A Poetry Exercise: How To Stuff a Pepper

When school is in session, I do some of my own best writing in the classroom.  I give my students an exercise and we spend a few minutes writing side by side.  Sometimes the exercise grows out of a poem we've just read together.  With the poet's voice inside our heads, we open our journals and write, sowing seeds that might grow into something. Some of our most interesting poems--theirs and mine--start with other, more practiced voices ringing in our ears.

Last week I gave my poetry workshop one of my most-loved poems, one that never fails to make me see something perfectly ordinary in a radically new way:

How to Stuff a Pepper

Now, said the cook, I will teach you
how to stuff a pepper with rice.

Take your pepper green and gently,
for peppers are shy.  No matter which side
you approach, it's always the backside.
Perched on green buttocks, the pepper sleeps.
In its silk tights, it dreams
of somersaults and parsley,
of the days when the sexes were one.

Slash open the sleeve
as if you were cutting a paper lantern,
and enter a moon, spilled like a melon,
a fever of pearls,
a conversation of glaciers.
It is a temple built to the worship
of morning light.

I have sat under the great globe
of seeds on the roof of that chamber,
too dazzled to gather the taste I came for.
I have taken the pepper in hand,
smooth and blind, a runt in the rich
evolution of roses and ferns.
You say I have not yet taught you

to stuff a pepper?
Cooking takes time.

Next time we'll consider the rice.


Next, I gave them the following assignment.

Write a "how to" poem.  Make wild imaginative leaps.

Ready, set, write!

"How to Stuff a Pepper" may be found in Nancy Willard's charming and original collection, Household Tales of Moon and Water.


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