The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Eating Poetry” is a short poem in free verse, its eighteen lines divided into six stanzas. The title suggests either comedy or surrealism, and the poem contains elements of both. Mark Strand uses the first person to create a persona whose voice is Strand’s but whose experience is imaginary; indeed, the fact that the poem is a work of imagination is the main point.

The story of “Eating Poetry” is simple enough. The speaker is in a library, where he is eating, not reading, poetry. After he has eaten “The poems,” the speaker is confronted by a librarian, and dogs start on their way up from the basement; the speaker himself begins to behave like a dog. Eating the poetry seems to have changed the speaker.

The first sentence of the poem’s opening stanza carries the reader into a strange world. Not only is eating poetry an unlikely (even surreal) activity, but Strand’s description of the immediate physical result is also extraordinary. The ink in books of poetry is not usually runny, but if one can eat poetry, strange things may happen. “Eating Poetry” begins with an image confirming the title: “Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.” The image plays on the familiar metaphor “a voracious reader,” which suggests a hungry consumer of books. Strand takes the idea of consuming poetry literally. Instead of simply reading poetry voraciously, the speaker is actually eating it—and enjoying it.

The speaker’s...

(The entire section is 475 words.)