Friday, April 1, 2011

National Poetry Month 2011 & "The Iceberg Theory" by Gerald Locklin

Even though we're dealing with a bad April fool's joke from Mother Nature in the Northeast, there is cause to celebrate. Today marks the beginning of National Poetry Month, and I will be blogging about poetry throughout April (and I will try my best to post about a poem at least once a week).

To kick off National Poetry Month (and fit in a Foodie Friday post), today's poem is

"The Iceberg Theory"
by Gerald Locklin

all the food critics hate iceberg lettuce.
you'd think romaine was descended from
orpheus's laurel wreath,
you'd think raw spinach had all the nutritional
benefits attributed to it by popeye,
not to mention aesthetic subtleties worthy of
veriaine and debussy.
they'll even salivate over chopped red cabbage
just to disparage poor old mr. iceberg lettuce.

I guess the problem is
it's just too common for them.
It doesn't matter that it tastes good,
has a satisfying crunchy texture,
holds its freshness
and has crevices for the dressing,
whereas the darker, leafier varieties
are often bitter, gritty, and flat.
It just isn't different enough and
it's too goddamn american.

of course a critic has to criticize;
a critic has to have something to say
perhaps that's why literary critics
purport to find interesting
so much contemporary poetry
that just bores the shit out of me.

at any rate, I really enjoy a salad
with plenty of chunky iceberg lettuce,
the more the merrier,
drenched in an Italian or roquefort dressing.
and the poems I enjoy are those I don't have
to pretend that I'm enjoying.

This poem is the perfect love letter for anyone who has read a piece of contemporary poetry and wondered, "What on earth do the critics see in this?" The central metaphor that compares the type of poetry that the speaker likes to the humble (and often maligned) iceberg lettuce is very fitting.

I also enjoy this poem because of an embarrassing teacher faux pas I made when teaching high school. Having first encountered this poem in an anthology compiled by Garrison Keillor, I read through the poem and typed up what I thought was a clean copy minus the curse words. While they might not be a big deal in some schools, I was teaching at a small, private, religious school in the south. When I had a student volunteer read the poem, she read it, with great gusto, taking care to emphasize certain words in the second and third stanzas. While I still shake my head at my oversight, I also have to laugh every time I read this poem.