friday feast: mr. cornelius eats mark strand’s poem

“I think what poetry finally does is to help us experience our world as intensely as possible.” (Mark Strand)


Have I mentioned just how much I love this year’s National Poetry Month poster?

Featuring the first stanza of Mark Strand’s “Eating Poetry” cleverly drawn by New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast, it’s the poster to top all posters. Period.

As we gear up for the official start of Poetry Month next week, we simply must don our finest bibs, polish our knives and forks, and wholeheartedly nosh on Strand’s delectable words. As he once said, “The reader has to sort of give himself over to the poem and allow the poem to inhabit him.” Ladies and Gentlemen, lick your chops!

by Mark Strand

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

The librarian does not believe what she sees.
Her eyes are sad
and she walks with her hands in her dress.

The poems are gone.
The light is dim.
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.

Their eyeballs roll,
their blond legs burn like brush.
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.

She does not understand.
When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
she screams.

I am a new man.
I snarl at her and bark.
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.

~ from Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, 1980)

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Clean, precise, surreal. Vintage Strand. A good poem produces a visceral reaction in the reader. As we internalize it, it may momentarily dally with our intellect, but ultimately it taps into our emotional core and arouses our instinctual essence, raw and animalistic. A good poem is a transformative experience.

“Eating Poetry,” along with “Pot Roast,” are my two favorite Strand poems. I am sad we lost him last year to cancer. Have you read his good friend Charles Simic’s wonderful remembrance, “Living Gorgeously,” from The New York Times Review of Books? I love how Strand and Simic were always thinking up money-making schemes — like importing foreign wines or opening a restaurant where the waiters were well-known poets. But best of all is this:

One wild notion of ours actually bore fruit. We started a new poetry movement that we hoped would make us famous. Every other poet was starting one forty years ago, so we thought, Why not us? Ours was to be called Gastronomic Poetry. Both Mark and I had noticed at poetry readings that whenever food was mentioned in a poem—and that didn’t happen very often—blissful smiles would break out on the faces of people in the audience. Thus, we reasoned, in a country where most people hate poetry and everyone is eating and snacking constantly, poems ought to mention food more frequently. To fix that deplorable omission, we thought we’d include one or more mouth-watering dishes in every poem we wrote, no matter what its subject was. Literary purists were bound to be shocked finding barbecued ribs or a slice of apple pie in some sublime poem of ours, but those millions of Americans who buy gourmet magazines and cookbooks and dream of eating the gorgeously prepared meals described in their pages, without ever bothering to make them themselves, would rush to buy our books and enjoy them in the same way.

And this:

We talked about how writing a poem is no different from taking out a frying pan and concocting a dish out of the ingredients available in the house, how in poetry, as in cooking, it’s all a matter of subtle little touches that come from long experience or are the result of sudden inspiration . . . We were just a couple of short-order cooks who kept trying to pass themselves off as poets.


Reading “Eating Poetry” made Mr. Cornelius very hungry. Clever bear that he is, he found a way to actually eat the poem.

First, he made a bear-sized version of the poster, cropping some of Chast’s art so the images were perfect squares.

Then he sent his picture to the Boomfa-Loompas in London so they could magically transform it into marshmallowy goodness.

Ta Da!

Finally, he invited some rabbity friends to help eat the poem. They all agreed it was so tasty, they would eat as many poems as possible in April . . . and every day after that.

There is no happiness like theirs, something that could easily be yours, too. Poems are good food. 🙂

Get your free poster here.

Happy Almost Poetry Month!

*   *   *


Well, we had another near fiasco on our hands trying to pick a winner. Monsieur Random Integer Generator, whom I’ve always described as “ever reliable,” had to be coaxed away from his Spring Break hideaway on the island of Maui. Mr. Cornelius finally made contact with him telepathically, explaining that we needed the name of just one beautiful commenter, one lucky person to win a Julie Paprika archival print.

M. Generator perked up just hearing the name “Julie Paprika,” wanting to know who she was, where she lived, and whether she was available to spice up his life. When he saw all the exquisite paintings at the shop, he selfishly wished he could pick his own name — but alas, not being able to decide on a favorite print (for they were all equally amazing), he decided it best to randomly pick a winner after all.

After eating a big slice of pie and three red apples, he rode atop the yellow elephant, balanced on the tortoise’s back, galloped with the red pony and officially became a member of the Acrobaticats before closing his eyes and pointing to:

*drum roll please*


Woo Hoo! Hooray! Backflips! Somersaults!


Can’t wait to see which print you choose :). Please send me your snail mail address so we can dispatch your print straightaway.

Thanks everyone for entering. I second and third all your praise for Julie’s work!

*   *   *



Don’t forget to send me your links and info if you want to be included in the Roundup! Please email me: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. I’ll be updating the Roundup throughout the month of April. Please also help to spread the word. Thanks!

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poetryfriday180The lovely and talented Jone MacCulloch is hosting today’s Roundup at Check It Out. Hop over there and check out the full menu of poetic treats being shared in the blogosphere this week.


Copyright © 2015 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

60 thoughts on “friday feast: mr. cornelius eats mark strand’s poem

  1. Mr. Cornelius is so clever. (Or at least he has a clever friend in you!).

    I received my poster at the library and almost threw it out. It was folded so small that I assumed it was more junk mail. What a nice surprise it was!


    1. Yes! Any kind of art and/or personal photos can be transferred to marshmallows. Kate Middleton’s brother James owns Boomf. If you click onto the website you can see some of the creative ways people use their Boomfs. The ones with original art are lovely — a novel way to showcase/promote one’s work. 🙂


  2. Cornelius: you are one LUCKY bear with Jama taking care of you! How many bears get BOOMFS? Just the one and only Cornelius!


