Poetry Tutorial – Food Poems

I’ve been thinking about food. Nonstop, actually. Probably because I have been on this fracking nutritional cleanse for too long. So today I’m getting around to updating my friend’s poetry tutorial and indulging in some vicarious eating through poetry.

Here’s a favorite by William Carlos Williams. It’s one on the first poems my kids learned because it’s so short and sweet.


This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet and
so cold

There are lots of interpretations of this famous poem, most of which I don’t subscribe to. Is he talking about virginity? The forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge in Genesis? No, I doubt it. It’s a note to his wife, a love poem. The halting structure mimics sheepish speech. I picture the poet with his hat in his hand, his pleading yet mischievous eyes. The title, which also serves as a first line, gives a self-deprecating tone. The word “just” tells us this isn’t a big deal, yet at the same time, his tone is thoughtful. It’s not that he ate the plums, it’s that his wife was saving them for breakfast. It’s not an ode to plums, in a John Keats manner, it’s a humble ode to marriage. Mundane things make a difference; I’m sorry I ate your breakfast. His humble “Forgive me” tells us what kind of husband the poet is. The lack of punctuation renders it even more humble – this is a tiny, insignificant moment in their married life, yet he’s raised it to something else. I particularly like how he ends with their taste. The last line lingers like a fading note of a song. I can almost taste a cold sweet plum now. And not in a smoothie.

A final note: this distinctive and brief poem is so ubiquitous it makes it ripe for parody. There are so many out there, and my family is no exception. No one in the house can finish anything off without leaving a smart aleck note like this one:

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
all the Cougar Mountain Cookies
on top of the fridge

bet you would have liked some
they were delish
so chocolatey

too bad
for you

Of course that’s just us.  Poet Erica-Lynn Gambino has a better parody:

This Is Just to Say

I have just
asked you to
get out of my

even though
you never
I would

Forgive me
you were
me insane

Nice, eh? OK, so I’m off track of my food poems. I’ll try to get another one up tomorrow. I’d love to hear other people’s favorites. Read “Osso Bucco” by Billy Collins. I’ve already done some of his poetry, but there is no better homage to gustatory satisfaction and contentment than that one.

I’ve noticed that no one writes poems about kale smoothies. That should have been a clue before I started this cleanse.

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