All ages: Food Writing

During this time of lockdown, lots of us have thought more carefully about food: some of us miss going to our favourite restaurants or cafes; some of us can’t pop to the shops for an ice cream; some us have been fasting for Ramadan. Added to this, food is so often a means of connecting with other people, of ‘breaking bread’ with family and friends and exchanging stories. With this in mind, we invite you to think about food in another different way – through poetry. Poetry can also help us connect, have new experiences, and ‘taste’ the world. Here are some food-related poetry prompts.

Photo of a table of different Indian dishes

Food meets poetry

  • A few years ago the excellent folks at ‘Come Rhyme with me’ created a whole event as a poetic take on the popular Channel 4 programme Come Dine with Me. They created a whole menu of delicious poetry: appetisers, a starter, main course and dessert. You can see how the event played out here. What would be on your ideal poetry menu?
  • Why not try swapping a poetry menu with a bunch of friends and critique each other’s choices? Have a look at an example straight from Come Dine with Me for inspiration. ‘Sestina? What’s a sestina when it’s at home?’
  • The love_food Instagram account has our mouths watering with its tantalizing photos of our favourite snacks. Can you write a poem in response to a photograph?
  • 6-7 June would have been the Big Lunch, a huge annual get-together that aims to help us get to know our neighbours over food. With this year’s Big Lunch cancelled, let’s reach out to our neighbours in other ways – perhaps send your neighbour a favourite poem, post a poem in your window for passers-by to see, or write a poem on the theme of community. If you’re 11-17 years old, don’t forget to submit it to the Foyle Award!
  • We’ve covered the issue of food poverty on our Young Poets Network in the past. Click here for an interview with poet and teacher Fran Pridham about UK hunger and how poetry can make a difference. That YPN challenge has now closed but you can see the winning poems here.

Poets on food

Poets’ recipes

Some poets are real foodies and even come up with their own recipes for culinary creations. Check them out if you’re curious about the thoughts with which poets fill their days…

  • French nineteenth-century poet Stéphane Mallarmé created his very own recipe for coconut jam, which he published in a magazine he wrote and published entirely on his own, La Dernière Mode. He published the recipe under the pen name ‘Zizi’ – for him, writing about food was a way to try out a different identity. What’s your real or imaginary food identity?
  • Here’s a post on Medium where poets have written work in response to the prompt ‘Write your poem in the form of a recipe’. There’s even a recipe for disaster in there – maybe don’t try that one at home!
  • Poet and self-taught chef, Victoria McCabe, collected over 100 recipes from poets in the book John Keats’s Porridge: The Favorite Recipes of Beloved Poets. You can see some of them on Maria Popova’s blog, Brain Pickings. We’ve always wanted to try Allen Ginsburg’s recipe for borscht!
  • Historian Sarah Peters Kernan has unearthed a curious cookbook from 1560 (reprinted here in 1827) all about venison, Wyl bucke his Testament. The strange thing about it is that the introduction is written in verse, with the following recipes corresponding to the poem. Could you write an introduction to a cookbook in vers

This is just to say

If we’re thinking about poetry and food, how could we not mention William Carlos Williams’s ‘This is just to say’? This poem has spawned countless parodies, including by the illustrious Cookie Monster. It’s now so popular that there is even a website that will randomly generate a poem in the style of ‘This is just to say’ and a Twitter bot that does the same. Can you write a poem in this form? Is there anything you just want to say?

Photo taken from above of a box of cold plums