Reading poetry to tomato plants began the day Rome burned. Red of the flames prompted Nero to comment: “reminds me of my mother’s tomato plants.” Of course Lucan saw an opportunity to drench Rome in sanguine innuendo. He jotted verse, congruent to Nero’s fiddle strokes and whispered in his emperor’s ear: “you know my lord…if you talk to your plants they grow better.”
Epic as Lucan was his failure exemplified in relation to contemporary standards, regarding the growth of fodder and the brevity of poetry. Entertainment, namely literature too, sequenced to hunger pains. A starving public demanded quick meals and even quicker modes of art to entice their senses as their meals were prepared. The poetry of ee cummings played through PA systems, setup on soybean and corn fields, Neruda echoed over cranberry bogs and Dorothy Parker’s verses reverberated across wheat fields galore. Crops grew en masse! But the public complained that the food didn’t have the same flavor. To which Langston Hughes replied, “Eh, fuck it.” And sang his lyrics to fermented oats.
Nowadays everyone whispers to their tomato plants. At least. Those of us who are brave enough to grow them. Flames of Rome have been relegated to legend, but on hot days, when the summer breeze is strong, a person can learn their ear to a tomato’s bulge and listen to Nero’s fiddle notes, as it rubs against the vine.