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friday feast: two poetic peas in a pod

Did you know that June is National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month?
Let's celebrate with PEAS!


Today, we have not one, but TWO perfectly penned pea poems (one of them by a poet named Penny). I've titled this post "Two Poetic Peas in a Pod," because the similarities between the poems are quite uncanny. Both are entitled "Shelling Peas," both refer to fond childhood memories with grandmothers, both contain references to little boats from children's literature, and both are written in seven stanzas. To top it off, both poets live in New Jersey (the Garden State), and their first names contain five letters ("e" + double consonant + "y"). I mean, what are the chances?!

Maybe when it comes to pea poems, there's this gigantico cosmic pod that all poets share, some freaky pea collective unconscious they tap into. When you consider peas, it makes perfect sense. Except for The Princess and the Pea, they rarely go anywhere alone; they're definitely social vegetables who like to hang in groups. One thing for sure, both of these poems are excellent -- wonderful examples of the power of food to trigger vivid memories. Each reveals the poet's unique sensibility and it's interesting to see where their emotional journeys took them. I'd like to thank Kelly Fineman and Penny Harter for allowing me to post their poems and for providing a little backstory. Of course my curiosity was peaqued (sorry) -- why peas? why seven stanzas?, etc. Now I want to find a porch swing or vintage dinette table and shell some peas of my own!


by Kelly Ramsdell Fineman

Shelling peas after a day at the farmer's market, I am transported
to one of three mismatched chairs at the formica dinette table
in my grandmother's postage-stamp kitchen,
trying to keep pace with her, my small efforts no match
for the experience in her old hands.

I pop the stem of a pea pod back,
pull the string down the outside curve,
unzipping a jacket, only to find
a row of fat green pearl buttons inside.

Pea pods are the oysters of the garden –
inside some pods, a string of perfect pearls
in others, disappointment.

Pulling a string along the inside curve of a pea pod,
I create Thumbelina's canoe.

On first opening the outside curve of a pod,
I spy one row – a steady green caterpillar;
opening further, the hinge unclasps:
every other pea held to opposite sides
of this green womb by a tiny umbilicus.

Unzipping pods to strip reveal their insides,
I think about Charles Darwin:
Here three are fat and one is left unformed;
there, seven peas crowd so tightly their sides are flat,
blocks in a row that do not wish to separate.
Opening the last one, peas burst out;
avoiding my bowl, my hands,
they scatter four feet away on the floor.
The cat lies in wait to strike them.

I feel that I should write thank-you note
To the compost-bound empty husks:
Dear mother pods,
You have given me your children.
I had to pry them loose from the slight green cords
that bound them to you, through which
you gave them life and nurtured them.
Your job now over, I consign you to the compost heap.
Please know that before you can decay,
I will have eaten your children
dressed only with butter, salt and some pepper.

Copyright © 2010 Kelly Ramsdell Fineman. All rights reserved.

Kelly: I came home from the local farmer's market with fresh peas and sat down at the table to shell them. The house was very quiet and only Mojo was keeping me company. My mind was wandering a bit as I shelled, and some very concrete images and phrases started to pop into my head, so I grabbed a notebook and started jotting them all down in a sort of list. "Thumbelina's boat" was one entry. A rather detailed memory of performing the same task in my grandmother's kitchen, complete with a rather comprehensive description of her formica tabletop, was another. I ended up with something like eleven different entries, some long, some quite short.

Initially, I planned on writing one poem using the strongest image or concept, but I found that several of the ideas and images called to me, so I decided to take a page from Wallace Stevens's "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" and other poems I've read or heard in which poets have numbered their stanzas. In the end, some of the observations I'd made got combined together or shifted around while others got chucked -- et voilà: "Shelling Peas", in seven numbered stanzas.

Dead But Still Shopping/flickr

by Penny Harter

for my mother

We’re shelling peas, gently rocking on the swing
that hangs on chains from the roof of the porch
at my grandparents’ house.

I’m four years old, wedged between Mother and Nana.
Singing as we swing, I balance a metal pot on my knees
as peas rattle into it from their nimble hands.

Newly picked from the garden out back, the pods are still
warm from the sun. I take pleasure in the sudden give
along each seam, the stream of peas into my waiting palm.

Now and then I eat a handful, sweet-bitter on my tongue,
savoring their rawness, the scent of earth, the mystery
of taste revealed as I crunch their hard round bodies.

Feet not touching the floor, eyes even with the lattice-work
under the porch railing, I sway and dream in the shifting
light and shade of a long summer afternoon.

