Wednesday, April 4, 2018

2018 Poem #21 -- Comfort Food

by Brett Vogelsinger

Everybody has their favorite comfort food. An omelette with bacon, macaroni and cheese, wonton soup, chocolate cake with vanilla icing, and a full box of Triscuits -- these are a few of my personal favorites.  

In the poem "Everybody Made Soups," poet Lisa Coffman takes an artistic eye to a favorite winter comfort food, and since winter does  not seem to want to let go of us here in Pennsylvania this year, it seems strangely apropos right now.  After a first read of the poem, I ask students to answer a single question.  What words or phrases do you find here that are most surprising to find in a poem about soup?

Everybody Made Soups
by Lisa Coffman

After it all, the events of the holidays,
the dinner tables passing like great ships,
everybody made soups for a while.
Cooked and cooked until the broth kept
the story of the onion, the weeping meat.
It was over, the year was spent, the new one
had yet to make its demands on us,
each day lay in the dark like a folded letter.
Then out of it all we made one final thing
out of the bounty that had not always filled us,
out of the ruined cathedral carcass of the turkey,
the limp celery chopped back into plenty,
the fish head, the spine. Out of the rejected,
the passed over, never the object of love.
It was as if all the pageantry had been for this:
the quiet after, the simmered light,
the soothing shapes our mouths made as we tasted.

Words and phrases like "great ships," "the story of the onion," "weeping," "cathedral," and "pageantry" consistently surprise my students.  We often end up discussing the fun choice of ending the poem with the image of "the soothing shapes our mouths made as we tasted."  I even ask them to pantomime what it looks like to eat a spoonful of soup. 

A follow-up question can help us go deeper and inspire writing: Why does the writer use words that seem almost too profound or intense for the topic?  How does this help strengthen the poem? 

For five minutes, students can write in their notebooks about a favorite comfort food, perhaps even using language that is a bit over-the-top to intensify the effect on readers.  Writing with them in my notebook under the document camera, I might zoom in on the "lava flows" when I slice open my omelette or capture the feeling of "base jumping" off the "cliff" of a three-layered chocolate cake slice.  These subtle hyperboles can make the mundane become extraordinary, and often that is the ambition of a poem in the first place. 

Further Reading: 

Brett Vogelsinger is a ninth-grade English teacher at Holicong Middle School in Bucks County, PA.  He is the faculty adviser for the school literary magazine, Sevenatenine.  Besides his annual blogging adventure on this site, he has published work on Nerdy Book Club, The New York Times Learning Network, and Edutopia and you can follow him on Twitter (@theVogelman).

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