friday feast: the diner by richard jones

I want to eat at a diner.

Not just any diner. I want to eat at the one Richard Jones goes to. 

He doesn’t say much about the food, but the people are enough to satisfy. It’s mostly about what they’re doing while they’re there. It’s what, in an ideal world, everyone should be doing.

Let’s face it. Poetry for the masses is odd fodder. When was the last time you saw a book of poetry at the grocery store, the corner newsstand, places where everyone frequents on a daily basis? Shouldn’t it be easier to find, considering the essential nourishment it contains?

You and I know that lots of good poetry is being written these days. But who’s reading it? Mainly other poets, students, teachers, or people holed up in the ivory towers of academia — people Dana Gioia classified as a subculture. What about the rest of us?

Take my husband, Len, for example. He’s an educated professional, a responsible, upstanding citizen. He’s practical, unfailing in his loyalty to family and friends, a person who does so much, yet asks for so little. And most important, he has a good heart.

But does he read poetry? I’d sooner find him twirling around the house in a tutu and bunny slippers. Don’t misunderstand. Len appreciates the arts. He reads voraciously. But to him, most poetry isn’t entertaining, enriching or informative. It’s too abstract, too erudite.

You and I know that he’s right in some ways. We’ve all encountered poems we couldn’t understand, couldn’t relate to, simply didn’t like. I’ve plowed through many volumes of mediocre poetry, exasperated at my inability to stake common ground.

But the really good poems? So sublime you could weep for the beauty, depth and power of those words, wondering how a mere human being, using 26 letters of the alphabet, could express what you’ve harbored in the depths of your soul without you even being conscious of it. Those are the poems I want everyone to feast on.

Do you think poetry is such a precious commodity, that if it became part of mainstream culture, it would become tainted, diluted? Will it forever remain an acquired taste?

Do you ever wish it could be served up in diners, available 24 hours a day, its titles sung out in colorful diner lingo, instead of being rationed out like rarefied hors d’oeuvres to be savoured only by those with advanced degrees?

Richard Jones, Professor of English at DePaul University in Chicago, and Editor of Poetry East since 1979, is committed to poetry that is “immediate, accessible, and universal.” After reading “The Diner,” I was reminded of what William Carlos Williams said:  “It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die every day for lack of what is found there.” I know poetry isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but shouldn’t it at least be on the menu?


by Richard Jones


The short-order cook and the dishwasher
argue the relative merits
of Rilke’s
against Eliot’s Four Quartets,
but the delivery man who brings eggs
suggests they have forgotten Les fleurs
du mal and Baudelaire. The waitress
carrying three plates and a coffeepot
can’t decide whom she loves more —
Rimbaud or Verlaine,
William Blake or William Wordsworth.
She refills the rabbi’s cup
(he’s reading Rumi),
asks what he thinks of Arthur Waley.
In the booth behind them, a fat woman
feeds a small white poodle in her lap,
with whom she shares her spoon.

Read the rest here.

Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is at A Wrung Sponge.

24 thoughts on “friday feast: the diner by richard jones

  1. This is so beautiful—your post and the poem—that I don’t know where to begin. Wouldn’t Poetry Diner be a great name for a blog? Or a monthly Poetry Circle? Or a real diner…yeah, Jama…I want you to open a REAL Poetry Diner here in D.C. so I can eat there every day. Sigh.
    Did I mention that I really, really love this post? I do.


  2. Sara,
    A real Poetry Diner would be so cool!
    All the servers could recite poems, and the customers would order in iambic pentameter, or free verse, their choice. Menu would include beer (served in Robert Frosted mugs) and Shakespeares of Asparagus.


  3. Totally!
    Did you read his book? Chronicles Vol.1? He talks about his early days in Greenwich Village where he was flopping from couch to couch of friends and one had a massive library where he would spend his days (nights were spent playing in the coffee houses) reading TONS of books….


  4. Yeah, I have Chronicles, Vol.1, in my library. Doesn’t he even mention Rimbaud in one of his songs (can’t remember it now)? BTW, have you listened to his radio show?


  5. I probably couldn’t write a word of good poetry, but so appreciate how powerful great poetry can be.
    And I love how nowadays you’ll find a whole menu of incredible poetry for all the palates out there.
    Thanks for sharing a very nice poem.


  6. You are aware of Dylan’s Columbia website? Simply It’s a great site for searching his lyrics. I just keyed in “Rimbaud” and wha-la!
    (I too knew there was a song…I even suspected it was Blood On the Tracks… that’s the album w/ the line: “she handed me a book poems…written in 14th century”….but I didn’t know the actual song)


  7. I get emails from all the time, but never took the time to search his lyrics. I think one Poetry Friday should be devoted solely to Dylan’s lyrics, with people talking about a song that touched/changed their lives!


  8. a song that touched/changed their lives!
    I’m trying to write a book based on HOW MUCH The Beatles affected my life…I’m sure I could a sequel with Dylan’s influence!!!
    (but that is a cool idea for Poetry Friday)


  9. This is amazing!
    I want to eat at that diner every single day and write about all the people that come in and out.


  10. Favorite diner for food/atmosphere: Birdseye Diner in Castleton, VT.
    Favorite poetry diner: Richard Jones’! Thanks for a new favorite!
    Mary Lee
    A Year of Reading


  11. Gasp! This is amazing, including all the comments. I can think of a diner where this poem ought to be hung! Love the Bob Dylan idea. Do it! -cloudscome


  12. TadMack says:
    Ooh, Four Quartets, totally!
    MAN, this would be one heckuva diner to discover. I’d never leave…


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