Open After Consumption

Steven J. Bernstein’s The Onion As It Is Cooked  is a cryptic poem printed on a large piece of pasta. The poem is very nonsensical, though it contains references to the act of cooking and how food that is eaten leaves the body. This is fitting as accompanying the poem is an envelope with the words “Open After Consumption” (shown in photograph) signifying the author’s intent that the reader ingest the poem in order to digest it.

Steven J. Bernstein, The Onion As It Is Cooked (New York City: Flockophobic Press, 1990). Image courtesy of the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University.

Inside the envelope are two sheets of paper. The first is an imprint with standard information telling that the idea for the pasta and poem was conceptualized by Sally Schneider and designed by A. S. C. Rower. It also reveals that this is a limited edition item published by Flockophobic Press in 1990 with only 100 pieces of pasta produced. The second sheet of paper is the poem itself available for the consumer to read again in a new light after eating the pasta.

While the poem is certainly concerned with cooking and the consumption of food, it also alludes to an unnamed woman in France to whom the poem appears to be written. The poem seems split between ruminating on how an onion is cooked and addressing this woman, though not in any cohesive manner. This might reflect the confusion in the author’s own life, and the project calls to mind another creation of Bernstein’s. Strip Poker is a similar poem to The Onion As It Is Cooked in that it is a nonsensical poem presented in a surprising manner—this one as strips of paper inside an uncorked wine bottle. Bernstein clearly enjoyed presenting his work in mysterious manners and many questions still surround this piece of pasta. Perhaps only after consumption can it truly be understood.

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