How Cleaning the Fridge is like Revising a Poem

In this post, GrubStreet Instructor Ben Berman uses the occasion of cleaning out a fridge to discuss the differences between editing and revising.



It always begins with that little old cup of leftover beans that’s not quite moldy but on its way or the container of mac ’n cheese that wouldn’t fail the sniff test, per se, but you could use the Tupperware.


Though now that you’re looking around you notice a half-eaten container of prunes. Prunes don’t go bad, of course, but they don’t go good either. And besides to prune literally means to remove so you might as well get rid of those too.


It feels good to get rid of a little bit of clutter – to cut what can easily be cut – though you should probably call it quits for now before you get yourself into a project. Still, your kids are quietly playing in the next room and it’s not like you have something better to do, so you decide to check out the cheese drawer where you find three open packages of the exact same type of shredded cheese.


You consolidate.


And since you’ve committed to calling it the cheese drawer and believe in the importance of getting the words right, as Hemingway says, you might as well take out all of the items that aren’t technically cheese – blackberries, ketchup packets, a half-eaten scone that disintegrates upon contact.


This, of course, is what you were worried about in the first place, because now you have to pull the entire drawer out so that you can shake the crumbs into the sink, and that’s when you notice some sort of purple, goopy mess that’s pooled in the back left corner of the fridge.


You clear out the bottom row and find the remains of what looks like a Popsicle that your three-year-old must have stashed back there weeks ago.

You have no choice now but to empty the entire fridge and scrub the thing clean.


You fill up a bucket of warm soapy water and are surprised not by how disgusting the fridge is, but how you somehow didn’t notice how disgusting it was. You spend half an hour scrubbing and scouring, wiping and drying, and when you are done it looks so spanking new that you can’t help but be more selective about what you put back in.


No need to keep three different brands of yellow mustard or the salad dressing that will expire next month or even the overpriced-dark-chocolate-covered-orange-peels that you bought your wife the day before she gave up sugar.


You’d have felt wasteful throwing these things away before, but you can almost hear KonMari’s quiet nod of approval as each darling clanks in the trash.


You are working without any sense of attachment, now, as though this is someone else’s fridge. It’s no longer about making some small adjustments; it’s about re-envisioning your refrigerator as a carefully arranged system of essential items.


Though arranged isn’t quite the right word. This is about orchestration – complementing condiments and juxtaposed jars – about function and design, purpose and aesthetics.


And even though you know that this won’t last – that the fridge will soon be inundated with groceries and leftovers – you are grateful for this stolen hour in middle of the day to bring order to chaos, for this momentary stay, as Frost says, against confusion.




Check out more of Ben Berman’s posts on Writing the Family.


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About the Author

Ben Berman’s first book, Strange Borderlands, won the 2014 Peace Corps Award for Best Book of Poetry and was a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Awards. His second collection, Figuring in the Figure, was recently selected as a Must-Read by the Mass Center for the Book. And his new book, Then Again, came out last November. He has received awards from the New England Poetry Club and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and Somerville Arts Council. He teaches at Brookline High School and lives in the Boston area with his wife and two daughters.

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by Ben Berman


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