Thursday, April 1, 2010

April 2010 Poetry Challenge

“Animal Crackers” by Christopher Morley was one of my favorite poems when I was a child. The idea of having nothing but animal crackers and cocoa for supper appealed to me, because I was quite fond of both. I also liked the rhythm and the rhymes of the poem.

Animal Crackers

Animal crackers, and cocoa to drink,
That is the finest of suppers, I think;
When I'm grown up and can have what I please
I think I shall always insist upon these.

What do you choose when you're offered a treat?
When Mother says, "What would you like best to eat?"
Is it waffles and syrup, or cinnamon toast?
It's cocoa and animals that I love most!

The kitchen's the cosiest place that I know:
The kettle is singing, the stove is aglow,
And there in the twilight, how jolly to see
The cocoa and animals waiting for me.

Daddy and Mother dine later in state,
With Mary to cook for them, Susan to wait;
But they don't have nearly as much fun as I
Who eat in the kitchen with Nurse standing by;
And Daddy once said, he would like to be me
Having cocoa and animals once more for tea!

by Christopher Morley

At a later age, I became enamored William Carlos Williams' poem, “This Is Just To Say,” from The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, Vol. 1: 1909-1939. The poem takes the form of a note, in which the narrator apologizes (sort of!) for having eaten the plums from the refrigerator. When I read this little imagist free-verse poem, I can almost taste the plums and feel their cold skin and flesh in my mouth.

A few years ago I was introduced to another poem focused on food – “The Showdown,” by Marilyn Taylor, who is the current Poet Laureate of Wisconsin. When I asked for permission to use "The Showdown" on this blog, Taylor told me this poem resulted from a workshop exercise. Each participant was asked to bring some kind of food to the session. Members of the group swapped food items, and Taylor was stuck with a zucchini. When I see a listing in Poet's Market which says not to submit workshop poems, I think about this poem and ponder what delights may be missed! If all workshop poems were as good as this one, editors would be begging poets to send them! Taylor’s poem instantly made my list of favorites.

The Showdown

Okay, Zucchini,
with your sleek Sicilian good looks –
I know all about you and the rest
of the Zucca family, how you start out
small, in the corner of some
respectable old giardino (nobody
eve notices) and then you spread,
don’t you, till you’ve moved in on
all the little guys, the beans
and the carrots and cukes,
and pretty soon you’re in charge
of the whole damn fattoria, right?
Well, I’ve got news for you, pal,
you’re past your prime. You’re ripe
to spend the rest of your natural life
in the cooler. Think I’m kidding?
Listen, either play along or its
Ratatouille! Ratatouille!
-- a year in the jug for you, Zuke.
And your little tomato, too.

-- Marilyn L. Taylor

Used by permission of the author. From Exit Only(Milwaukee, WS: Prelude Publishing, 2003), p. 16. The poem has been so popular that it also appears in Taylor’s Shadows Like These: Poems,and Greatest Hits, 1986 - 2000.

NOTE: The third line from the bottom of the poem should be indented.

Another food poem which appealed to me from the first time I read it is Robin Chapman’s “For Dinner We Had Potatoes.” This is both a food poem and a list poem. It reminds me of my grandmother’s cooking. Potatoes could easily be grown in the garden, or, if purchased from the grocery, were not very expensive. Having grown up on the Kansas prairie, married a rural, small-church pastor who was often paid in kind, and lived through both the depression and World War II rationing, Zam (as I called her) knew a lot about economical cooking! And it was Zam, not my mother (who worked full-time when I was a child) who taught me to cook.

For Dinner We Had Potatoes

Boiled, baked, fried, mashed,
Peppered, with onions, hashed,
Parsleyed, whipped, buttered, creamed,
Cubed, scalloped, cheesed,
Twice-baked, pancaked,
New in their skin, vinaigretted,
Moat to hold gravy---my mother
Made them in endless variety.

And I learned to peel,
Mastering the rhythm,
Long strokes of skin, not slicing
The thumb knuckle, a knife
For sunscald spots,
Dimples that could be navels
Called eyes---must be
Looking in---I dug them out,
No omphalosceptic, knowing
We wanted two each,
More for the pot.

-- Robin Chapman

Used by permission of the author and publisher. From Abundance (Winner of the 2007 Cider Press Review Book Award; Halifax PA: Cider Press, 2009), p. 7. Abundance can be purchased through

Note: According to, “Omphalo- is a combining form that indicates a relationship to the umbilicus (the navel).”

In addition to the memories this poem elicits, I appreciate the word combinations Chapman uses, such as: “Boiled, baked,” “Peppered. . . Parsleyed,” “Cubed, scalloped, cheesed,” and best of all, “Twice-baked, pancaked.” Her play on words and ideas with eyes, dimples and navels is clever. And due to some overlap in sounds, “omphalosceptic” makes me think of the vocabulary of optometry, which brings me back to those eyes, which in the case of the potato, are, as Chapman says, “Looking in.”

Chapman is a scientist (maybe you guessed that from her use of the word "omphalosceptic") and painter as well as poet. She was given an Outstanding Achievement Poetry Award from the Wisconsin Library Association. Her gifts for science and poetry are linked in Images of a Complex World: The Art And Poetry of Chaos.

White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems 1946-2006by Donald Hall, includes a number of interesting food-related poems, including, "O Cheese," "Eating the Pig," "Wolf Knife," and "Beans and Franks."

Unsettling America: An Anthology of Contemporary Multicultural Poetrycontains a wonderful variety of food poems, including "Coca-Cola and Coco Frio" by Martin Espada; "Mama" by Claire Kageyama, "Preparations for Seder" by Michael S. Glaser; "Rib Sandwich" by William J. Harris and "Chinese Hot Pot," by Wing Tek Lunn.

If you enjoy food poems, you will find more poems to chew on in the following books:

Food Fight: Poets Join the Fight Against Hunger With Poems to Favorite Foods

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry: Poems About Food and Drink (Everyman's Library Pocket Poets)

O Taste and See: Food Poems (Harmony (Bottom Dog Press)

The April Challenge

The challenge for April is to write a food poem. Your poem can be free verse, or you can use a form (sonnet, villanelle, etc.), but include a note saying what form you are using. Poems of 40 or fewer lines have a better chance of being selected, but longer submissions will be read and considered.

Send your poem to wildamorris [at] ameritech[dot] net (substitute the @ sign for “at” and . for [dot], and don’t leave any spaces). Or you can access my Facebook page and send the poem in a message. Be sure to give me your e-mail address so I can respond. Submission of a poem gives permission for the poem to be posted on the blog, if it is a winner.

© 2010 Wilda Morris