Contrary to popular belief, literature cannot subsist on jug wine and Marlboros. Mark Strand has famously suggested “eating poetry,” and I applaud his valiant effort to raise awareness about the nutrition deficiencies that disproportionately affect low-income writers—the MFAs, adjuncts, and secondary school teachers who compose our silent majority. Strand’s heart is certainly in the right place. Unfortunately, like so many celebrities who champion social causes, he is somewhat misinformed.
It’s true that poems can be a cheap source of fiber and iron sulfides (depending on the publisher’s choice of ink). However, an exclusive diet of poetry is sure to produce flat and flabby language because most poems contain no protein. None. And without protein, you can’t build muscular verbs.
To help you better feed your muse, and based upon recent findings from the National Association for Literary Nutrition (NALN), here are a few cheap foods every writer should eat:
COLA products, used regularly, can destabilize your mood as effectively as an illegal substance dependency. They’re more affordable and, of course, much more socially accepted. Store brands work just as well as Coke or Pepsi, but avoid the passionless varieties (i.e., caffeine-free or diet) that will yield neither a jittery rush nor a depressive crash. You are bound to build a tolerance,
so remember to supplement, beginning around week two, with strong coffee, energy drinks, and brownies. Also, keep in mind that drip coffee is stronger than espresso!
TUNA, cod, sardines, mackerel, and other cold water fish are protein-packed to support lean, energetic prose. They also promote healthy vision—for carrot-crisp imagery.
SOY contains linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid responsible for generating the hormones that regulate smooth muscle contraction, and one of several nutrients formal poems can’t produce on their own. The average villanelle contains only 0.8% of the linoleic acid recommended by literary nutritionists. It’s no wonder so many young villanelles fumble herky-jerky through their interlocking schemes. Dylan Thomas fed his villanelles plenty of edamame, I’d bet, and you
would be well advised to choke down some bargain tofu or soy milk before your next formal undertaking.
KETCHUP boasts “natural mellowing agents that help combat feelings of inadequacy. Plus extra endorphins, for creativity” (Ketchup Advisory Council, 2000). NALN’s most prominent board member, Mr. Garrison Keillor, has long promoted ketchup’s nutritive benefits through service announcements on his radio show.
In addition to these cornerstones, of course, the real key to invigorated writing is dietary variety. What haven’t you eaten? Alligator nuggets? Taro root? Tempeh? Never pass up an opportunity to nibble the unknown. Aristotle, in his Pineapple Poetics, meditates, “[E]ven if a writer in his poetic imitation were to combine all metres, as Chaeremon did in his Centaur, which is a vegetable medley composed of metres of all kinds, we should bring him too under the general term poet. So much then for these distinctions. So much for the diabolic pineapple.” Where literary nutrition is concerned, then, a writer can never hope to discover her own “diabolic pineapple” in a vegetable medley, or even a fruit cup, it seems. So embolden your spirit. Lick a whole kiwi. Chew a strange plant.
For more practical writing tips, visit NALN’s website, or check back here in a few weeks for my next topic: The Literary Shower. In case you missed it, here’s a related post on MFA fashion.
Meaghan Russell was just startled by a boxelder that flipped from her poetry notebook, unfazed, and without comment. She wears boots.