There are few things in this mortal life that rival the richness of the written word. The elegant draping of stanza and meter, the quiet metaphor, the linguistic aplomb of syllables, the mouth feel of a particularly decadent alliteration. We can wax poetic about the poetic poetry of poetry until we are blue in the face – blue like blueberries. But at the pinnacle of human creation there stands only one other shining beacon of achievement that grandly proclaims the mankind species as set apart from our lesser mammalian brethren. You know of what I speak. You feel the warm visceral milk its confection perfection imparts to your marrow. See it now – great in glory – hand in hand with the triumphs of our pens. Yes…Pie.
Like poetry, pie is something that resonates deeply on a personal level. Memories are made in the deep dish curves of Grandma’s warm banana custard in the same way that a familiar rhyme soothes – or sparks – us with a nostalgic glow. Both rich comforts were outfitted in fine display this past weekend as Louisville’s premiere independent publishing house, Sarabande Books , honored the recipients of the Flo Gault Student Poetry Prize on Sunday afternoon.
Hosted graciously in the home of Sarabande’s co-founders, Editor-in-Chief, Sarah Gorham and poet, Jeffrey Skinner, the poetically-yoked pair partnered with an excellent list of local businesses, providing an enviable spread to honor the winners of 2011’s award. The Pie Party’s array of both sweet and savory nibbles hailed from the kitchens of independent gems such as Blue Dog Bakery, Cake Flour, Comfy Cow, Heine Brothers’ Coffee, Highland Coffee, Impellizzeri’s Pizza, Lilly’s, Lotsa Pasta, Molly Malone’s and Proof On Main. No tummy was found wanting. A quietly smoldering fire, plenty of natural light and the most welcome company of a particularly well-mannered Bassett Hound provided an excellent casual ambiance just suited for the sort of poetic shenanigans I have come to expect from Sarabande’s off-beat repertoire of talents.
Now an annual Winter-time occurrence, the Pie Party venerates the winners of the Flo Gault Student Poetry Prize, a poetry competition open exclusively to undergraduate college students currently pursuing higher education in Kentucky. Submissions for the contest are open yearly in the fall, October 1st through December 1st, and award monetary prizes to the first, second and third place winners. Sunday’s attendance from 2011’s accomplished recipients included Honorable Mentions, Brice Robinson and Noah Vance – both currently attending the University of Louisville – and First Prize winner Isiah Fish, an up-and-coming (and positively beaming) Freshman from Western Kentucky University. Fish’s poem, “Remember the Sun Boulevard”, was displayed on broadside designed and printed by local printing press, Hound Dog Press.
Taking an opportunity between bites to chat with the buoyant – and rightfully so – winner, Fish described the inspiration behind his whimsical winning submission as a sudden jolt that simply spilled out of him on a day in November after seeing the most recent theatrical Twilight release, “Breaking Dawn”. While not directly linked to the pop-culture phenomenon, Fish found an inspiration in the film’s title and explored the concept of a literal broken morning with a playfully absurdist humor. “I just thought that it was different,” Fish explained as he describes his choice to submit the piece, “It’s sort of absurd, but the last line brings in the human emotion and that, juxtaposed with the ridiculousness, is sort of beautiful.” Working towards a Creative Writing degree with a minor in Film, Fish has found winning Sarabande’s Flo Gault Poetry Prize both a humbling experience and a confirmation that he is following the right track: “It reassured me that this is what I need to do”.
Following an ample opportunity (and perhaps overly-tempting for those of us that prowl a dessert spread like a manic tigress) to properly please the culinary palate, Sarah Gorham turned the spotlight to the literary slice of the afternoon, introducing the guests of honor, explaining Sarabande’s mission and clarifying the highly important connection between sweet compositions and sweet confection. Sarabande’s Marketing and Development Director, Caroline Casey, also highlighted the many educational programs that Sarabande Books offers to the Louisville community – programs that would not be possible without the support of sponsors like Stanley and Flo Gault.
While also working to cultivate and encourage the next generation of writers, Sarabande uses the contributions of donors to deepen and broaden a positive literary impact within the community. With the support of these sponsors, Casey described Sarabande’s hopes to reach out this year and build successful programs with organizations such as the Louisville Deaf Oral School and Kentucky Refugee Ministries – similar to other such initiatives already in play and flourishing in the city. With a combination of literary education outreach and providing a foundation for rising stars in the poetic circle – our Student Poetry Prize winners among them – Sarabande Books is dedicated to keeping the often unsung art forms of poetry and short fiction thriving.
Thriving indeed. For those in the room hungry for a healthy dose of the creative, the winning submissions supplied a nice variety of both the decadent and refreshingly innovative that served as the perfect post-pie digestif. The winners read their work – the Sarabandistas standing in for honorees unable to attend – to the delight and applause of all. Poetry is definitely the Yin to Pie’s Yang. So yes…the truly burning question of the afternoon: the pie. Why poetry and pie? Well, why not? “Pie is always the best part of Thanksgiving,” Gorham enumerated, “why not bring a little of that joy into the dead of Winter?” And the beloved Mr. Lincoln gracing the cover of the Pie Party program? Good sirs and gentle ladies, the Pie Party would be remiss not to honor the most famous pie-lover in history on his 203rd birthday (the recipe for Lincoln’s favorite pie – Mrs. Nancy A. Breedlove’s Lemon-Custard Pie – was provided with the program). In such spirit, Sarabande Intern Jared Beek rounded out the afternoon with a rendition of Grace Paley’s meditative pie-centric poem, “The Poet’s Occasional Alternative”.
In the realm of good words and good taste, the paring of pie and poetry is as undeniable as the talent displayed – and hopefully primed for success – by the winners. Both the culinary and poetic palates of all in attendance left satiated – poetry and pie, an alliteration meant to roll off the tongue and please the mind and marrow with the lushness of their distinct tastes. Sarabande Books’ 2012 Pie Party easily displayed the greats of both worlds.
Isiah Fish’s First Place winning poem, “Remember the Sun Boulevard”, is currently featured on Sarabande Books’ website. A list of all the talented winners – including Brice Robinson and Noah Vance – is also on display.
Congratulations and God-speed to you all in your literary journeys my fellow English major brethren.
Image: Courtesy of Sarabande Pie Party Program
Ridiculous photo: Courtesy of Magnolia Photo Booth and the good humor of Mr. Isiah Fish