Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Life in Kitchen Drawers

I was going to set this as a quiz, until I discovered that it was instantly Googleable (albeit in mangled form). The question would have been - Who wrote this poem? And the answer is pretty unlikely...

The Kitchen Drawer Poem

1. The nutcracker, the skewer, the knife,
are doomed to share this drawer for life.

2. You cannot pierce, the skewer says,
or cause the pain of in one place.

3. You cannot grind, you do not know,
says nutcracker, the pain of slow.

4. You don't know what it is to slice,
to both of them the knife replies,

5. with pain so fine it is not pain
to part what cannot join again.

6. The skewer, nutcracker, and knife
are well adapted to their life.

7. They calculate efficiency
by what the others cannot be

8. and power by the pain they cause
and that is life in kitchen drawers.

The surprising answer is that great novelist Penelope Fitzgerald. The poem appears as an appendix to her letters (So I Have Thought Of You, which I'm reading at the moment), complete with an accompanying illustration drawn by the author. This is rather geometrical and brutal in style, but enlivened by the addition of a small, narrow eye to each of the kitchen implements, with which each looks askance at its drawerfellows. It's an odd, unsettling poem, as sharp and effective as the implements it describes. Despite its utterly straightforward and regular structure (emphasised by the numbering of each couplet), it put me in mind of Kay Ryan in the way it enters into the life of things, in its apparent simplicity of statement and shifting depths of meaning. It is surely about far more than 'life in kitchen drawers'...


  1. I am just about to read PF's Letters after reading A.S.Byatt's intro. When I was young, I didn't bother with introductions, but do now. It's Context.

    As in PF's poem, every good writer turns the micro into the macro. It's what turns facts into Art.

    Can't wait to peep into the microcosm of her daily life. -- Will she be a philosopher there as well? How could she not be?

  2. Well, I don't really think it may have success.