“The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.”
Celebrate food’s role in poetry and culture with the poems and resources below.
The following activities have been adapted from Teach This Poem: “In Praise of Okra” by January Gill O'Neil. They can be done alone or with a guardian, sibling, friend, or partner.
Warm-up: Name a food associated with your region, culture, or heritage that you really like.
Read the entry on okra in the Encyclopædia Britannica and write down the words and phrases that jump out at you. What did you learn from this entry?
Read the poem “In Praise of Okra” silently, then write down the words and phrases that jump out at you.
If you have a partner, ask them to read the poem aloud. Take turns reading and listening, and write down any additional words and phrases that you notice.
Share the list you’ve created with your partner. What do these words and phrases suggest to you about the importance of okra for the poem’s speaker? How did the entry from the encyclopedia help you understand this poem?
Why does the speaker in the poem think her friends are “cheating themselves” if they don’t like okra? What evidence in the poem leads you to this interpretation?
Think again about the food that you named during the warm-up. Do you know why it is important in your region, culture, or heritage? What is its history? (If you don't know the answers to these questions, think instead about why you or your family like this particular food.) Write a poem that describes what you know about this food and why it is different from other foods you eat. Remember to use descriptive words.
Christopher Gilbert was born on August 1, 1949, in Birmingham, Alabama, and grew up in Lansing, Michigan. The fourth of six children, he worked in General Motors assembly plants during summer vacations, where his parents and several of his siblings worked. Gilbert received a BA in psychology from the University of Michigan in 1972 and an MA in psychology from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1975.
His first poetry collection, Across the Mutual Landscape, was chosen by Michael S. Harper for the Walt Whitman Award in 1983.
Of his poetry, poet Mark Doty writes: “No one else sounds quite like Christopher Gilbert... His voice feels timeless in its immediacy, and the poems startle in their almost uncanny ability to grant readers access to a mind at work.”
During his life, Gilbert worked as a psychotherapist in a variety of settings in Massachusetts, including the University of Massachusetts Medical School Counseling Center, the Judge Baker Guidance Center, and Cambridge Family and Children’s Service. He also taught psychology at Bristol Community College in Fall River, Massachusetts, from 1993 until his death on July 5, 2007.
Celebrate Christopher Gilbert’s birthday on August 1st and read more of his work at Poets.org.
The ode is a formal address to an event, a person, or a thing not present. The name comes from the Greek aeidein, meaning to sing or chant, and belongs to the long and varied tradition of lyric poetry.
There are three typical types of odes: the Pindaric, Horatian, and Irregular. Pindaric odes were traditionally performed with a chorus and dancers, and often composed to celebrate athletic victories. The Horatian ode, named for the Roman poet Horace, is generally more tranquil and contemplative than the Pindaric ode. The Irregular ode has employed all manner of formal possibilities, while often retaining the tone and thematic elements of the classical ode.
Read more about the three types of odes, then write your own about your favorite food.