‘Eating Poetry’ by Mark Strand is a surrealistic depiction of a man’s obsessive poetry-eating and a librarian’s reaction. In the six stanzas of Eating Poetry, the speaker describes his decision to eat poetry in short, expressive lines.
Because poetry is generous, the speaker understands the librarian better than she understands him. The speaker’s licking of the librarian’s hand is a gentle act of communication for a dog, but for a man – who should be able to explain himself in words – the action is so bizarre that the imaginary librarian has to scream.
The most common literary device in this poem is metaphor. Metaphor is when a poet describes an idea that is a comparison; in this case, poetry is compared to food. You can’t literally eat poetry. Instead, Strand argues that reading a poem is a sensory experience, just like eating it.
Perhaps the librarian, besides being an outsider, is also a symbol of the kind of book people who study things but don’t really get the lived experience of the real world around them . Likewise, they don’t understand the strange people that live in the real world.
The librarian is in shock and “she doesn’t believe what she sees”. Unlike the speaker, who is exhilarated by his word feast, the librarian is sad. She walks “with her hands in her dress”, an allusion to her loneliness – the loneliness of those who have no poetry.
: an injury to the skin from intense friction there were also brush burns showing it had been dragged – M.G. Bishop.
“Eating Poetry” is written in free verse. It has no regular meter, which makes things feel instinctive and unplanned, as if the speaker is just speaking as they think. In a way, then, the poem’s lack of meter reflects the original, animalistic behavior of the speaker.