Within ‘Eat Me’ Agbabi explores themes of abuse, control, and revenge. The tone is at times withdrawn, and submissive, and later on, resolved and determined. Agbabi creates a mood in this piece that should make a reader feel surprised and disturbed while contemplating the consequences of emotional and mental abuse.
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Summary of Eat Me
The poem takes the reader through the life of an unnamed female speaker who is constantly being fed by her partner. He wants nothing more than for her to grow as large as possible. The man thinks only of his own pleasure, completely disregarding how his partner’s life might be in endangered. After gaining massive amounts of weight the speaker finally turns on her partner and smothers him to death.
You can read the poem in full here.
Structure of Eat Me
‘Eat Me’ by Patience Agbabi is a ten stanza poem that’s separated into sets of three lines, known as tercets. These tercets are not fully rhymed, but the poet does make use of half-rhyme in order to unify each stanza. Half-rhyme, also known as slant or partial rhyme, is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance.
This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line, or multiple lines of verse. For example, in the third stanza, each line ends with “walk,” “broad” and “juggernaut”. These words are rhyme through assonance with the repetition of the “awh” sound in each word.
Poetic Techniques in Eat Me
Agbabi makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Eat Me’. These include alliteration, enjambment, anaphora, and metaphor. The last is the most important within this particular work. The terribly unhealthy relationship between the female speaker and her male partner, particularly the way that he controls her through food, is an extended metaphor for mental and emotional abuse.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For instance, “bigger” and “better” in stanza four and “drowned” and “dying” in stanza nine.
Agbabi also makes use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. The seventh stanza is a perfect example of how this technique can influence a reader’s perception of the content. Each of these lines begins with the words “too fat to”.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For instance, the transitions between lines two and three of stanza two and between lines two and three of stanza four.
Analysis of Eat Me
When I hit thirty, he brought me a cake,
a candle for each stone in weight.
In the first stanza of ‘Eat Me’ the speaker begins the story of her life with a man. He goes unnamed throughout the poem, only referred to as “he” and described through his control of her. When she “hit thirty” this man brought her a “home-made” cake. At first, it seems that the number “thirty” is in relation to her age, but as the poem progresses it becomes much more likely that it has to do with her weight. She hit thirty stone, not thirty years old.
In an ironic and disturbing celebration, he put one candle on the cake for each stone in weight. It is obvious from the beginning that this man has no regard for the speaker’s wellbeing. His sole concern is making her gain weight for his own pleasure.
The icing was white but the letters were pink,
what I was told. Didn’t even taste it.
The cake is iced in white and pink, as if celebrating purity and femininity. It is presented as something beautiful and delicate, but in reality, it is controlling and dangerous. The speaker does not express joy over the cake or pleasure in its consumption. She eats it because she was told to. She “Didn’t even taste it”. These sentences are very short and to the point. The speaker’s tone is withdrawn and distant. She’s narrating what she did while she felt she had no choice but to obey.
Then he asked me to get up and walk
belly wobble, hips judder like a juggernaut.
The speaker is objectified as she’s asked to walk around the room. All the man wants is to look at her body move and take his own pleasure from the weight he’s made her gain over an indeterminate period of time. Despite no full rhymes being present in these lines, the use of assonance in words like “judder” and “juggernaut” is powerful. It also mimics the rhythm of the speaker’s step.
The bigger the better, he’d say, I like
with multiple chins, masses of cellulite.
The speaker explains in stanza four of ‘Eat Me’ that he’d often say “The bigger the better”. This phrase is casual, delivered without regard for what “bigger” really means for the woman. He wants her to grow as large as possible so that he can “burrow inside” and take advantage of the detrimental changes to her body. There is also an interesting moment where the man repeats the word “girls”. This separates him from the speaker, alluding to the very real possibility that she’s not the only girl he’s controlling this way. He doesn’t love her, he loves women who look like her.
I was his Jacuzzi. But he was my cook,
his pleasure, to watch me swell like forbidden fruit.
There is a striking metaphor at the beginning of the fifth stanza. The speaker states that she is “his Jacuzzi”. She’s an object of pleasure, there for him to dive into and utilize whenever he wants. For her, he is her “cook”. He took care of her in a perverse way, providing her with food she needed, but also an extreme excess of food she didn’t. She knew the damage that was being done to her body, but at this time eating was her only pleasure.
The third line of this stanza refers to the “forbidden fruit,” an allusion to the Garden of Eden and the “original sin”. Eating all this food comes with consequences, but so does treating a woman this way.
His breadfruit. His desert island after shipwreck.
craving a wave. I was a tidal wave of flesh
Unfortunately, the situation has progressed so far that he is necessary for her. She is his “breadfruit” and he is hers. The next lines make use of sea imagery. She compares herself through more metaphors to a whale on a king-sized bed and a “tidal wave”.
too fat to leave, too fat to buy a pint of full-fat milk,
too fat to be called chubby, cuddly, big-built.
In the seventh stanza of ‘Eat Me’, the poet makes use of anaphora. She repeats the words “too fat to leave” at the beginning of all three lines, creating an increasingly distraught list of things her speaker cannot do or control. The poem is reaching its climax and she’s realizing how powerless she is in this situation.
The day I hit thirty-nine, I allowed him to stroke
He said, Open wide, poured olive oil down my throat.
Another celebration occurs in the eighth stanza when she hits “thirty-nine” stone. Alliteration is used repetitively as she describes how she allowed him to pour olive oil down her throat. This disturbing image is rock bottom for the speaker. There is a turn in the next two stanzas.
Soon you’ll be forty… he whispered, and how
in my flesh. I drowned his dying sentence out.
Finally, after years of abuse, she turns on him. He whispered his intention to continue her progression in weight and when she heard that she broke. The speaker rolled on top of him, and like the tidal wave she sees herself as, she drowned him in her flesh. She took control and stopped him speaking.
I left him there for six hours that felt like a week.
There was nothing else left in the house to eat.
In the last three lines, the speaker describes what she did after she killed her abusive partner. She left him alone for a time, six hours “that felt like a week”. This suggests she was stunned by what she’d done and needed time to understand what happens next.
His body sat grotesquely in her home, appearing as it had done during life, filled with greed. The last line of the poem is compelling. It is also very much open to interpretation. The speaker says that now there is “nothing else left in the house to eat”. This implies a loss of something, but also a new start in which food is not going to be the primary, or secondary, influence in her life.