Edible Poetry

April is National Poetry Month, and today, April 17, is Poem in your Pocket Day, which means pick a poem, put it in your pocket and sing it loud and proud when the urge strikes.

In the spirit of poetic exchange, I've served up a buffet of three poems -- all with food references -- that speak to me like a low-hanging mango begging to be picked.

The first dish is an ode to the artichoke by Beverly Fields Burnette, a Raleigh, N.C.-based poet and president of the North Carolina Association of Black Storytellers.

Artichoke Pickle Passion: A Sonnet
In southern springs we dug for artichokes
In Miz Olivia's tall and weedy yard.
She dipped her snuff, but never, ever smoked;
At eighty-five, she wasn't avant-garde.
Her 'bacco spittings grew the vegetable;
Well nourished were the tubers, strong, the stalks.
And even though their worth was questionable,
With hoe in hand, we dug, postponing talk.
Once washed, soaked, sliced, they met some torrid brine.
Aromas flew on steamy clouds of heat.
When canned, the waiting was the longest time.
How many weeks or months before we eat?
In southern springs, we dug the precious root,
And still, this day, it is my passion fruit.

(From "Catch the Fire!!!: A Cross-Generational Anthology of Contemporary African-American Poetry," Derrick I.M. Gilbert, editor)

Next up are two pieces from the late poet Jane Kenyon, who served as New Hampshire's poet laureate before she died in 1995.

Three Small Oranges
My old flannel nightgown, the elbows out,
One shoulder torn...Instead of putting it
Away with the clean wash, I cut it up
For rags, removing the arms and opening
Their seams, scissoring across the breast
And upper back, then tearing the thin
Cloth of the body into long rectangles.
Suddenly an immense sadness...

Making supper, I listen to news
From the war, of torture where the air
Is black at noon with burning oil,
And of a market in Baghdad, bombed
By accident, where yesterday an old man
Carried in his basket a piece of fish
Wrapped in paper and tied with string,
And three small hard green oranges.

In haste one evening while making dinner
I threw away a potato that was spoiled
On one end. The rest would have been

Redeemable. In the yellow garbage pail
It became the consort of coffee grounds,
Banana skins, carrot peelings.
I pitched it onto the compost
Where steaming scraps and leaves
Return, like bodies over time, to earth.

When I flipped the fetid layers with a hay
Fork to air the pile, the potato turned up
Unfailingly, as if to revile me ---

Looking plumper, firmer, resurrected
Instead of disassembling. It seemed to grow
Until I might have made shepherd's pie
For a whole hamlet, people who pass the day
Dropping trees, pumping gas, pinning
Hand-me-down clothes on the line.

(From "Jane Kenyon Collected Poems")

For National Poetry Month events in your neck of the woods, check this clickable map.

Have you got an edible poem for the salad bar? Share the contents of your pocket in the comments area below.

Today's Eco-Bite
Hot off the green press, just in time for Earth Day, is "Big Green Purse: Use Your Spending Power to Create a Cleaner, Green World" by Washington area author Diane MacEachern. The word "purse" is intentional; this book is for women, who "spend eighty-five cents of every dollar in the marketplace," MacEachern writes in her introduction. Printed on acid-free recycled paper (natch), this hefty paperback is a green guide to all facets of life, from your morning coffee to your sleepy-time linens, including substantial chapters on food and drinks.

By Kim ODonnel |  April 17, 2008; 8:05 AM ET Cook's Library
Previous: The Year Without Salmon? | Next: The Mighty and Versatile Chickpea


Please email us to report offensive comments.

Ah, the first thing that popped into my mind was the William Carlos Williams apology:

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

Posted by: Eggplant | April 17, 2008 9:56 AM

What a beautiful way to start the morning! Thank you.

Here's my contribution, from the unequalled Wm. Butler Yeats. (I am going from memory, so a word or two might be off... but it is close).

Lake Isle of Innisfree
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made.
Nine bean rows I will have there and a hive for the honeybee.
And live aone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there
For peace comes, dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of morning to where the cricket sings
There, midnight's all aglimmer and noon a purple glow
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now
For always, night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore,
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey.
I hear it in the heart's deep core.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 17, 2008 9:58 AM

Valentine, Carol Ann Duffy

Not a red rose or a satin heart.

I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.

It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.

I am trying to be truthful.

Not a cute card or kissogram.

I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.

Take it.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding ring,
if you like.
Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.

Posted by: Food Poems | April 17, 2008 10:11 AM

This should have posted yesterday, but I was out all day. . .

A while ago (maybe last year sometime) there was an article in the Post about two guys on the Eastern Shore who were trying to do sustainable shrimp farming. . .do you know, or could you find out, if they are still operating and where one could buy their product?

Also - I am looking for a good farmer's market - we live between Upper Marlboro and Waldorf, often getting Bowie. I am so jealous of all of the markets most of you have easy access to - they all sound so wonderful. . .I wish we had something like that out here.

Thanks for your help, Kim!

