friday feast: kate lebo on a commonplace book of pie

Who wants pie? Did you save your fork?

In a perfect world, there’d be a poetry pie shop just minutes from home, where the heavenly aroma of freshly baked double crust fruit pies would lovingly call your name at precisely the right times.

Willingly seduced by juiced up sour cherries and rhubarb dallying with sugar, nutmeg and almond extract, or golden ripe peaches yielding to clover honey and ginger, you’d eagerly float on over, happily anticipating that blissful moment when you can wrap your mind and lips around a good helping of emotional truth.

Although most of us aren’t lucky enough to have such a magical shop nearby, we can still feast on the next best thing: Kate Lebo’s, A Commonplace Book of Pie (Chin Music Press, 2013), an uncommonly quirky, thought-provoking collection of 25 prose poems, cool ephemera, baking tips, and mouthwatering recipes stunningly illustrated by Jessica Lynn Bonin.

Some of you may remember when I featured “Mincemeat,” one of the tasty poems from this charming book, back in August. Since then, Kate has crisscrossed the country reading her poems, enticing audiences with her homemade pies, and converting many a non-believer with discussions of pie lore, personalities, and philosophy at bookstores, festivals, farm markets and grocery stores, with noteworthy stints on radio and TV.

Basically taking the pie metaphor and running with it, she’s upended time-worn assumptions about what poetry is and can be. I love how her pie poems (a fantasy zodiac like you’ve never seen) are laced with just the right amounts of sass, savvy and humor, inviting readers to look at themselves, face their fears, and articulate their desires.

I thank Kate for taking time away from her busy schedule to tell us about the fortuitous evolution of ACBOP and her highly successful book tour. She also offers a bit of writing advice, and provides backstory for the sensory-lush “Cranberry.”

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Pie Stand, Whole Foods Market (October 2013)

♥ MEET PIE POET KATE LEBO ♥

It’s not often that I see a young poet with a debut book published by an indie press crisscrossing the country doing readings, appearing on TV, acing radio interviews, and being featured at USA Today. Are you the sole mastermind behind your brilliant promotional blitz, or did you get a lot of help from your publisher?

Oh lord, there is absolutely no way this tour and media bonanza could have happened without Bruce, Chelsey, and David at Chin Music Press. We worked as a team to book events, handle logistics, promote the hell out of them, and stay creative under pressure. My deepest thanks to them for tirelessly supporting me from Seattle while I zoomed around the country making friends for the book.

Our secret has been a combination of research, resourcefulness, and relationships. We’ve used the book’s multi-genre nature to our advantage—we can fit at Whole Foods as easily as we fit at literary venues, and I can do anything from a traditional poetry reading to a pie lesson to a discussion of poetics and feminism and craft and domesticity, or all these things at once. For the most part, I only went places where I already had a friend who could rally their local community, or where a business (like Whole Foods) or institution (like Luther College) could introduce me to a community. Chin Music is a small press and I’m just one woman (also small), so we had to be smart and light on our feet to make sure we weren’t wasting our time and our money out there on the open road. Regardless of how things went, I would have had a great time, but it’s been exciting to see momentum for the book building in cities I’ve never before visited, in national publications like USA Today. Cool and surreal.

Illustrations © 2013 Jessica Lynn Bonin

Have you ever met a pie you didn’t like?

Oh sure. All the time. My interest in pie is really about the rituals of making, serving, and sharing it, not about eating it. Don’t get me wrong, I love to eat pie, but any old slice of pie is not enough to get me excited anymore. I’ve met pies of mine that I didn’t like at all, especially while testing recipes for Pie School, my upcoming cookbook. Almond chiffon, for example. A pain in the butt to make that ended up tasting like nothing much. Nutty fluff. Can’t always make a masterpiece. After that experience, I decided to only include pies that are a joy to make as well as eat. This is a subjective choice, of course.

Please describe yourself in terms of pie.

But I’m so much better at describing YOU in terms of pie!

