Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Thinking about yesterday's poetry-class lunch . . . poetry and eating are linked in the social rituals of many cultures, and many poems have come together in the presence of food as part of prandial rituals and entertainment. There are whole anthologies devoted to poetry and food, and I'm sure an anthology could be put together focusing on just one course (soup poems, entree poems, dessert poems), or the act of cooking, or the companionship--"with bread"--of the table.

A Cookie Poems anthology could include Cookie Monster's poem (above), which gets interesting for me at the very point where Cookie Monster breaks from the uninspired constraint of cookieless verse, teaching us that hunger has its own rhyme and reason.

One of my favorite cookie poems:

Lines For The Fortune Cookies

I think you're wonderful and so does everyone else.

Just as Jackie Kennedy has a baby boy, so will you--even bigger.

You will meet a tall beautiful blonde stranger, and you will not say hello.

You will take a long trip and you will be very happy, though alone.

You will marry the first person who tells you your eyes are like scrambled eggs.

In the beginning there was YOU--there will always be YOU, I guess.

You will write a great play and it will run for three performances.

Please phone The Village Voice immediately: they want to interview you.

Roger L. Stevens and Kermit Bloomgarden have their eyes on you.

Relax a little; one of your most celebrated nervous tics will be your undoing.

Your first volume of poetry will be published as soon as you finish it.

You may be a hit uptown, but downtown you're legendary!

Your walk has a musical quality which will bring you fame and fortune.

You will eat cake.

Who do you think you are, anyway? Jo Van Fleet?

You think your life is like Pirandello, but it's really like O'Neill.

A few dance lessons with James Waring and who knows? Maybe something will happen.

That's not a run in your stocking, it's a hand on your leg.

I realize you've lived in France, but that doesn't mean you know EVERYTHING!

You should wear white more often--it becomes you.

The next person to speak to you will have a very intriguing proposal to make.

A lot of people in this room wish they were you.

Have you been to Mike Goldberg's show? Al Leslie's? Lee Krasner's?

At times, your disinterestedness may seem insincere, to strangers.

Now that the election's over, what are you going to do with yourself?

You are a prisoner in a croissant factory and you love it.

You eat meat. Why do you eat meat?

Beyond the horizon there is a vale of gloom.

You too could be Premier of France, if only . . . if only. . .

--Frank O'Hara

What makes this poem work for me is its formal constraint and innovation: the poem captures the tone, syntax, and declarative rhetoric ("You will," "You are," "You have," and so on) that you find in fortune cookies and replaces the vague/ abstract adjectives and nouns of fortune cookies ("love," "wealth," "happiness," and so on) with specific people, places, and things.

The deflations give the poem a humorous tone: not simply fortune ("you will meet an x, y, z person") but also misfortune ("you will not say hello"). And these are sassy cookies that ask tough questions: not "You will find out who you are" but "Who do you think you are, anyway?"

Try writing a poem using whatever fortune you opened at yesterday's lunch-class as the first line of your poem, or turn the fortune upside down: not "you are an ambitious person" but "you are not an ambitious person" or "you are an ambitious person when . . ." Or misread your fortune: "you are an amphibious person" or "you are an ambiguous person." Or replace the pronouns: "we are an ambitious people." Or turn fortune into a question: "Are you an ambitious person?" Talk to the talking cookie.

Bon appetit!

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