways.


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