Alexander Averin

Monday 24 October 2011

Oatmeal and Inspiration

Dear Diary,

Thank you for your good wishes in the comments, they mean a lot to me.

After having been really rather ill I am convalescing slowly and feeling a little stronger each day; I am eating well on a strict low-fat diet and though I am weak my body is feeling strangely well on it. I should be feeling even better when my gall-bladder is taken from me – please let it be soon.

All that’s missing is creative inspiration, I have none at all and feel quite bereft because of it so all I can post for you is a poem I heard on Radio 4’s Poetry Please on Sunday afternoon. It’s by Galway Kinnell and is called Oatmeal. Perhaps it struck a chord with me because I too eat oatmeal every morning and also eat it alone. I have never dreamed up an imaginary companion though as I am not a morning person, I love to be solitary and do not like to converse with anyone if I can help it.

I hope you enjoy the poem too – and pray tell me …….who would your imaginary companion be at breakfast time?

And please do tell me how I can get my inspiration back?


I eat oatmeal for breakfast

I make it on the hot plate and put skimmed milk on it.

I eat it alone.

I am aware it is not good to eat oatmeal alone.

Its consistency is such that is better for your mental health

if somebody eats it with you.

That is why I often think up an imaginary companion to have

breakfast with.

Possibly it is even worse to eat oatmeal with an imaginary


Nevertheless, yesterday morning, I ate my oatmeal porridge,

as he called it with John Keats.

Keats said I was absolutely right to invite him:

due to its glutinous texture, gluey lumpishness, hint of slime,

and unusual willingness to disintegrate, oatmeal should

not be eaten alone.

He said that in his opinion, however, it is perfectly OK to eat

it with an imaginary companion, and that he himself had

enjoyed memorable porridges with Edmund Spenser and John


Even if eating oatmeal with an imaginary companion is not as

wholesome as Keats claims, still, you can learn something

from it.

Yesterday morning, for instance, Keats told me about writing the

"Ode to a Nightingale."

He had a heck of a time finishing it those were his words "Oi 'ad

a 'eck of a toime," he said, more or less, speaking through

his porridge.

He wrote it quickly, on scraps of paper, which he then stuck in his


but when he got home he couldn't figure out the order of the stanzas,

and he and a friend spread the papers on a table, and they

made some sense of them, but he isn't sure to this day if

they got it right.

An entire stanza may have slipped into the lining of his jacket

through a hole in his pocket.

He still wonders about the occasional sense of drift between stanzas,

and the way here and there a line will go into the

configuration of a Moslem at prayer, then raise itself up

and peer about, and then lay \ itself down slightly off the mark,

causing the poem to move forward with a reckless, shining wobble.

He said someone told him that later in life Wordsworth heard about

the scraps of paper on the table, and tried shuffling some

stanzas of his own, but only made matters worse.

I would not have known any of this but for my reluctance to eat oatmeal


When breakfast was over, John recited "To Autumn."

He recited it slowly, with much feeling, and he articulated the words

lovingly, and his odd accent sounded sweet.

He didn't offer the story of writing "To Autumn," I doubt if there

is much of one.

But he did say the sight of a just-harvested oat field got him started

on it, and two of the lines, "For Summer has o'er-brimmed their

clammy cells" and "Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours,"

came to him while eating oatmeal alone.

I can see him drawing a spoon through the stuff, gazing into the glimmering

furrows, muttering.

Maybe there is no sublime; only the shining of the amnion's tatters.

For supper tonight I am going to have a baked potato left over from lunch

I am aware that a leftover baked potato is damp, slippery, and simultaneously

gummy and crumbly, and therefore I'm going to invite Patrick Kavanagh

to join me.

Galway Kinnell

About his work, Liz Rosenberg wrote in the Boston Globe: "Kinnell is a poet of the rarest ability, the kind who comes once or twice in a generation, who can flesh out music, raise the spirits and break the heart."

Bye for now,



Vee said...

Now that was terrific. I enjoyed it immensely and am going to recommend it to a Keats fan. Who knew that oatmeal could be the catalyst for all of that? I eat oatmeal. It's never helped me that way.

And I am glad that you are feeling better. I hear that some can help their gallbladders to heal by doing thus and so. Having it gone just might be the quickest thing, but also has some little side effects that my family members have found unpleasant. Not quite as miserable as the attacks, of course. The attacks...awful.

So lie low and don't overdo and eat healthfully. Keep us informed.

Frances said...

Cait, would it not be wonderful if you and I might eventually share a meal and a cup of tea, or a glass of something. Might we even brave the notion of sharing freshly mixed up oatmeal? I grew up having cinnamon, brown sugar, butter and raisins added to that oatmeal, buy now really prefer just a bit of brown sugar and milk.

I do hope that you continue on your road to recovery, mending your health. Today, I returned to my special library, The Cat's Table, by Michael Ondaatje. I liked it, and begin to connect certain themes and characters, from my reading of his earlier novels.

Bravo to all libraries! xo

laurie said...

oh dear, do get better! oatmeal is so soothing; it deserves this lovely ode. i hope your gall bladder is gone soon and you are no longer in pain.

jane said...

Cait - so sorry you have not been well - please take care and raise your spirits - Oatmeal is very nourishing and so are Jacket Potatoes - they are my comfort food - Jane x

Kath said...

When I was pregnant, porridge was all I could manage. Me and my internal companion would share the early mornings together,while I ate and talked to him.

Hope you are all well soon x

Mac n' Janet said...

Sorry you've been ill, I've missed your blogging. Thanks for the poem.

Exmoorjane said...

Oh Cait, I'm so sorry. Missed that you'd been unwell.. :(
Inspiration? I think it comes and goes in its own cycles, like most things in life. Sometimes I feel it has left me entirely and so I just sit and gaze out of the window, watching the clouds, the raindrops down the window pane, the flight of birds...
Hugs, gentle hugs, my dear. xxx

The bike shed said...

Sorry to hear you've still unwell. Gall bladders, nasty things when they go wrong. Mend soon, I hope.

Funny, I had porridge this morning.