Poetry in (Unexpected) Public Places

I spent the weekend with poets — not at a writing workshop, a reading, or a sprawling literary conference, but at the Denver County Fair.

Yes, a county fair. We read poems on the Farm & Garden Stage, surrounded by blue-ribbon pies and clucking chickens (also zombies and drag queens). Now in its second year, the Denver County Fair was created by my favorite artist (Tracy Weil) and event guru (Dana Cain) as a modern interpretation of the traditional fair. It's a super-charged mix of country living and urban crazy.

And the event, I'm happy to note, includes a poetry contest. Ribbons and a cash prize are awarded to poems on the theme of agriculture, food, gardens and farms.

On Sunday afternoon, a vigorous audience leaned in to hear poets read their work. A few steps away, poems were displayed on pegboards, sharing space with top tomatoes and pretty preserves.

After ribbons were awarded, hands shaked, and applause faded, the stage was cleared and prepped for the next event: a how-to-make compost demonstration. It seemed a fitting follow.

Finding poetry in unexpected places is a great reminder that art lives in the nooks and crannies of our busy, often complicated, lives. Next to chickens, before the compost, and all through the harvest.

The 2012 Denver County Fair First Place, Blue Ribbon Poem:

What We Make
for Frederick H. Stitt

This is a very old recipe.
The kind your hands know
better than your head.

Take the zucchini
from the fridge. Think of your job,
of your husband working late,

of your father
who fell last week,
more than a thousand miles away.

Think of the bruises that blossomed,
black then green, on his forehead,
across the span of his ribs.

Grate the zucchini.
You will need three cups
and one of mozzarella.

Break three glorious
lop-sided, orange-yolked eggs
and think now of your father

as the young man turned from the camera,
modeling suits in a catalogue—
his frame that broad and fine.

Add flour, oil, salt and pepper,
loads of fresh basil, baking powder.
Let the onion do its worst.

Think of your dog,
his sturdy joints
going stiff,

even his wag an ache,
and how he goes to his leash
still, every time, in a lather.

Mix and load into a butter-greased, 
8” pan. Think of the rich flesh and rough stones
of peach season,

which is right now every morning
bursting the day open
in your mouth. This is August.

Bake a while at 350˚.
It will rise. It will fall. It will mingle
with fresh tomatoes and Romano.

Think. It will be delicious.
And then, one bite at a time,
it will be gone.

- Kathryn T.S. Bass