Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Eating Poetry” is a poem about imagination. Everything in it is imaginary. It uses commonplace notions about the readers of poetry and librarians to dramatize the waywardness of imagination. Librarians are supposed to maintain order, and poetry readers are supposed to be harmless people. Strand wants the reader to see that poetry may be dangerous: To consume it is to run the risk of being transformed.

The poem takes place in imagination. Poets and readers of poetry live by imagination. Poems do not only yield “meaning,” they also offer experiences. Like a reader with limited expectations for poetry, the librarian “does not believe what she sees” and “does not understand” the speaker’s transformation. Her bewilderment elicits more and more doglike behavior from the speaker, until he licks her hand.

Because poetry is generous, the speaker understands the librarian better than she understands him. The speaker’s licking the librarian’s hand is a gentle act of communication from a dog, but from a man—who should be able to use words to explain himself—the action is so bizarre it makes the imaginary librarian scream.

Like the speaker licking the librarian’s hand, “Eating Poetry” arouses the senses. From dripping ink to snarling and romping dogs, poems are more than simple information that librarians can maintain between the covers of books for orderly reference. One of the most striking images in the poem...

(The entire section is 507 words.)


(Poetry for Students)

Realism vs. Surrealism
The most obvious element of Mark Strand's "Eating Poetry"—as well as much of his other work—is the...

(The entire section is 822 words.)