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September 2021

When you hear the word "menu" your first thought is probably about a restaurant's list of the dishes available. Menu does have other usages including any list or set of items, activities, etc., from which to choose. A friend asks, "What's on your menu for the weekend?" Websites almost always have a menu of options available to a user. Screens of all sizes have menu options, such as those for Netflix and streaming services.

The word "menu" is mid-19th century French and meant any small, detailed list having comes from Latin minutus meaning "very small." Lists of prepared foods for customers goes back much further to the Song dynasty in China.The original French menus were were presented on a small chalkboard. In French, that chalkboard was "a carte" so foods chosen from that bill of fare are described as "à la carte" or literally, "according to the board." Today, à la carte items are generally specials not on the main menu.

I tried to find a menu poem without success. That surprises me since menu language is filled with hyphens, quotation marks, puffery and foreign words that might appeal to poets. The majority of foreign words are French and so we have menu items such as "spring mushroom civet," "pain of rabbit,"and "orange-jaggery gastrique.

The closest I found to menu poems are list poems (sometimes called catalog poems). A list poem can be a list of single words, or it could be a list of similar sentences. But a list poem should not be just a list. The best of them use items that have a relation to each other, or tell a story or perhaps offer commentary on a subject.

Walt Whitman liked to use lists in his poetry. I found Anne Porter's "List of Praises" and James Tate's "The List of Famous Hats" but they aren't what I imagine a menu poem to be. I found "A Little Menu" by Don Mee Choi, but it is basically a list poem.

Since menus usually have some explanation of each item, I thought that "Objects Used to Prop Open a Window" by Michelle Menting comes closer to the menu form. The poem moves from literal objects ( Dog bone, stapler, cribbage board, garlic press) to ones that can't literally prop open a window (Velvet moss, sagebrush, willow branch, robin's wing) "because this window, it's pane-less. It's only a frame of air." (There are several more examples on the blog version of this prompt.)

So what kind of menu poems were we looking for this issue? You can start with a list of some kind be it names, places, actions, thoughts, or images. Since a menu is about options, that should be a consideration. The grand language of the restaurant menu can be employed. The branching sub-menus we find online are also a possible structure. Most list poems don't rhyme, but that might be something to consider. You might also use an additional poetic form, such as it being a sonnet, found poem, etc. Again, what makes a list or menu poem more than just a list is what the poet does with the items beyond mere listing.

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.


Mise en scène:
end of summer at the lake
no swimmers but the water
is still late September warm
Before I knew you were with her.

Prepare your doubts
as an appetizer.
Sauvignon blanc softens things.
Delay the main course
with conversational tidbits..
When served, the big plates
seem too full
so you start working your way
around each item
knowing that the meat at the center
is rare and bloody.
Dessert is served after you left.
I feel too full but also feel
I deserve to have it.
I consume it
and feel a bit nauseous.
Coffee does not help
and walk away unsteadily
until a cool, nature-scented pastnted breeze
chills my bare arms
making me shiver and shake
off the past.

Lily Hayashi


call old friends unseen this past year
avoid anything pumpkin-related
take out boots from storage
freshen sweaters
unpack flannel pajamas
store summer clothing
(keep one bathing suit, shorts etc. - just in case)
take plants off balcony
write four poems about this past summer
visit them in the cemetery
walk through fallen leaves
watch children on playground and wonder
hide from Halloween
Felice Domani


I don’t like fishing.
But I like hyperbole.
It had a hundred pockets.
I like a poem that can hold
numerous small swindles
and lots of harmonicas,
lots of kazoos, Jew’s harps
and rhythm bones,
not to mention a childhood memory
of an imitation turd
from a novelty shop
on Hancock Street.
I saw the vest in the window
of the sporting goods store
and I thought: now every poem
shall have its pocket.
And I thought: let there be plenty of pens
and pocket combs, a pocket dictionary,
a box of raisins, a pocket watch,
a deck of cards, and a pack
of cigarettes. I hadn’t
smoked in years but now I wanted
a pack of cigarettes. I wanted
a deck of cards and I wanted
a poem that could hold
everything. Everything I wanted
and everything I didn’t want
but got dealt anyway. I didn’t
want to go fishing. I didn’t
give a shit about fishing.
I wanted those pockets,
a hundred of them,
and the one that got away.

