Analysis of "How to Eat a Poem" by Eve Merriam

Updated on December 18, 2017
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Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

Eve Merriam on the left
Eve Merriam on the left | Source

Eve Merriam and How To Eat A Poem

How To Eat A Poem focuses on the idea that all poems are a kind of food and can be popped into the mouth, chewed on, swallowed and digested. It is aimed at the mouths of babes and children but could be nutritious for adults too.

Eve Merriam, poet, writer and playwright, lived from 1916 - 1992 and this poem was published in her second book of poetry It Doesn't Always Have To Rhyme (1964) written for children.

'Whatever you do, find ways to read poetry. Eat it, drink it, enjoy it, share it. I try to transmit to children and their teachers something of my lust for the language of poetry. '

A great believer in the sounds of poetry being heard when read out loud, she took her work into schools and gave passionate readings and workshops. Her poetry concentrates on three main subjects:

  • the wonder of Nature.
  • the social aspects of life.
  • the sheer joy of living.

A keen observer of political and social life, she used her literary skills to highlight faults in society, using satire and wit to get to the basics.

But most of all she enjoyed the interaction between words and sounds and she loved to share her talent with all, especially children. Poetry was in her veins from an early age:

'It's like a shot of adrenalin or oxygen when I hear rhymes and word play.'

How To Eat A Poem

Analysis of How To Eat A Poem

  • How To Eat A Poem is a 14 line free verse poem made up of 3 stanzas. It has little regular rhythm and only one full end rhyme, in/chin.
  • It is a mix of short and long lines. The third stanza is more of a list, a repeated column that makes reference to various fruits.
  • It encourages the reader to approach a poem using instinct and intuition, rather than any formal or rigid manner. A poem is best eaten raw perhaps?
  • The speaker's direct expression is plain and straightforward. Do not hang around or hesitate, use your teeth, those sharp incisors, and bite into the poem.
  • Note the imperative, Bite in - the reader can hardly refuse such an abrupt invitation. But hang on, what are we biting into? A sandwich? A piece of cheese? A fruit? The speaker is saying that the reader ought just to get stuck in. No need for politeness, perhaps a need for rudeness? Not exactly. The speaker is saying that we shouldn't be afraid to be ourselves because the poem is there to be eaten. It is pure nourishment.
  • The third line, the longest, suggests that the poem can be managed with one hand but be prepared because it is full of juices. Perhaps it's so ripe you just can't help squeezing the goodness out of it. It could be a messy procedure, but one that's enjoyable and quite possibly, fun.
  • As implied, the poem is fruit-like because it has ripened - in the heart and mind of the poet - and now the reader is the one who finally gets the benefit of all this ripening.
  • All you need is a digestive system to appreciate the poem. No implements or domestic furniture of any kind is needed.
  • The poem can be eaten whole, with no waste. It's a kind of perfect food, made entirely of words. How strange and wonderful. The digestive system becomes the eyes, the ears, the heart, the mind, the whole person?
  • Are you left wondering just exactly what sort of food the speaker is 'talking' about? Plum, peach, apple, pear, orange, mango, kumquat, loquat or none of things?

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