The owl and the pussycat went to sea / in a beautiful pea-green boat,
my mother recites to me at bedtime, her weight on the side of my bed,
her voice almost chanting this poem she has loved since childhood.

A blessing in my mouth, those pale, hard peas, which I taste
even now as I chew on this memory, hungry for a pea-green boat
I might go out to sea in, trawling for light among the watery stars.

Copyright © 2011 Penny Harter. All rights reserved.

Penny: One of my projects for my residency last January at VCCA was to write poems inspired by my reading my great-great-grandmother's journal for 1890 in Utica, NY. She wrote it when in her late fifties. She, Eleanor Ecob Morse, was a well-known 19th century painter (still-lifes) as was her husband, Jonathan Bradley Morse (landscapes). It is the only volume to survive from among some 60 journals my mother remembered seeing in her grandmother's attic when she was a young woman.

Anyway, Eleanor was an avid gardener and loved both fresh vegetables and flowers, often using them as models for her various displays she painted. Reading her accounts of picking both, I began remembering those fresh peas from my grandmother's garden, and shelling them with my nana and mother on my nana's front porch in South Orange, NJ. And the poem began. As for the tercets, that's just the way the poem seemed to want to unfold.

Pretty cool, no? Kelly and Penny, you're the best pea poets on the planet!

And now, a peas offering:


♥ Kelly Fineman's website and blog, Writing and Ruminating.

♥ Penny Harter's website and blog, A Poet's Alphabestiary.

♥ Aerobatic cloud collector Toby Speed is this week's Poetry Friday host at The Writer's Armchair. Zoom on over and check out the full menu of poems and reviews being shared around the blogosphere. Have a terrific weekend and of course,


Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan's alphabet soup. All rights reserved.


( 31 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 3rd, 2011 04:56 pm (UTC)
I don't know if I can take any more of your puns! But I loved this post because it's June and I think of early peas in our garden. There is nothing like fresh-picked English peas from garden to table. I loved them creamed. In fact, I wanted all my vegetables creamed--lima beans, corn. But especially peas.
Jun. 3rd, 2011 09:40 pm (UTC)
I've never had creamed peas! Don't mind creamed corn, though. Cannot stand lima beans. . .

No puns for you?

Give peas a chance :D!
Jun. 3rd, 2011 07:04 pm (UTC)
Oh Jama! Love the poems. Loved Kelly's the first time I read it and even more this time around.I liked Penny's too.

But I have to say that I hate pea. Hate 'em. Tons of bad childhood memories (you can't leave the table until you eat those young lady.) The mushiness of them. The flavor. The only thing worse was creamed corn. (Why ruin perfectly good corn by creaming it?)

However, a friend at work introduced me to hot wasabi peas and I do like those. I had forgotten about them until just now. Need to ask Erik to find me some.
Jun. 3rd, 2011 09:42 pm (UTC)
There's a big difference between canned peas, frozen peas and fresh peas. Can't believe you don't like any of them -- wasabi peas? crunchy and spicy. Good snack. :)
Jun. 3rd, 2011 11:00 pm (UTC)
Listen, y'all. You've never had fresh-from-the-garden tender little peas, corn sweet from the field, and baby limas still yawning . . . add a LIGHT white sauce, made by Southerners who learn to cook before they're in school, and you will be asking for seconds. This I know.

Not even farmer's market stuff compares to getting it minutes before from your own garden.
Jun. 4th, 2011 03:31 am (UTC)
Smooch! Thanks, Susan!

And I agree with Jama that the various peas are quite different in taste and texture. (I happen to like them all, but NOT wasabi peas!)
Jun. 3rd, 2011 07:19 pm (UTC)
tanita says:
Ooh, lovely. I'd read and loved Kel's poem before, but the other is new. Apparently kids all over get to pick peas. I miss doing that. Need to go to a Farmer's Market promptly!

