Flour Fool Meets Great Poet and Pie Instructor
by Amy Halloran
I spent Christmas in Seattle. As I was prowling Elliot Bay Bookstore, looking for something, anything by Rebecca Brown I stumbled upon another Northwest writer to love, Kate Lebo.
Rebecca Brown is perpetrator of the Stein-a-Thon and the Bronte-Saurus, goofy yet seriously laudatory events of Gertrude Stein and the Bronte family. She lent my time in that city in the 1990s a literary joie de vive I’ve never seen before or since. Funny that I was seeking her and found Kate Lebo, because Kate gave me a dose of Rebecca’s love for living with words.
A Commonplace Book of Pie is a hand-sewn zine with cardboard covers. This “collection of facts, both real and imagined” caught me crazy fast. The chapbook flopped open to the center, and I read a story-poem about strawberry rhubarb pie and marriage with some lines that thoroughly slay me. “I want to see the strange face of your groom lit with conjugal dread.” Or how about this: “Fear is a scout for your soul’s journey to what it truly wants.” Oh boy oh boy.
Other prose poems, pie factoids and recipes fill the booklet, which has sold 2000 copies and will be a full-length book this fall, published by Chin Music Press.
I couldn’t get over this find. The writer was doing exactly what I love: bleeding a baked good into writing, bleeding writing into baking. I could have written a zine about cake when I was at the height of understanding life through cake. I could write one now about pancakes, the current flour media through which I filter my experiences.
I had to meet this writer. Ten days later I was sitting across from her at her kitchen table, quizzing her about the intersection of poetry and pie.
These intersections came together in a collaboration with artist Bryan Schoneman.
“We both loved pie,” Kate said. “He was creating these giant dirt sculptures, giant mechanical things that dumped dirt on him, and I had a blog, Good Egg.”
Whenever she posted a piece of pie, people went bananas. As a poet, she wasn’t used to anyone responding to her work, but pie was a subject people understood. The poet and artist created an installation that revolved around pie. Shoneman built a pie safe, and at the opening, fresh pies were tucked, hidden and cooling, in the safe.
“We got to stand there happily keeping dessert from people for the first hour. The second hour we put them on top of the safe and the third hour we served it. We got up on chairs and made a lot of noise, the entire gallery was peering up at us. It was really powerful,” she said. “We wanted to toy with the idea that anticipation is the sweetest form of pleasure.”
Pie detritus littered the gallery for the time the show was up. Another part of the project was the zine.
Inspired by Anne Elizabeth Moore’s tributes to pie – look here for some evidence of the Pie Off and here for thoughts on how dessert selections can give clues to your personality – Kate decided her pie poem book would contain a zodiac of pie.
“I was trying to work against the clichés of pie, knowing how many clichés there are,” she said. “One is that women are bakers. Women love to make comfort food, that it’s a lost art and you learn how to make pie from your grandma. Thanksgiving pie, symbol of comfort, home, excess, femininity. All of this make me uncomfortable and I don’t want to fit that because it seems retro and anti-feminist.”
If this was an agenda, the prose poems did not suffer. They are playful and beautiful, little worlds snuggled in pie. Perhaps this is because she framed the project with a very open and inviting platform, a quote from Carl Sagan. “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch you must first invent the universe.”
“I’m used to a lot of resistance to my work because I’m told no one reads poetry, so it speaks to that fear or prejudice,” she said of the project. “I wanted it to be super approachable but smart, something that would trick people into reading poetry. People would find this in the zine section or the cookbook section, and the poetry is a booby trap.”
Kate Lebo didn’t feel like the project was complete in its brief form, so she kept writing about pie. Pie cornered more of her daily life, too, once she finished grad school. She wanted to earn her keep as a trained poet. Lacking stunning opportunities, she created a get rich quick scheme called Pie Stand. She put a table in the front yard, invited everybody she knew, and made seven pies. She finished the day with rent money and a key to her pie paved future. Word of Pie Stand flew and got her an invite to make pie at the Sasquatch Music Festival.
One of the things she loves most about these occasions is the connections she can foster. She’s introduced friends over pie and the bonds carry far beyond the slices.
“Pie is a generous substance,” she said. “If you think about pie it’s a social form. It’s a little sad if you sit down to eat a pie alone. I was attracted to pie it was something that I had to have with other people.”
Another thing that appeals to her about pie is that dessert is an acceptable way to lose yourself in public, and have a really sensual experience.
As if meeting Kate wasn’t great enough, she reintroduced me to pie, too. Like most people, I think of pie as work. She gave me a mini-lesson that changed my mind, and has put lots and lots of http://www.amyhalloran.com/">handpies in my mouth. Twice a month I make a lot of dough and some savory fillings and bake things that are way better than sandwiches. Way.
“My whole point has been, for baking and for writing, to look at pie as a practice,” she told me. “You practice piano, yoga, or even religion. It’s something I go to over and over and over. It’s part of what keeps me sane. Part of what keeps me connected to the things that give me pleasure and the things that make me me.”
|Kate Lebo is working on Pie School: the Cookbook, due out from Sasquatch Books in Fall 2014. Chin Music Press published A Commonplace Book of Pie in October 2013. The poem that sailed her into the Best New Poets of 2011 was first published in City Arts Magazine. Read the poem "Overwintering here, published by Agni.|
|Amy Halloran is working on a book about the revival of regional grain production. She lives in upstate New York and is devoted to pancakes. Find her writing at Zester Daily, From Scratch Club and Culinate. Visit her website at www.amyhalloran.net.|
Photo courtesy of the author.