Chesterton started a rumor which we quote from time to time.
"Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese." #Chesterton
— tspoetry (@tspoetry) May 28, 2015
Some who have access to stores of poems are quick to point out it’s nothing more than rumor, and unsubstantiated at that:
Let this be a lesson to you: quotation marks, properly aimed, might get you out of a cheese wheel of trouble.
Now, that Chesterton found a mysterious silence of poets on the subject of cheese is quite possibly because he did not spend a recent month with us here at Tweetspeak, where we devoted a full 30 days to the subject of cheese (more specifically, to poems about cheese). We found that poets are, in fact, remarkably conversant in the language of cheese. Might we suggest you pull up a cracker, maybe a sprig of grapes, and enjoy this roundup of 10 great cheese poems from Every Day Poems, our community, and beyond.
1. Personals by C.D. Wright
Some nights I sleep with my dress on. My teeth
are small and even. I don’t get headaches.
Since 1971 or before, I have hunted a bench
where I could eat my pimento cheese in peace.
If this were Tennessee and across that river, Arkansas,
I’d meet you in West Memphis tonight. We could
have a big time. Danger, shoulder soft.
Do not lie or lean on me. I’m still trying to find a job
for which a simple machine isn’t better suited.
I’ve seen people die of money. Look at Admiral Benbow. I wish
like certain fishes, we came equipped with light organs.
Which reminds me of a little known fact:
if we were going the speed of light, this dome
would be shrinking while we were gaining weight.
Isn’t the road crooked and steep.
In this humidity, I make repairs by night. I’m not one
among millions who saw Monroe’s face
in the moon. I go blank looking at that face.
If I could afford it I’d live in hotels. I won awards
in spelling and the Australian crawl. Long long ago.
Grandmother married a man named Ivan. The men called him
Eve. Stranger, to tell the truth, in dog years I am up there.
— C.D. Wright
2. Round of Cheese by Sandra Heska King
Round of cheese
hung high at daybreak,
demanded an omelet
before it cracked
the western horizon.
— Sandra Heska King
3. Short-Order Cook by Jim Daniels
An average joe comes in
and orders thirty cheeseburgers and thirty fries.
I wait for him to pay before I start cooking.
He ain’t no average joe.
The grill is just big enough for ten rows of three.
I slap the burgers down
throw two buckets of fries in the deep frier
and they pop pop, spit spit. . .
pssss. . .
The counter girls laugh.
It is the crucial point—
they are ready for the cheese:
my fingers shake as I tear off slices
toss them on the burgers/fries done/dump/
refill buckets/burgers ready/flip into buns/
beat that melting cheese/wrap burgers in plastic/
into paper bags/fried done/dump/fill thirty bags/
bring them to the counter/wipe sweat on sleeve
and smile at the counter girls.
I puff my chest out and bellow:
Thirty cheeseburgers! Thirty fries!
I grab a handful of ice, toss it in my mouth
do a little dance and walk back to the grill.
Pressure, responsibility, success.
Thirty cheeseburgers, thirty fries.
— Jim Daniels
4. Countrywomen by Katherine Mansfield
These be two
What a size!
Great big arms
And round red faces;
Sit down places;
Great big bosoms firm as cheese
Bursting through their country jackets;
Wide big laps
And sturdy knees;
Round and rosy,
Hands to hold
A country posy
Or a baby or a lamb—
And such eyes!
Stupid, shifty, small and sly
Peeping through a slit of sty,
Squinting through their neighbours’ plackets.
— Katherine Mansfield
5. Portrait of Dad as Cable Man by Marcus Goodyear
What is work? What’s a job? Why be called to toil?
When Mama commands me, reluctantly, I’ll nod,
take up rusty clippers, their hinges bathed in recent oil,
to splice cable wires dusted with the copper hair of dogs.