Jun. 3rd, 2011 09:43 pm (UTC)
Re: tanita says:
We never picked peas in Hawai'i. Don't know anyone who ever grew them. There was always an abundance of sugar snap peas in stir fry dishes, though -- that never needed shelling.
Jun. 4th, 2011 03:32 am (UTC)
Re: tanita says:
Smooch! Thanks, lovey. And yes, I hope you get some fresh peas this summer!
Laura Dickson Shovan
Jun. 3rd, 2011 08:55 pm (UTC)
pea picking
Hi, Jama. Summer gardens remind me of peas too. No surprise -- I also grew up in NJ. In June, I would run outside to pick (and eat) peas before school, a morning treat. Thanks for sharing these poems.
Jun. 3rd, 2011 09:44 pm (UTC)
Re: pea picking
Can't believe another NJ girl! See, there must be something to my theory of a collective pea unconscious. :)
Jun. 4th, 2011 12:17 am (UTC)
Lovely poems and love the Owl and Pussycat's pea-green boat.
Jun. 4th, 2011 01:01 am (UTC)
I already loved Kelly's poem, but enjoyed Penny's, too!
Jun. 4th, 2011 03:32 am (UTC)
You're so sweet to say so!
Jun. 4th, 2011 12:48 pm (UTC)
Both are wonderful in their own ways :). Was fun to compare them (double helpings)!
Jun. 4th, 2011 03:32 am (UTC)
I really enjoyed Penny's poem, and the explanation behind it!
Jun. 4th, 2011 12:49 pm (UTC)
I especially like your Thumbelina's canoe and her Owl and the Pussycat Pea Green Boat . . . sailing into deliciousness :)!
Jun. 4th, 2011 07:37 am (UTC)
Amazing Post
I'm glad I was brought to your website through the round-up on Poetry Friday - I must admit I never thought of peas in this fashion. I love the pun, and the photos! Beautiful.
Jun. 4th, 2011 12:50 pm (UTC)
Re: Amazing Post
Thanks so much for dining with us today :). Help yourself to more peas. . .
Jun. 4th, 2011 10:08 am (UTC)
Ringo was very fussy when it came to vegetables...
One day, John said, "Give peas a chance."

Edited at 2011-06-04 10:09 am (UTC)
Jun. 4th, 2011 10:15 am (UTC)
He did....
...and before long, Ringo was singing "Peas, peas, me!"
Jun. 4th, 2011 12:52 pm (UTC)
Re: He did....
I'm glad I'm not the only one who likes pea puns :).

Pea Ess. I love you!
Jun. 4th, 2011 02:45 pm (UTC)
I'm happy Kelly made that decision to do a sort of Wallace Steven's inclusiveness: I love having Darwin, Thumbelina, pearls, and caterpillars all in one poem. Also loved the green in Penny's tercets, but then you won't be surprised to know I nearly fell over at the story of Eleanor Ecab Morse's 60 diaries, and the 59 missing. Do I dare ask what happened to the paintings? Once my research-loving heart recovers, I'll visit her blog.
Jun. 5th, 2011 01:58 am (UTC)
The 59 missing journals was the most tantalizing thing in that story for me, too. Can you imagine?

Thanks for the kind words, Jeannine - they mean a lot!
Jun. 5th, 2011 01:52 pm (UTC)
Those 59 missing journals may turn up yet, you just never know -- I'm glad Penny has at least one (better than none). Interesting backstory in any case; I'm glad Penny shared it.
Penny Harter
Jun. 21st, 2011 02:31 am (UTC)
the missing journals
Thanks to all who commented for liking my poem "Shelling Peas." And thanks again to Jama for posting it along with Kelly's fine piece.

Re: the missing journals: I found out last year from a second cousin, who heard it from an older relative of hers, that when my mother's great-aunt discovered she'd stolen one journal from the pile, she was very angry and burned all the others because "that was private, family business." A terrible loss, since the one I have is consummately written with beautiful description and detail. It's a time-machine that transports me back to 1890!

As for the paintings, many have come down in the family--both by Eleanor Ecob Morse and her husband, the landscape painter, Jonathan Bradley Morse. But many more are out there in galleries, private homes, and occasionally up for auction on sites like AskArt.

~Penny Harter
Jun. 21st, 2011 11:44 am (UTC)
Re: the missing journals
Thanks for filling us in, Penny. How tragic that she burned all those journals! Glad to know many of the paintings survived and are still being enjoyed today.
Jun. 5th, 2011 12:45 pm (UTC)
A peafect post! Well done, Kelly & Penny.
Jama, I'm a sucker for a pun and yours made me giggle.
Jun. 5th, 2011 01:53 pm (UTC)
Yay, another punster :). I can tell you're a very good peason.
Jun. 7th, 2011 06:16 pm (UTC)
Oh, there is your plate again, with a new peas-and-tomatoes hairdo!

Kelly's "Pea pods are the oysters of the garden," Thumbelina's canoe, and other word pictures she paints - I love. And Penny puts me right in the porch swing with her, chewing on memories. Two delightful poems. And I've been tossing English peas from Trader Joe's into my salad every day since I read your post. They add peas-zazz!
Jun. 7th, 2011 10:17 pm (UTC)
Peas-zazz = LOVE IT!!

We had peas again last night :) . . .
( 31 comments — Leave a comment )

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