Paul Hostovsky


In the end
We kept it simple
All finger food (because of the pandemic)
Cupcakes from a local bakery - expensive
Cookies: sugar, chocolate chip, molasses
Easy to freeze and transport
Cannoli - for even more variety

Same for the drinks
No alcohol
After all, that is what killed him
That and cigarettes (which, later, he'd regret)
Coffee - his favorite, fresh brewed Folgers
Tea. Just add water - hot or cold
Seltzer (flavored). His substitute for soda
After the diabetes
Bottled water (another nod to COVID)

But food was just an appetizer
The Main Course:
Stories from the distant past
Served up with a mix of tears
And sides of laughter
Tales of stray cats, hitchhiking trips
Two of his mates brought their guitars
And sang of nights
Spent making love
To long necked Hummingbirds
And leggy twelve-string Martins

We left the church
At peace with grief - let out but leashed
Held by hands clasped tight
To memories...
Of years when we could fly
And did, joined at the hip
By knotted lines
Still strong enough to weather ...
Frank Kelly


He chose the white cup that had her name
red painted by one of the grandchildren
while waiting out the rain.

Eleven more surrounded it in the cupboard,
each one eponymous, all empty objects now,
variables no longer called.

The array was limited to evocative names,
properties of those who strained to mute
their masked and simmering grievances.

Each cup a pointer to the family tree,
glazed totems of generational sadness and anger
that time congealed into classes of disappointment.

Each one a token without purchase,
standing amassed, atrophied and brittle,
each a martyr's reliquary of regrets.

If the grandparents' cups, then two versions of a dream
else ones containing the rivalry of their sons and daughters
or the palpable bewilderment of the next generation.

He chose his wife, as no one else would dare,
to once again review and recollect and reassess
his time and memory of her.

That very cup so often resting on butcher block
as she takes in the ocean with every sense,
and watches a bumblebee alight for the daylily's nectar.

Rob Friedman


Old Business
It's all old business.
Committee Assignments
No one wants to be on committees.
The tenured don't show up anyway.
New Courses
You can't just take the course you've taught for 8 years
and give it a new buzzworthy title and propose it.
P and T
Yes, we know. You don't think any of the new people
should be tenured or promoted.
People said the same thing about you.
New Business
Sorry. I can't get your office redecorated or moved.
We have no budget for meeting refreshments.
Yes, we do have to meet next month.

Pamela Milne


They’re curious; they’ve never seen one before.
Or they miss their mother’s old machine,
the one they gave away to Goodwill.
They want the clatter of keys,
the zing-clunk of carriage return,
the smell of vintage Royal typewriter.
They want to know what a poem might cost
or how much to donate to the cause.
They don’t mind if the ribbon’s out of ink,
they’ll be happy with a carbon copy.
They don’t mind typos X’d over –
typos prove it’s the original typewritten poem.
They don’t really want a poem; just looking.
Or they want a poem pounded out just for them,
or for a husband who may not even care;
poem for a beloved cat (photo in the wallet)
or an ode to summer or mountain lupine
or wanderlust, or freedom, or hope.
Or (almost too shy to ask) a poem for lost love
to hold against his heart as he walks away.

Taylor Graham


Morning Glory vines
curl around my mailbox
opening purple, pink, blue
& white trumpets at sunrise
for broad billed humming birds,
monarch butterflies & bumble bees,
closing flowers at dusk
warding off predatory moths.

Long arms extend & intertwine
around fences, water faucets,
hoses, ivy, roses, trees—anything
rooted in the soil—as well as
wrap themselves in knotted coils,
twisted fibers of invasive rope
choking life out of other plants
then mercilessly throttling themselves.

Sterling Warner


Medicine chest on the wall
who is this woman I can’t recall?

I open you up and what do I see?
These contents can’t possibly
Belong to ... me?

