Agbabi is a performance poet with Nigerian ancestry, who was born in London and fostered by a Welsh family. Her work often focuses on the idea of an outsider or differences between people, which is evident in ‘Eat Me’, with the major themes including Transgression and Taboo, Power, and Gender.
STRUCTURE OF THE POEM
- Patience Agbabi is a poet highly recognised for her ability to interweave performance with poetry. As a second generation poet, she sticks to the conventional style of writing thus adapting the style of Dub Poetry. The poem follows a reggae-like rhythm throughout with a very conversational tone while the prime motive being to convey a political and social message overtly.
- There is a total of ten tercet stanzas, which add to the overall regimental mood of the poem. Each verse end with a full stop except for stanza six which flows into stanza seven using enjambment, also the second and third lines in stanza eight conclude with a full stop, causing a break from the restricted structure presiding it. Finally, each line in stanza ten ends with a full stop which signifies the death of the man, as well as the end of their relationship.
- Even more interesting is the use of consonance on each similar line, for example, the first line of each stanza has the “k” sound, “d” on the second and “t” on the third. The only point in which this is broken in the poem is at the end of stanza six. However, this is in many ways negated by the fact that the next word is “too” so therefore continues the idea of consonance.
Power is fundamental for the feeder in this relationship because he cannot control how much his partner eats without it and the objectification of her would not be able to take place.
Gender this is vital to the poem and focusses on the idea of a man overpowering a woman to continue with his control over her. However, this is reversed by the end of the poem. Also, the discussion of the idea of body imagery is solely based on the female rather than the male, which can be seen as reflecting the typical societal attitude towards this subject.
Transgression and Taboo, the idea of a ‘feeder’ role within a relationship, is very much linked to sexual ideas, and that someone could have substantial control over another person’s life. This isn’t talked about much within society and is typically avoided due to people’s discomfort with discussing things of this nature. There is also the idea of the discussion of the female body, particularly in this rather grotesque way.
INDIVIDUAL STANZA BREAKDOWN
When I hit thirty [the number 30 refers to both her age and weight], he brought me a cake, [there is assonance between“cake” and “weight”, Agbabi breaks the traditional use of rhyme through the utilisation of an alternate form of assonance in each line]
three layers of icing, home-made,
a candle for each stone in weight. [symbolism of candle: usually used to represent one’s age, however here, the antagonist is celebrating the number of stones the woman has gained.]
The icing was white, but the letters were pink, [Symbolism of white and pink: The colour psychology of pink is unconditional love and nurturing. Pink can also be immature, silly and girlish. White is the colour at its most complete and pure, the colour of perfection. The colour meaning of white is purity, innocence, wholeness and completion.]
They said, eat me. And I ate, did [“eat me” refers to Alice in Wonderland. Therefore the woman is also trapped and has no choice but to eat the cake, as her feeder commands her to do so. There is enjambment from line two to three. This increase in pace emphases how she quickly swallows the cake without even tasting it or taking pleasure in her action.]
What I was told. Didn’t even taste it.
Then he asked me to get up and walk [ he doesn’t command her this time. Instead he “asked” her to get up and walk, making her feel like she has an option here]
round the bed, so he could watch my broad [alliteration of “broad belly wobble”. “Wobble” is more befitting for an inanimate object such as jelly. Therefore Agbabi implies that the woman has lost her humanity due to her size. The repetition of “b” also affirms the idea of obesity.]
belly wobble, hips judder like a juggernaut. [alliteration of “judder like a juggernaut” trying to disgust us with the image of this woman. There is something strange in the way he takes pleasure and controls her.]
The bigger, the better, he’d say, I like
Big girls, soft girls, girls I can burrow inside [the feeder is objectifying the woman and patronising her by calling her a girl. It is evident that his actions are selfishly driven and his preference to “girls” also suggests he likes youthful women, agile, beautiful which contrast with the repulsive image of his current partner from which he takes immense pleasure in making bigger. Furthermore, he can “burrow” himself inside, meaning that he is not in love with her, rather with an aspect of her, that being her fat.]
with multiple chins, masses of cellulite.
I was his Jacuzzi. But he was my cook, [metaphor: “I was his Jacuzzi” something he feels comfortable and warm in. Once again she is objectified.]
My only pleasure the rush of fast food, [alliteration of “fast food” shows how her physical state is very unhealthy and that their relationship is similarly toxic for both parties. The “rush” of food emphasises that her pleasure is only short lived]
his pleasure, to watch me swell like forbidden fruit. [“forbidden fruit” refers to Adam and Eve but also shows the reader that there is something wrong happening here, makes us question their relationship]
His breadfruit. His desert island after a shipwreck. [juxtaposition of “Breadfruit” and “desert island”. Semantic field of the sea: desert island, shipwreck, whale, tidal wave.]
Or a beached whale on a king-size bed [her comparison to a “beached whale” shows how helpless she is, unable to move, suffocated by her current lifestyle]
Craving a wave. I was a tidal wave of flesh [ however; she is also a “tidal wave of flesh” meaning that she has a hidden power she has not yet used. Just like the sea which is uncontrollable and deceitful with its massive range from calmness to destruction the woman could potentially be deadly. Therefore stanza 6 foreshadows the death of her feeder. This is a very useful technique because it connects the idea of the fat and cellulite with oceans and waves, associated with their expanse and depth, which helps to show how overweight the woman has become. She also shows us she wants something more because she is “craving a wave” that will free her from the confines of her home and partner]
too fat to leave, too fat to buy a pint of full-fat milk, [anaphora: the repetition of “too fat” at the beginning of every line suggests excess. The tone of this stanza is particularly noticeable because the extreme emphasis on the idea increases the pace which evokes a forceful yet resentful tone.]
too fat to use fat as an emotional shield,
too fat to be called chubby, cuddly, big-built. [alliteration: The phrase “called chubby cuddly” creates a “ch ch ch” effect which is onomatopoetic to the sound of water sloshing in a large jug and water is fluid, it cannot escape like gases, thus showing how trapped she is albeit being able to move.]
The day I hit thirty-nine, I allowed him to stroke [she has given him permission to stroke her cheek, meaning that there has been a shift of power in their relationship]
My globe of a cheek. His flesh, my flesh flowed. [metaphor: “globe of a cheek” emphasises how enormous the woman has become. Alliteration: “flesh, my flesh flowed” again using the semantic field lexis where the woman is compared with water, smooth flowing, cannot be contained, she is overflowing with fat]
He said, Open wide, poured the olive oil down my throat.
Soon you’ll be forty… he whispered, and how
Could I not roll over on top. I rolled, and he drowned [she is unable to control her desire]
In my flesh. I drowned his dying sentence out. [she has killed him, but also shut him which is symbol of her stopping his control over her as well as ending their relationship.]
I left him there for six hours that felt like a week. [most numbers throughout the poem: “thirty”,“forty”,“six” are whole numbers used again to refer to the roundness/fatness of her figure.]
His mouth slightly open, his eyes bulging with greed. [he is the greedy one in their relationship, always wanting more and more until he was killed by the thing he had created]
There was nothing else left in the house to eat. [ambiguous ending]
By Jenny Shen