Real Food

Prompts Against Anxiety #38 | from Inupiaq poet Joan Kane. Kane is the author of numerous collections of poetry, the most recent of which is Dark Traffic, forthcoming from Pitt Poetry Series this fall.


In the Ugiuvak (King Island) tradition—as with many other Indigenous people of the arctic and communities engaged in surviving through sustainable food networks, subsistence cultures, and practices—when a living being is harvested for nourishment, a hunter customarily places water in the mouth of the animal as an expression of thanks, to satiate and honor the inua (life force) of a being who is connected to everyone and everything in the universe.  

Writers are often told to “nourish” their writing with reading, observation, reflection. Here’s a prompt to (re)connect you to the land, ice, or water that has been (or will be) a source of nourishment for you, that will engage your senses and get you thinking in different directions about meals, real or imagined.

1. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Make a list of your favorite dishes to eat, or meals you would like to eat, or meals you’ve heard about that remain in your memory. 

2. Look over your list and consider the people, places, and lives connected to those foods. Start to make categories of whatever type make sense to you (seasonal meals, family meals, foods connected to a particular ecosystem, etc). Choose 5-7 meals/dishes to focus on with the intention of writing about the people, places, and lives you associate with those foods. Which of these meals happened in the near past, the far past, and the far, far past (last year, your childhood, your family/ancestors). What undergirding structures or events do you see? If your list is not about things that are fun or happy (and you’d like it to be), go back, try to see the beauty there. Conversely, if you see things that need substance, revisit and revise your list accordingly.

3. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Make a list of all the images (not just visual images, but sounds, smells, textures, temperatures, etc) of anything you associate with those meals. 

4. Look over your lists and categories and set another timer for 20 minutes and see if you have the beginnings of a piece that has some relationship to narrative via time, to character via living beings, to your own positionality by seeing how interconnected these items are. If you have something that looks like a poem, try to write with stanzaic regularity. If you have something that looks like prose, consider some of the vessels/containers/different shapes that are used to store these sources of nourishment as an inspiration for the prose shape of your piece. 

Prompts Against Anxiety is sponsored by Milwaukee Public Library, an anchor institution that helps patrons read, learn, and connect—to our resources and our community. Now more than ever, stay connected, stay home, and stay safe. 

More from this series

Write in NaturePrompt #39—Oogie Push

Real FoodPrompt #38—Joan Kane

You Don't Need Proust to Smell GoodPrompt #37—Elizabeth Hoover

Find Your Own FormPrompt #36—Sawako Nakayasu


Preparation for the PromptPrompt #32—Lisa Fishman

Collage Your Own Writing PromptPrompt #31—Helen Hofling

Prepared StatementPrompt #30—Mike Hauser

Repeat Repeat WritePrompt #29— Lewis Freedman

Poetic CorrespondencePrompt #28—Eric Baus

EKPHRASIS YOURSELFPrompt #27—Jennifer Nelson

POETRY IS FOR THE PEOPLEPrompt #26—Angela Trudell Vasquez

MAIL ARTPrompt #25—Siwar Masannat

VISUAL POSTCARDSPrompt #24—Portia Cobb

A [LONGER-TERM] DEEP LISTENING PROMPTPrompt #23—Jibade-Khalil Huffman

Humor as Medicine for the SoulPrompt #22—Mauricio Kilwein Guevara

Personification: A Social Justice PromptPrompt #21—Derrick Harriell

Ponge ExercisePrompt #20—Tyrone Williams

Occult DocupoesisPrompt #19—Kimberly Alidio

Junk Drawer SongPrompt #18—Hoa Nguyen

TALK TO THE POETSPrompt #17—Stacy Szymaszek

Make-Do Origin Stories & Concrete FuturesPrompt #16—Ching-In Chen

The Family PhotographPrompt #15—Rosa Alcalá

Note(s) to SelfPrompt #13—Stacy Blint

Embracing ConfusionPrompt #12—Bryon Cherry

Writing/Playing the ArchivePrompt #11—Jay Besemer

CAPTURED & FREEDPrompt #10—Dasha Kelly Hamilton

Poetic Exit StrategiesPrompt #9—Ana Božičević

Proyecto ConbífPrompt #8—Erick "CK" Ledesma

TRILOGYPrompt #6—CA Conrad

Utopian CompromisePrompt #7—Paul Druecke

A Series of RoomsPrompt #5—Laura Solomon

Two Variations on N+7Prompt #4—Jenny Gropp

T H E A P A R T / TOGETHERPOEMPrompt #3—Margaret Rozga

An Exercise in WindowsPrompt #2—Marla Sanvick

Erasuring AnxietyPrompt #1—Peter Burzynski

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