by Joel Garza
I’m something of a romantic--that is, when it comes to poetry. I am drawn most quickly, most deeply to those poems that seem to be a recollection of a spontaneous and powerful experience, an overflow of emotions recorded artfully for a reader to taste. A poem, in these cases, happens to the poet and happens to the reader.
Here’s such a poem: “Ode to Cheese Fries” by José Olivarez. I think it’s an accessible and relatable and beautiful poem on its own. But if you’re interested in a full intellectual meal inspired by Olivarez’s poem, follow these steps.
Ask your readers & writers to think carefully about one of their favorite things to eat. Start with the senses that surround and complement taste: What does it look like? What does it sound & smell like? How does its texture heighten its flavor? It’s okay to respond in single words--full sentences might come later, or they might not.
Now ask your readers & writers to look at what surrounds that food--take a look at yourself enjoying the food as if you’re above the action of you eating it. What setting do you associate this food with? (Your grandmother’s house, a local baseball stadium, a food court in a mall) Who is seated near you as you eat this delectable thing? What languages or decor or music provides the best foundation for your tastebuds? Finally, what’s the aftereffect / afterglow like that compels you to remember & return to this food?
It’s time to read the Olivarez poem. Ask your readers & writers to listen carefully while you read. Ask them to underline their favorite single feature of the poem--a word, a line, a turn of phrase, whatever. Read it out loud a second time, and have them say the underlined thing out loud with you. It’s really fun to see which lines pop for most readers, which images excite only certain folk.
Now it’s time for them to write their own ode. Congratulate them on all of the ingredients they’ve compiled in their prewriting: their reflections about senses and setting of their favorite food (the appetizer), their secret ingredient that excited them most about the first course (the Olivarez poem). The main course is their own dish cooked up their own way. ¡Buen provecho!