Okay. How about this line from A Commonplace Book of Pie: “cold hands, warm heart.”

Jessica’s lovely watercolors showcase pie-making process and materials.

A Commonplace Book of Pie began as a collaborative sculpture project with a letterpressed zine that is now a published book. Was this part of your goal from the beginning? Looking back at the fruitful evolution of ACBOP, what have you learned from the experience? What advice can you offer for writers wanting to publish a book of poetry in a notoriously tough market?

My goal was always to make something to fit the occasion. The occasion kept changing so the project did too, until I eventually had this book. Here’s what I mean: the zine wouldn’t have existed without the collaboration with sculptor Brian Schoneman. It wouldn’t have persisted if people and bookstores weren’t so excited about it. That excitement told me I’d tapped into something powerful, which made me want to write more, to figure out what I could do with this project. Which eventually led to something long enough to be a book, and I’m a writer, so I of course want to write a book—and there, look, I had! Finding a publisher wasn’t easy, but once I found Chin Music Press, pitching the book was a breeze. We have a common interest in multi-genre forms and beautiful-yet-affordable books. Chin Music was a natural home for A Commonplace Book of Pie. I’m so glad they said yes.

What I’ve learned is the advice I’ll give other writers: have faith in your obsessions. Let them lead you down dark paths and dead ends. Trust that you’re getting somewhere. Make assumptions and stay open to possibility—for the work, for yourself. Believe in the work. See what happens.

There is no right way to have a writing career. What’s a writing career, anyway? There’s always a way to write. That’s the important thing. Keep writing. Put your writing into the world in the ways available to you, or make a way. Make what you can with what you have.

Photo of Kate and Jessica by Shawn Tadashi Arntz

Did you have a say in selecting Jessica Lynn Bonin as the illustrator for the book, and how did you feel when you first saw her pictures?

Jessica and I have been partners in crime for years now. When I had a kitchen, it was decorated with her paintings of everyday objects. We have an ongoing conversation about art and life that naturally lent itself to this book. There was no other artist for this book, ever. When I was looking for a publisher, I looked for a press that would let me choose my own illustrator. With Chin Music I lucked out—they hired Jess and the illustrator and book designer. So now we have this book, and we get to travel with it and tell people about it together, and it’s such a gift. She’s my hero.

Why prose poem vs. any other poetic form to ruminate about pie?

I wanted to emphasize the sentence and the story, not the line or the music, to raise the volume on the lyric voice that’s bossing everyone around with these descriptions and instructions. Honestly, it never occurred to me to break my lines, I think because it was already a gamble to write a poem about a pie and I wanted to avoid writing doggerel, or anything that looked like doggerel. The prose poem form felt right for the multi-genre form of the book. The poems blend with the ephemera and recipes better.

Tell us about the new cookbook you’re currently working on.

It’s both cookbook and manifesto, a book that will teach you how to make pie while asking you to consider why we make and eat and share in the first place. I use poetry and feminist critique to frame the cookbook with a new secret mission: to use the lessons of pie-making to learn how to trust yourself and your senses.

Pie School: Lessons in Fruit, Flour, & Butter will be out in fall 2014. I’m so excited to share it with y’all!

Finally, please discuss your inspiration and process for “Cranberry.”

Cherry Cranberry Pie

Cranberry
by Kate Lebo

You dare not trust yourself to make the house pleasant with your wit and so you buy ice cream. Hello cranberry pie-lover. Your lights are light because your darks are dark, bog-like, ballooned. Where your rivers break into lakes, weeds silk the dark water. Do you wonder how it feels to back-float in a cranberry field, cerise fruit bubbling up your arms’ lazy windmill? What would cranberries sound like, their million submerged collisions? Like a tub of loose beads? A handful of lost change chattering in the dirt? The bite of tart fruit loses its teeth a la mode — but why speak of it? You’re too adult to chew open mouthed, yet this pie is more vivid under the light of a loose jaw, a little air.