Eye wrinkle creams, hair dyes
and firming lotions,
arthritis, blood pressure
and cholesterol potions

Where are my birth control pills,
tampons and lip gloss?
Replaced by heat rubs, antacids
and dental floss

Vitamins and supplements
for bones and eyes
and skin and hair
that no longer shine

And knees that creak
and bones that ache
So, I close the door
my head I shake
and head to the kitchen
for some feel better cake

But before I do,
I reach back inside
and swallow a Tums
along with my pride

I look in the mirror
one last time
The medicine chest
- a capsule in time

I celebrate myself
- older but fine
then grab another Tums
to go with some w(h)ine

Terri J. Guttilla

Poet and teacher Alissa Pecora uses our prompts with her high school students and this month submitted several of their responses which we present here


Water droplets, bed sheets,
Walls with cracks
A water bed to sleep in

Pots, pans, spoons
The door stopper as tempo
An orchestra well renowned

A dog with heart problems, grey snout , a bad eye
a blanket on his back
A noble steed, I ride throughout my lands

Bed sheets, chairs, and furniture
A flashlight, my torch
My palace with plastic grass under my feet

Walls, walls , and walls
A sharpie in hand
Picasso’s prodigy

Dirt, bare feet, anthills
A hammock on the tree
An explorer in the wild unknown

A knock, locks turning, a loud greeting
Their mouth widening on the sides
The king and queen have arrived

My eyes, my mind
So many colors so many shapes
Very little, yet so much I know

Danny Tarifa


It is bright spring days
It is the salty smell of the ocean
It is the taste of cool fresh water
It is the sound of violins and birds chirping
It is the melancholy feeling of snowy winter days
It is the nights where neither the moon nor stars shine
It is wilting flowers, slowly dying
It is the beginning and end of a storm
It is the cold in your lungs when you try and run
It is the sharp, metallic taste of anxiety
It is the initial feeling of tripping and falling
It is nails sliding down a chalkboard
It is butterflies, swarming every inch of your body
It is being warm under a blanket, when everything else is cold
It is handing someone a knife
And it is hoping they never use it
It is, it is, it is

Amelia Karch


Dirty blonde
The same black t-shirt, the same blue jeans
At least two layers, one warm, one cold
Mismatched socks, colors, anything able to match or not
Any and everything, hats, boots, sunglasses
No preference
Older than you, treat you like their own little sibling
Older than you and hate you for it
Same age as you, friends with you first
Same age as you, prefer him
Younger than you, annoying
Younger than you, but cool
Dreams? (Pick two)
To be in a band
To fall in love
To stay awake all night
To fall asleep for once
To be a doctor of sorts
To never be anything at all
Kind and friendly
Unapproachable, loud
Unapproachable, quiet
Sporadic, switching
To you?
Has made it their sworn duty to harass you
Couldn’t care less about you
Wants to be nicer to you
Nice to you around people
Nice to you when home alone
(Your brother should arrive in five to six business days.
Brother may change. No returns, no refunds.)

Allison Buchanan


School, full of children, teachers, people completing repetitive jobs
Pencils, paper, textbooks, staplers, glue, and computers
Try their best, try so hard, parents yell, tears are shed
Grade after grade, we begin to forget what we did the day prior
Math, Science, English, History, and so much more
Stress, weakness, laziness, unmotivated
One day, after another, after another

Samantha Culver


Everything, nothing
Past, present, future
One and the same
Meaningless and meaningful

All over, encompassing
So dark that its bright
Ideas floating

Building blocks
Atoms, elements
Miniscule yet massive
Omnipresent, yet concentrated
Fabric composing

First events set precedents
Silence to bring noise
The start of the beginning, the start of the end
Universal laws

Violence before peace
Creation brings formation
Taking shape

Bundles of matter
Colors in the light
Potential hospitality
Centers, homes

Beacons, transcendent
It gives and it takes

Planetary lighthouses
What happened, what will happen
The happening

Sprouted suddenly, sprouted gradually
Temporary, eternal
Guider of destiny, yet predetermined
Undecided, yet certain

David Skolnick