POETRY BREAK | Mississippi Poet Laureate Catherine Pierce

When my children were little, they were extremely picky eaters. Cereal? No. Chicken nuggets? No. Grilled cheese? Yes, if the cheese was yellow and the perfect thickness, and crusts were removed. Tacos? No. Eggs? No. Yogurt? Yes, if it was the strawberry variety of one particular brand. Bananas? Yes, if perfectly-but-not-too ripe. Blueberries? No. Pears? No. Vegetables of any kind? Absolutely, emphatically no.

So when I tried to explain the concept of a cornucopia to them one weekend in November as we sat down to make some Thanksgiving crafts, my oldest, who was five, was skeptical. “What kind of food goes into it?” he asked.

“All sorts of good stuff,” I replied, “like corn and pumpkins and apples and gourds and wheat and…” I trailed off. My kids were looking bewildered and a little disgusted. And why wouldn’t they? They occasionally consented to eating apple slices, and they knew pumpkins were carved at Halloween, but beyond that, nothing I had named held any meaning for them.

Poetry teaches us that details matter. Details are how we help someone understand the idea we’re trying to get across, whether that’s through a poem or a conversation or a holiday craft. Often the expected, familiar details—like hearts in a love poem, or gourds in a cornucopia—can’t accurately convey the sentiment we’re trying to express. Much more effective, then, is to put aside what’s expected, and find the details that are true for us. 

A cornucopia represents abundance and gratitude—thankfulness for what we have. That was the concept I wanted to help my kids understand, and it didn’t require corn or pumpkins. Instead, we started making our own cornucopia. I asked my sons to name foods that they loved and were thankful for, and then we drew them, cut them out, and pasted them into a brown construction paper horn. Once they had permission to make this project meaningful for them, they were invested. Our cornucopia included pizza, French toast sticks, Eggo Mini-Pancakes, that one particular brand of strawberry yogurt, string cheese, Goldfish crackers, and a banana. We hung it in our front hall. It was absolutely perfect. It was theirs, and it was just right.

This Month’s Poetry Break: The Anti-Hallmark Card

Much like my kids’ cornucopia, this month’s poem will push back against what’s expected. What are you thankful for that wouldn’t belong in a greeting card verse? What are you thankful for that only you can describe? Try titling your poem something simple like “Gratitude” or “Thanks,” and then listing—in full sentences, in fragments, or whatever you prefer—some very specific things that fill you with gratitude. Think big, but also think small; as we know, the small things are sometimes the biggest.

Example:

Gratitude

For the dog’s sigh when she curls against me on a cold morning.
For my heavy red mug filled with strong black coffee.
For my mother’s laugh,
silver nail polish,
the sharp smell of pine outside my front door.
For the time my sister and I drank hot chocolate and played Tetris until 3 a.m.
Joni Mitchell.
Ferris wheels.
Otters.
For my mainly-steady heart,
and yellow gingko leaves,
and the moment when the streetlights come on
as the high school marching band
practices in the distance,
the drums crisp and clear
as night arrives.

Gratitude has endless space—it can hold loved ones and Goldfish crackers side by side. What will you put in your own cornucopia? Think big. Think small. Enjoy. Write your life.


Catherine Pierce is the Poet Laureate of Mississippi and the author of four books of poems, most recently Danger Days. She co-directs the creative writing program at Mississippi State University.

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