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It started with a funny line I saw on a menu in Anacortes, Washington: “I didn’t trust my wit, so I bought ice cream.” And went from there. The vanilla-sweet cuteness of the line made me want to tart it up, make it redder, harder to swallow. Cranberries, why not? Then the bog, then the sensation of floating in one, which I’ve always wanted to do, to be in the water with all that color, which reminded me of the sensation of being half-submerged in a lake with the deep beneath you, unseen but very there, and the sky above, bright and untouchable, the different kinds of coldness you’d experience half-in—cold water, cold wind—and the peace of equilibrium, which for me has always been a tonic for headchatter and dread. The poem was inspired by contrasts, a sense of not being enough, the things we do to feel worthy.

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A COMMONPLACE BOOK OF PIE
written by Kate Lebo
illustrated by Jessica Lynn Bonin
published by Chin Music Press, 2013
Poetry, Fantasy Zodiac, Recipes, Tips, 93 pp.

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poetryfriday180Donna at Mainely Write is hosting today’s Roundup. Check out the full menu of poetic offerings being featured in the blogosphere and have a terrific weekend!

 

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wkendcookingiconThis post is also being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts (recipes, cookbook reviews, food photos and ruminations). Come join the fun!

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Copyright © 2014 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

68 thoughts on “friday feast: kate lebo on a commonplace book of pie

  1. Kate Lebo writes some of my favorite prose poems. “Do you wonder how it feels to back-float in a cranberry field, cerise fruit bubbling up your arms’ lazy windmill? What would cranberries sound like, their million submerged collisions?” She chooses her words and images so well. And those illustrations are fabulous. I can totally imagine decorating my kitchen with them.

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  2. I ordered this book when you shared it before, Jama, & it has traveled back & forth between my daughter and me. We both love pie & poetry, so love the book of course. Thanks for the update on Kate, and sharing again those beautiful art by Jessica. So happy to hear that another book is on its way!

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    1. Love that you and your daughter have been enjoying the book, Linda. Each of Jessica’s paintings tells its own story, illuminating the beauty in the everyday. There is something holy and soul-nourishing about the practice of making pie, just like the practice of making poems.:)

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  3. What a way to blaze into the new blog year, Jama! So glad to revisit Kate Lebo and her sooo-original work. (Fun to get a sneak peek into inspirations, too.) I’m in love with Jessica Lynn Bolin’s illustrations here – I mean, I’ve always loved those King Arthur flour bags, but she’s elevated this one to exquisite!

    Thanks to all for sharing. And, please pass a piece of pie. Thank you.

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    1. Jessica has definitely made me look at my KA flour bags in a whole new light.:) But then, that’s the purpose of good art, whether poetry, prose, or painting — a new way of seeing and appreciating.

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    1. So true, Laura. I love learning about enterprising people who follow their passions, carve their own paths, and are not afraid to take chances. ACBOP speaks volumes for the wonders of small presses and the creative visionaries who work with them.

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  4. Oh my – this sounds like a delicious treat of a book. And thank you for the interview, too, Jama – Kate sounds just like her book: warm, inviting, fun to have around.

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  5. You are so right! Why are there so many cupcake shops and no pie shops!? I much prefer pie–the flavors and textures are so much more interesting. Especially paired with such gorgeous illustrations and such intriguing prose poems… Thank you so much for sharing this!

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    1. I think the boutique cupcake shop has had its heyday. There are a few specialty pie shops around, but not nearly as many as there should be. I also like the cuteness and convenience of hand pies. Shops or not, you can’t beat homemade. Pie crust is tricky; when someone makes you a pie, it’s truly a gift.

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  6. I love happy endings, poems, pie, smart women, and dazzling paintings — your post is sheer perfection today, Jama! (I agree with her that sometimes making something is far harder than the taste is worth. Sometimes my stepkids will really like something but before they compliment me, they ask, “Was this hard to make?”)

