Mark Strand’s poem “Eating Poetry” describes his transformative elation at reading poetry. The title seems like it has metaphorical meaning, until the reader realizes that he literally ingests the printed words.
Interpreted metaphorically, the title “Eating Poetry” seems to express Strand’s figurative consumption of poetry. He could be enthusiastically reading, thinking about, and experiencing the poem’s content, images, literary devices, and so on. Instead, Strand reveals that he is physically devouring the pages onto which the words are printed:
Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
Like a gleeful child, he has stuffed the pages into his mouth and gorged himself on the words to the point where they overflow like juice dripping out of his lips. He admits,
I have been eating poetry.
He confirms that he is literally munching on poetry by introducing a librarian dismayed by his actions. She cannot “believe what she sees,” this absurd scene. And who else would believe and understand, as well? After all, how often does she (or any onlooker) witness a patron taking bites of a document and then chewing and swallowing the pieces—and with abandon, as Strand emphasizes,
There is no happiness like mine.
The librarian may or may not understand his enthusiastic appreciation for poetry, but she certainly does not share his enthusiasm for literally eating poetry; to her, he is simply destroying library property. She is “sad” and unsure how to handle this surreal situation:
The poems are gone.
The light is dim.
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.
By now, the poor librarian is completely upset. On top of everything, Strand has turned into a gleeful canine; he kneels down and licks her hand (as dogs do when they express happiness and fondness). Understandably she screams—after all, the scene now is chaotic, the man’s behavior is frighteningly bizarre, and the question of if he will eat her next is valid. Strand declares,
I am a new man.
I snarl at her and bark.
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.
Eating—metaphorically (reading) and literally (physically consuming)—has made Strand into a “new man.” He does not “snarl” out of aggression but fervor. He barks with zeal and then frolics (“romp with joy”) like an unleashed puppy in the now-closed library (“bookish dark").