The work raises sweat. I am a rough and tumble dusty boy
too focused on the task to easily be awed,
too quick to seek a crack pot fix like tin foil
wrapped around the old rabbit ears of this flawed
television. It won’t play Saturday cartoons or anything
our kids like to watch while mama makes bacon, pancakes,
scrambled eggs and cheese. We work our chores like kings
until the years have come and gone, and we have baked
a life of toys and tools and necessary dreams,
sleepy, but awake enough to remember we can sing.
— Marcus Goodyear
6. Fairy Tale by Ron Padgett
The little elf is dressed in a floppy cap
and he has a big rosy nose and flaring white eyebrows
with short legs and a jaunty step, though sometimes
he glides across an invisible pond with a bonfire glow on his cheeks:
it is northern Europe in the nineteenth century and people
are strolling around Copenhagen in the late afternoon,
mostly townspeople on their way somewhere,
perhaps to an early collation of smoked fish, rye bread, and cheese,
washed down with a dark beer: ha ha, I have eaten this excellent meal
and now I will smoke a little bit and sit back and stare down
at the golden gleam of my watch fob against the coarse dark wool of my vest,
and I will smile with a hideous contentment, because I am an evil man,
and tonight I will do something evil in this city!
— Ron Padgett
7. On Defining Education by Marjorie Maddox
Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond;
cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.
Isn’t the seed better?
The tough, hard case
beneath the juice,
flesh just so much puffing up,
skin gone soft with too much rouge?
Better to be tossed out than consumed,
lusted after by the colon.
Or what of that lower-class cabbage
shredded to bits, thrown haphazardly in soups.
Whole, she’s the Cinderella that steals the show
for the truly hungry.
Nobody likes cauliflower,
cowering on fine china,
the ugly sister decorated
with a sterling ladle’s worth of cheese.
Please, feel free to confront.
I’m not talking about who you should be
but are. Let’s start with the essence of seed
and see what sprouts from there.
— Marjorie Maddox
8. Limburger Warning by Monica Sharman
Her flavor is
to die for.
will betray her—
Above all, do not
— Monica Sharman
9. After the Party by Richard Maxson
After the piquancy of conversation is gone,
and the music switched off,
you wake at three o’clock, streetlight
you pad to the kitchen for water,
a motorcycle whines somewhere far off;
you cork a half bottle of white left on the counter, the light
from the fridge interrogates
and you shuffle with your glass to the ruins of the living room:
slices and crumbles of cheese,
Lacey Swiss, oil beading around its ragged holes,
the Roquefort, used to being abandoned, you think
may offer consolation to this wanderer with like blue veins.
There is a red grape poised at the top of the stairs;
you wonder how,
when it stopped,
how it avoided departing guest, stepping, turning for hugs and hands.
This is not your house,
you realize, and the morning’s headache is beginning to form;
you would have seen the grape, perhaps heard it
as the carpet received its roundness;
or, if you had stairs, you would have paused and bent
between your shielding shoes, forgoing hands and hugs for prevention.
Why are you there still, with rounds of bread
and music on the floor,
the city going through its gears in the distance?
When you were a child you wished to be
in another house, any house,
away from a family that seemed so unlike you;
is this it? So many years gone between
then and saying yes, you will be there, tonight for the party;
years like dreams, half remembered;
You could tell stories of those years, you do not remember.
Tomorrow you will go home.
Tonight you will leave the cheese.
You will watch the grape bounce so silently down the stairs.
Then you will go back to sleep and maybe dream.
— Richard Maxson
10. A Parable by Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle
The cheese-mites asked how the cheese got there,
And warmly debated the matter;
The Orthodox said that it came from the air,
And the Heretics said from the platter.
They argued it long and they argued it strong,
And I hear they are arguing now;
But of all the choice spirits who lived in the cheese,
Not one of them thought of a cow.
— Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle
Photo by Rishad Daroowala, Creative Commons license via Flickr.
How to Write a Poem uses images like the buzz, the switch, the wave—from the Billy Collins poem “Introduction to Poetry”—to guide writers into new ways of writing poems. Excellent teaching tool. Anthology and prompts included.
“How to Write a Poem is a classroom must-have.”
—Callie Feyen, English Teacher, Maryland