Food and verse to the rescue Cookbook: Profits from collection of recipes and poems will help charity.

December 06, 1997|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,SUN STAFF

A pizza is a pizza and nothing more, unless one considers it a metaphor. Then, who knows? In the hands of a poet, a pizza -- boxed and resting on the bed of a Motel 6, let's say -- marks a vacant place in the heart. As Baltimore poet Matt Hohner put it:

I climb into bed. A warm spot

was left behind by the pizza box where you are not.

Hohner was on the road in Oregon that spring of 1995, thinking of his girlfriend. She was back home in Baltimore. Hohner was heading to graduate school at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colo., where he earned a master of fine arts degree and hatched a plan to put poetry into action. He thought: It's not enough to write poems about such things as poverty and hunger. Better to do something with the poetry.

From this thought bloomed "Pasta Poetics," a cookbook by poets sold to benefit hunger relief. Hohner produced two editions in Colorado featuring Boulder-area poets. Now he's back home and introducing the Baltimore version, featuring recipes and poems from 13 local poets and one writer from Australia.

The slender book -- no thicker than a couple of slices of American cheese -- is being presented at a reading tomorrow at Minas Gallery in Fells Point. Once he covers the cost of producing the book, which sells for $6, Hohner will donate the rest of the money to the Beans & Bread Soup Kitchen in Fells Point.

"Food and poetry," says Hohner, 26, "the making and consumption of both is really a celebration of life."

The spiral-bound book presents 14 recipes submitted by poets; each one is accompanied by a poem. It's a smorgasbord of workaday fare -- crabs, fruit salad, dips, chicken, grilled cheese -- with side orders of free verse ranging in tone from somber to politically arch to whimsical.

Not all the poems in the book are food-related, but there's no question that food and poetry have long traveled together. In 1616, Ben Jonson's "Inviting a Friend to Supper" relished the anticipation of a meal:

Yet shall you have, to rectify your palate,

An olive, capers, or some better salad

Ushering the mutton; with a short-legged hen,

If we can get her, full of eggs, and then

Three centuries later William Carlos Williams made poetry of his apology for eating a plum left in the refrigerator. T. S. Eliot's Prufrock wondered "Do I dare to eat a peach?" and Allen Ginsberg howled about those "who ate the lamb stew of the imagination. Or digested the crab at the muddy bottom of the rivers of Bowery." Food, says "Pasta Poetics" contributor David Beaudouin, "being so really diverse, it's such a wonderful source of metaphor for poets. Like everything else in life, food is something that fuels us, like experience."

Beaudouin was 3, as he recalls, when he experienced a frightening confrontation with a crab in his grandmother's kitchen on the Eastern Shore. As the family was preparing steamed crabs, one broke loose, scuttling across the yellow linoleum floor toward young David. The fearsome creature raised its claws and dangled its eyes and made a boy think:

there could be

lots of things like this

out there in a world

that either eats

or is eaten.

Beaudouin, of Baltimore, submitted the poem called "Food Chain" to "Pasta Poetics" to accompany a recipe for steamed crabs that specifies beer-sipping as part of the experience of cooking crabs.

Food is a natural subject for poetry, says Clarinda Harriss, seeing as how "Poets are so terribly sensual. It's right up there with sex." Harriss, chairman of the English Department at Towson University, submitted a recipe for black bean soup with ham and a poem that is not food-related. It's called "Bondo," a caveat to buyers of old, reconditioned cars.

Harriss has written food poems, but wanted to submit something that had not been published before. "I don't recommend eating Bondo," a paste compound used to repair car bodies, she says, notwithstanding the desperation of starving poets.

Inevitably, a poetry cookbook suggests bad puns about how "the existence of a poet is so hand-to-mouth," says poet Rosemary Klein. But food makes fertile metaphoric ground, she says.

"I think people's relationship with food food almost takes on a persona of its own," says Klein, an assistant professor of English at Dundalk Community College. She submitted a recipe for caviar dip -- stretched with generous proportions of cream cheese and sour cream -- with a poem as heavy in Marxist rTC intonation. She sketched it out at the coffee shop at Borders Books and Music in Towson:

One can never pile the raspberries

high enough to stem the pangs

of the hungry bourgeoisie. They cannot

tussle, paddle, think, burn their way

out of a paper bag until the stomach

has been settled like an estate.

The book is a variation on a theme heard several years ago in Baltimore when poets got together to produce "The Food Processor," a poetry anthology sold to benefit the Maryland Food Committee. The difference is the addition of recipes.

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