Food Writing

A Poem For (Almost) Every Meal

Our Eating Lives features stories about how food, cooking, and eating have shaped who we are and how we live.

Recently I started reading a lot of poetry again (I talk about this in greater depth on our sister site Book Riot). One thing I’ve learned is that my favorite poems are not about what you normally think of poems being about: technicolor sunsets, mooshy-gooshy kissing stuff, the sound of rain, whatever. I like poems about animals and the everyday and parents and their children and yes, food. The less flowery and more relatable the poem is, for me, the more likely the poem is to land in a meaningful place.

Below, some of my favorite food poems I’ve come across and the meals they go with.

For Breakfast:

Welcome Morning by Anne Sexton

Why: Because there’s a chapel of eggs, an outcrying kettle, a spoon that says “welcome,” and a godhead of a table all in one poem!

For That Prepackaged Salad You Eat at Lunch:

The Iceberg Theory by Gerald Locklin

Why: Because it starts off by talking about iceberg lettuce (“all critics hate iceberg lettuce…i guess the problem is that it’s too common for them… it isn’t different enough and it’s too goddamn American”) and ends up talking about the state of modern poetry.

For an Afternoon Snack:

The Orange by Wendy Cope

Why: Because of this opening stanza…

At lunchtime I bought a huge orange—
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave—
They got quarters and I got a half.

… and because it just gets better from there.

For a Run to the Farmers Market:

Goblin Market by Christina Rosetti

Why: Because Farmers Markets are fun but Goblin Markets are so much more fun… AND SCARY. Warning, this poem is a million words long. I’m not hyperbolizing. Well, okay, I am, but the point is it’s long and I WARNED YOU.

For That Treat You Put in the Fridge That You Were Really Excited to Get Home and Eat:

This is Just to Say by William Carlos Williams

Why: Because you ARE going to come home to find that your treat was eaten… if not by William Carlos Williams then by some jerkface roommate/husband/mom.

For Cooking Dinner:

The Onion by Wislawa Szymborska

Why: Because “nothing but pure onionhood fills this devout onionist” or at least that’s how you’ll look at chopping up an onion after reading this poem.

Eating Dinner With Your Sweetheart:

Litany by Billy Collins

Why: Because your hubs or wifey might be “the bread and the knife, the crystal goblet and the wine,” but they most certainly are not “the plums on the counter” and they should not even step because you, of course, are “the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.”

For a Late Night Trip to the Grocery Store:

A Supermarket in California by Allen Ginsberg

Why: Because there are wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes, and Garcia Lorca is, of course, down by the watermelons. Also because this poem also falls into the category of: Poems to Read When You’re High and Hungry.

Do you have a favorite food poem? What is it? Spill! Or I guess that would be for drink poems. In any event, please share in comments!

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  • Anthony Hafner

    Fantastic list, but I always inexplicably cry when reading A Supermarket in California. Weird.

    • Wini Moranville

      I know why you cry, Anthony. Because it’s a bleak vision of America. The promise of our wild and free nation reduced to the sanitized glare of the 1950s supermarket.

      • Kit Steinkellner

        I coached a girl on the recitation of this poem for a speech and debate thing- I NEVER got sick of hearing it.

        • Wini Moranville

          I always teach it in my “intro to lit” class. I never get tired of reading it.

  • Dana Staves

    Good call on “Litany”! Great collection!

    • Kit Steinkellner

      I so would have had “Litany” read at my wedding if that wasn’t such a cliche.

      • Dana Staves

        Haha, it’s hard to pick a wedding poem that’s not a cliche.

        • Kit Steinkellner

          We did pretty okay. “Gate C22″ by Ellen Bass, “Your Catfish Friend” by Richard Brautigan,” “The Third Body” by Robert Bly, and an untitled Rilke poem. I was happy with how it turned out.

          • Dana Staves

            We went with e.e. cummings “i carry your heart” and Emily Dickinson’s “It’s all I have to bring today.” We were likewise happy with it. Sufficiently romantic and meaningful without making people roll their eyes. I hope. My back was to them.

  • Carissa Di Gangi

    Oh my goodness, I can’t separate “Litany” from this little kid reciting it from memory – so great. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uVu4Me_n91Y

    • Dana Staves

      So true! I used to assign a project for my students to recite a poem (only catch: had to be 10+ lines), and when they squawked and said it was too hard, I showed them this video. And then I was all like, “Boom. A baby can do it.” Schooled.