Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

How are poems like ham cubes?

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Ted Kooser

The butchers at the Pac ‘N’ Save where I shop have started using equipment that form-fits a plastic covering over ham cubes they sell for making bean soup, one of my favorite winter meals. The ham cubes lie in the open refrigerated counters looking just like loose piles of ham chunks upon which is a shiny, see-through coating. I suppose it’s a kind of shrink-wrap, done with heavier plastic. It used to be that I would buy a little Styrofoam tray of ham cubes with a sheet of plastic wrap stretched over it. Quite a bit of empty grocery store air got sealed in the tray with the ham. But with the new equipment there’s scarcely a bubble of space that isn’t taken up by pure ham. Maybe you too have seen meat packaged this way.

The form of a poem ought to be like that. What’s important, after all, is the ham cubes—that is, the words and images of the poem, not what contains them. The form ought to fit the poem just like that shrink-wrap, and be just that transparent, so you can look right through the form to the ham.

Ted Kooser, The Poetry Repair Home Manual

Written by nevalalee

February 9, 2013 at 9:50 am

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