Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Ten Poems About Baking — ed. Helena NelsonThe jacket is a detailed design of kitchen implements, placed like a colorful wallpaper and taking up the full space. Dominant colours are warm brown, lime green, white and black. The images include a baking bowl, rolling pin, sieve, measuring jugs, gingerbread lady cutters, heart cutters, palette knife, scraper blade, scales with measuring dial central, cheese grater. In the top third a rectangular space is isolated by a green line. Inside this, in black lowercase, sans serif, on a white background, is the centred text. First the pamphlet title (Ten Poems about Baking) split over two lines. Then, much smaller, 'Selected and introduced by' on one line. Then on one line the editor's name: Helena Nelson. Buried at the foot of the pamphlet among the kitchen implements is the candlestick logo and in minute print the name of the publisher: Candlestick Press.

Candlestick Press, 2020    £4.95

Baking as a portal

A better person than me could probably resist making some sort of connection between the act of baking and the act of writing poems. Poets, like bakers, combine ingredients in the form of words or ideas, etc, but it’s the kneading, the mixing, the act of editing that makes the difference. And of course, the all-important art of waiting for things to prove, to rise, to cook and to cool.

This process is something that is pulled out through the selection of poems on offer here on this veritable cake-stand of a pamphlet.  There isn’t space to praise each poet, but I was very much interested in the poems where the act of baking acted as a sort of portal to other places, the way any repetitive action can become meditative and take us somewhere else.

In Gill McEvoy’s ‘Bread’ we open with a first stanza where the dough is worked, ‘rocking heel to fingertip, / kneading it, letting it go’ before we leap into a contemplation of death, grief and guilt, guilt in later stanzas:

I am considering
your death, my illness,
the burden of uncertain days.
I ball up tight the springy globe,
stretch it like a rubber band, let it go.

We see similar instructive pieces throughout the pamphlet, for example in Nelson’s own ‘Mrs Philpott makes a cake’. Grevel Lindop’s ‘Summer Pudding’ is another poem that acts as a recipe, provides a sort of Proustian rush for nights at dinner parties, and ends with the doozy of a line:

                            [ ... ] or with binoculars
arrest the Brownian movement of the stars.

The final instructional piece is Cathy Grindrod’s ‘How to make Apple Crumble’. I loved her description of slicing apples and ‘splashing a snake-trail on marble’ and the way it’s set out with indentations as though the tine of a fork has been pushed round the sides of the poem.

My apologies to the other poets included. Choosing poems to highlight from a tasty selection of poets is a tricky thing. It’s like deciding where to cut the cake and into how many delicious slices.

Mat Riches