Posted by: SE MD | April 17, 2008 11:04 AM

The shrimp article is easily found in a search of the WaPo archives. You can buy the article for 4 bucks. Here's the summary:

As Fresh as They Get; Three Young Guys Hope to Feed an Appetite for Fresh, Sustainable Farmed Shrimp
[FINAL Edition]
The Washington Post - Washington, D.C.
Author: Walter Nicholls - Washington Post Staff Writer
Date: Apr 18, 2007
Start Page: F.1
Section: FOOD
Text Word Count: 1331

[Scott Fritze] and partners Andrew Hanzlik and Guy Furman, all 27, are forerunners in the brave new world of indoor shrimp farming. The vast majority of shrimp consumed in the United States is imported from Asian coastal farms that environmentalists say damage coastlines and threaten wildlife, such as sea turtles. But this trio thinks its technologically advanced system of producing a sustainable supply of fresh shrimp year-round in a non-polluting environment may represent the future source of America's favorite seafood -- or at least earn the partners a tiny piece of the market.

To further muddy the waters, in February 2005 the Commerce Department imposed anti-dumping orders and fines on six countries: Brazil, China, Ecuador, Vietnam, India and Thailand. U.S. shrimpers say the decision stopped the deep decline in imported shrimp prices, which have been sliding since 2000. However, U.S. shrimp prices are still at record lows, and the value is similar to that of shrimp in the 1960s, shrimpers complain.

Marvesta has explored selling live shrimp, but for the time being isn't focusing on it. After the shrimp are removed from the tanks, they are chilled and quickly die before being delivered to restaurants. Plans are underway to build 50 additional greenhouses and produce 250,000 pounds of shrimp by next spring.

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission

Posted by: Anonymous | April 17, 2008 11:31 AM

Actually, here's the link to the Md farmed shrimp guys, gratis:


Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | April 17, 2008 11:37 AM

Some time back my mother's friend wrote this out for me on a recipe card. She said was given to her by her grandmother, and was OLD then:

I thought perhaps you'd like to see
My good Brown Betty recipe.
A two quart casserole is just fine
(I always warm and butter mine.)
Slice five big apples rather thin.
Put a layer of sugar and bread crumbs in
Dot with butter, some cinnamon; then repeat.
Top with crumbs and it's complete.
A cup of sugar and crumbs is right.
An hour in a moderate oven tonight,
And this,
Always earns the cook a kiss.

I can report it's earned me a kiss or two and several people have asked me to recite it - and then to write it down.

Posted by: Jo | April 17, 2008 1:49 PM

Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle
Received from a Friend Called Felicity

During that summer
When unicorns were still possible;
When the purpose of knees
Was to be skinned;
When shiny horse chestnuts
(Hollowed out
fitted with straws
crammed with tobacco
stolen from butts
In family ashtrays)
Were puffed in green lizard silence
While straddling thick branches
Far above and away
From the softening effects
of civilization;

During that summer--
Which may never have been at all;
But which has become more real
Than the one that was---
Watermelons ruled.

Thick pink imperial slices
Melting frigidly on sun-parched tongues
Dribbling from chin;
leaving the best part,
The black bullet seeds,
To be spit out in rapid fire
Against the wall
Against the wind
Against each other;

And when the ammunition was spent,
There was always another bite;
It was a summer of limitless bites,
Of hungers quickly felt
And quickly forgotten
With the next careless gorging.

The bites are fewer now.
Each one is savored lingeringly,
Swallowed reluctantly.

But in a jar put up by Felicity,
The summer which maybe never was
Has been captured and preserved.
And when we unscrew the lid
And slice off a piece
And let it linger on our tongue;
Unicorns become possible again.

The book, copyright date 1966, was "Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle." published by Scott Foresman. The poem of the title was written by John Tobias.


Posted by: Betsy D | April 17, 2008 2:21 PM

I love all of your contributions! Thank you so much for emptying your poetic pockets today. More, please!

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | April 17, 2008 3:02 PM

If aromas be the grace of fare lingering slightly in the atmosphere
Then the stuff from which these fragrances rise
must surely be from home-made pies

Posted by: Dave | April 17, 2008 9:04 PM

I love food poetry! Neruda's are often my favorite, they are easy to find on Google, but here's one to start:

Ode To Salt
This salt
in the saltcellar
I once saw in the salt mines.
I know
you won't
believe me,
it sings,
salt sings, the skin
of the salt mines
with a mouth smothered
by the earth.
I shivered in those solitudes
when I heard
the voice of
the salt
in the desert.
Near Antofagasta
the nitrous
a broken
a mournful

In its caves
the salt moans, mountain
of buried light,
translucent cathedral,
crystal of the sea, oblivion
of the waves.

And then on every table
in the world,
we see your piquant
vital light
our food. Preserver
of the ancient
holds of ships,
the high seas,
of the unknown, shifting
byways of the foam.
Dust of the sea, in you
the tongue receives a kiss
from ocean night:
taste imparts to every seasoned
dish your ocean essence;
the smallest,
wave from the saltcellar
reveals to us
more than domestic whiteness;
in it, we taste infinitude.

Posted by: Jackie | April 17, 2008 11:10 PM

This is such a pleasant post. I am now inspired to write my own recipe poem. Thanks.

Posted by: Julia | April 18, 2008 11:57 AM

There is a poem of sorts on the McSweeney's site, written by none other than the Cookie Monster himself. Excerpt:

"Me too hard on self. Me no have unhealthy obsession. Me love cookies, but it no hurt anyone. Me just enthusiast. Everyone has something they like most, something they get excited about. Why not me? Me perfectly normal. Me like cookies. So what? Cookies delicious. Cookies do not make one monster. Everyone loves cookies.

Me no monster. Me OK guy. Me OK guy who eat cookies."

Read the whole thing at:

Posted by: Amanda | April 18, 2008 12:12 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company