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    1. I think we’ve all been there with putting effort into something with disappointing results — or we think twice about spending hours making something again that takes two seconds to eat. Glad you enjoyed the post, Keri.:)

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  7. I’m writing up an order card, too, for my library! I’m a big pie fan!

    Jama, you really are a poet, I’ve taken the liberty of rearranging, only slightly, your opening words, and repeating some for the last line:

    Jama, Willingly Seduced

    In a perfect world,
    there’d be a poetry
    pie shop just minutes
    from home where
    the heavenly aroma
    of freshly baked
    double crust fruit
    pies would lovingly
    call your name.

    Willingly seduced by
    juiced up sour cherries
    rhubarb dallying with
    sugar nutmeg and
    almond extract, or
    golden ripe peaches
    yielding to clover
    honey and ginger

    you’d eagerly float
    on over, happily
    anticipating that
    blissful moment when
    you wrap your mind
    and lips around a
    good helping of
    emotional truth in
    in a double crust pie.

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    1. Diane, you are too much! Nice “rearrangement.” I’d love to see you do a pie haiga sometime:). Glad you’re ordering a copy for your library!!

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      1. No pies were harmed in the making of a poem for you, Jama. I have one ready to go next Friday at Random Noodling. See you then!

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  8. Well, after having my daughter visit, and our pie crust devastations, and then finally successful renditions, I think we both deserve this book. On my way to the checkout line! Superb illustrations. I’d love to hang some of those in my new cottage kitchen!

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    1. Oh, a new cottage kitchen? Sounds wonderful. Yes, you and your daughter definitely deserve this book — you can practice your newly acquired successful pie techniques with Kate’s recipes.

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  9. Happy new year Jama! When you first wrote about this I bought several copies and have since given them all away to folks I know who love to bake. Your post reminds me that I need a copy of the book for myself!

    Thanks for sharing.

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  10. This book looks delicious. I’m thinking it might make the perfect wedding present for my poetry-loving niece, paired with some pottery pie pans.

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  11. I never know what I’ll find here. Thought I’d be drooling over pie. And I do love that. But this attitude / advice about writing is my takeaway:

    “…have faith in your obsessions. Let them lead you down dark paths and dead ends. Trust that you’re getting somewhere…There is no right way to have a writing career.”

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    1. I also like that wonderful nugget of wisdom. Conquering self doubt and trusting your intuition are so crucial to writers and often the hardest part of the process.

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  12. Oh my — I love, love, love the illustrations. But then add in the lovely poems and — well — pie! I’m sold!! Thanks so much for sharing this.

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  13. Okay. I need to own this book. And the forthcoming recipe book. SOLD.

    Thank you for this quote “There is no right way to have a writing career. What’s a writing career, anyway? There’s always a way to write. That’s the important thing. Keep writing. Put your writing into the world in the ways available to you, or make a way. Make what you can with what you have.”

    And, after the Great Cheesecake Smoke Disaster on New Year’s Eve, I’m thinking I may switch to PIE making! Sounds more fun…and poetic!

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  14. Yes, I love that quote too.

    Oh, dear — I remember reading about the cheesecake fiasco. I can see it now, a new book: “Mary Lee’s Adventures in Baking.” Pie will have its own challenges, I’m sure. I think you should bake pies, but also give that cheesecake another go.:)

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  15. I need to buy this book! Thanks so much for telling us about it. I’m not sure what pie I am, but my husband is a pecan pie: nutty & super sweet with an occasional shot of whiskey.

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  16. Oh Jama, this is absolutely beautiful! Welcome back from your hiatus. What a better way to start the year than with PIE! This is the first time I’m hearing of Kate Lebo. I wonder if they publish internationally. I would love to get hold of her book. Love prose poetry.:) Happy Happy New Year beautiful!

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    1. I think Chin Music Press ships internationally — flat rate of $10! You can order Kate’s book directly from them online.:)

      Happy New Year to you, Myra! It’s nice to be back.

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    1. Glad you found it interesting! Love how Kate’s book evolved; she trusted her instincts each step of the way and found the perfect home for it.

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