    1. Hi Ms. Wong,

      I am lucky to get Boomfs, but I have to be really quick and eat them before Jama does.

      Your friend,


  3. Now that is a tea party we can all sink our teeth into! What a wonderful post, and I’m not surprised Mr. Cornelius wanted to be smack-dab in the middle of it.

    [Also – congrats to Keri! Lucky girl. ;0) ]


    1. Any excuse to pose with food and Mr. Cornelius is game. 😀 Lately he’s noted that Boomf make good rafts in cups of cocoa.


  4. I am a lucky girl! I think I’m the luckiest of all Poetry Friday poets. Time to scheme up a giveaway for my blog in return thanks. I had to clap my hand over my mouth to keep from squealing (and alerting everyone in the office I am off-task)! xoxo Thank you, Jama & Cornelius! Decisions and email to follow. Somersaults and cartwheels!


    1. Yay for you! You must have been sending out psychic vibes to M. Generator (he’s very sensitive to such things). Congrats again, Keri!!


  5. Love this –> “We were just a couple of short-order cooks who kept trying to pass themselves off as poets.” And this –> “There is no happiness like theirs, something that could easily be yours, too. Poems are good food. :)” And really, every single delicious morsel of this post, right down to the lovelorn escapades of Monsieur Random Integer Generator. Oh Jama, can I just pay you and Mr. Cornelius to be my personal happy-makers?


    1. Glad you enjoyed the post, Michelle! M. Generator has been asking about you. Seems he has a thing for smart women wearing glasses. 😀


      1. Can’t say I’ve had the pleasure of wood ears with sticky rice. I mean, I’m afraid of eating anything that could hear me chewing. 😀


  6. That Mr. Cornelius is amazing – those marshmallows really look too good to eat! I love that Strand poem – it’s one of the very first that I share with my sixth graders.


    1. It’s such a great poem — even though I’ve read it many times before, each time I reread it, it still surprises me and always works.


  7. Yet another delightful post from the infinitely creative Jama and her dapper sidekick Cornelius. So happy to see the poster! I’ve become a very big Roz Chast fan since reading CAN’T WE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING MORE PLEASANT? Poignant and cringe-inducingly hilarious at the same time.


      1. I love it! Thanks for the link. And, yes, I do think you’d appreciate the book. It had me laughing out loud AND wiping away tears at times. Hugs to you and Mr. Cornelius . . .

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Love, love, love the poetry poster for this year. It’s time the poster made it to the 21 century. The others were thoughtful, but now one needs color and variety in these uncertain times. Hurray for Cornelius. Marshmallows are good for those sweet treat craving times just like whip cream!


  9. I love that poster–it’s hanging up in my basement office where I can drool at it. But if I was as lucky as Mr. Cornelius and had Roz Chast/Mark Strand marshmallows, I would drool even more.


  10. My poster came in the mail today and I love it even more now just knowing that it is has been made into marshmallows in the world of Cornelius and Jama.

    Your posts just delight me so much, Jama. I want to eat my computer. And yes, please count me in for the dinner out with the waiter-poets.

    Thank you!!



    1. Happy to hear you have the poster too! Please don’t eat your computer without first consulting with your dentist. 😀

      I think the restaurant with waiter poets was such a fabulous idea — too bad they didn’t get to actually do that.


  11. I received my poster last week, Jama. It is ‘delicious’ and made even moreso by your wonderful Boomfa-Loompas. How sweet it is! And it will be hanging on my classroom door after my spring break, which starts today! I love hearing that talk between Strand and Simic. Thank you, totally satisfying!


  12. I love this year’s poster (Mark Strand!) so much. I heard that this is the first time they’ve used a graphic novel artist for the poster. Brilliant. What Simic says here is spot on. A friend of mine read a pastrami on rye poem at an event recently — cheers all around. It was the highlight of the reading. We can all relate to food.


  13. Jama, you are a blogging genius and I this post is delicious! Thanks for all your thinking and creativity and creating his feast of poetry, commentary, and visuals for us!
    My focus for Poetry Month is on sharing videos of kids reading poems from the Celebrations book– should be fresh and fun!


    1. Yes, a poetry tea party to celebrate Spring and Poetry Month! You can serve tea in china couplets . . . (sorry, couldn’t resist).


  14. I’m pretty sure Mark Strand is giggling from above to see that you’ve taken his notion of food+poetry to such delicious and gorgeous lengths! He said it; you live it.

    I’m just imagining you, as you prepare these posts each week, having such fun with each little bit, clapping your hands and grinning when a photo (like the one of the bunnies’ tea/jelly bean party) turns out just perfectly, or when you find just the right quote, and you think of us and know that we, too, will be squealing with delight as we read and drool!! Thank you! You are a force for good in the world!


    1. Thanks so much, Mary Lee! I’d never thought of Mark Strand up there giggling — that would be the ultimate compliment, wouldn’t it? 🙂

      I do have fun with these posts and always hope that they’ll make at least one person out there smile or feel a little better about things. Really appreciate your taking the time to read and comment with such positive feedback!


  15. Jama, what an amazing little character is Mr. Cornelius. I love to hear of his adventures. Of course, he would want to eat the lovely confections from London. The poster you showed is amazing and I did write for a free poster. I am delighted that you have found your niche with food poetry. Keep on providing us with the delightful recipes and confections to accompany your information-filled posts. I will be unveiling my newest gallery of artistic expressions during National Poetry Month, as soon as I format all of the offerings. I will also open a spring gallery with name to be decided. Thanks for keeping the information calendar for all of us.


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