Have you ever been so happy about something that the only logical thing left to do is to eat it? Okay, maybe you won't literally eat it, but the feeling that you've got to have every part of it might still be there. That's the kind of sentiment we get in Mark Strand's poem "Eating Poetry," first published in Selected Poems (1980). Only in this case, Strand's speaker is literally "eating poetry" while ink spills from the corners of his mouth (mmm, poem). He loves it that much.
If you're thinking Strand is one weird dude, there are plenty of folks who would agree with you. In fact, he's known for writing in a surrealistic, dreamlike kind of way that's not supposed to make sense all the time. The guy did a lot of writing during the 1960s, so, you know, folks were experimenting in those days in more areas than just poetry.
So what we get in "Eating Poetry" is a mixture of some plain language like "eating poetry" and some surreal imagery, with burning dogs climbing up staircases and such. Strand even has a stuffy librarian in there who just doesn't get why the speaker keeps cramming poems into his mouth. If you think that's kind of a funny idea, then you're beginning to also get Strand's style: cool, dry, weird, and slightly ridiculous.
But all the ridiculous stuff is kind of the point to Strand's poem. When it comes to conveying your joy to the rest of the world, you might as well eat the thing that makes you happy because nobody else will get you, no matter what you do. You might as well enjoy whatever it is that makes you happy, instead of getting that librarian to understand that poetry tastes awfully good. (And it's good for you, too.)
As a stalwart Shmooper, you've probably felt like eating poetry a million times, right? We sense a hush that's fallen over the crowd out there, but that's okay. Even if you don't love poetry, you likely love something. And when you enjoy something that much, it's sometimes hard to express yourself in a way that fully captures your excitement. So "eating" it makes just as much sense as any other way of expressing your happiness.
The fact of the matter is that conveying the goings-on in your heart and mind is sometimes a ridiculous feat. No matter if it's a librarian, girlfriend, boyfriend, or faithful Lassie, other people might never fully understand the way you're feeling. They might just look at you in the same way Strand's librarian does, as if you're just plain crazy. And that's okay because it's all part of being human and unique.
Sure, you might feel frustrated and maybe even isolated because of those feelings that others just don't get. But in "Eating Poetry," Mark Strand celebrates all those weird feelings that are impossible to convey to others. Why feel frustrated when you can "romp with joy"? This poem lets us know that feeling ecstatic about something shouldn't be diminished by your attempts to get others to feel the same way. The way you experience joy is what really matters, no matter what inspires that joy.
So carry on, Shmoopers, in whatever way makes you most joyous. Just remember that ink might not be the best thing for your digestive system.
One-Stop Strand Shop
Here's all you need on Strand and his weird poetry world.
Strand on Being Poet Laureate
Yup, it's pretty much the highest honor a poet can receive. Here's his cool take on it.
Strand and His Work
Check out this thorough discussion about Strand's first and latest works.
Strand at the Frick
He painted too, so here he is at the Frick reading his work.
Strand Wishes This Wasn't His Poem
What a way to introduce your poem, right?
Strand's Doing the Reading
Here's a nice selection of poetry readings by our man.
Here's an… interesting version of the poem put to music.
Strand and Cool Glasses
He looks like a true poet here with the smirk and the glasses.
What "Eating Poetry" Looks Like
Here's a guy eating some poems.
Strand's New Stuff
Here's a nice write-up of our man's newest work.
Strand and the Intelligent Life
Strand writes so he can understand what he has to say.
Famous critic Harold Bloom breaks it down for us in this comprehensive research and study guide.
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