Poetry & Food: Two Things The Mouth Loves

The first annual Poetry & Food Retreat, held from Friday evening, September 14, until Monday morning, September 17, was wildly successful. Five participants – two from NYC and three from Vermont, ranging in age from 30 to 75 – enjoyed a weekend of poetry workshops, individual conferences, nightly readings, hiking, swimming, and lounging around the gorgeous Fielder Farm property. And, of course, they enjoyed sumptuous meals either prepared by Almost Home Catering or cooked by our talented chefs, Tanya Bou-Nacklie on Saturday, and Cynthia West on Sunday. Co-directing the retreat were Neil Shepard, who handled all things poetical, and Kate Riley, who supervised all things culinary.

Folks arrived at 5:00 p.m. on Friday, checked in to their accommodations, and by 6:30 p.m. enjoyed a smorgasbord catered by Almost Home. Joining the participants and co-directors for dinner was Mary Jane Dickerson, who welcomed and oriented us at Fielder Farm. Also joining us for dinner were our two guest poets for the evening, Stephen Cramer and Julia Shipley, who read their food-related poems and afterward fielded questions about writing food-related poetry.

On Saturday, participants attended two poetry workshops. At the morning workshop, Kate delivered a half-hour lecture on the dynamics between food and language (poetry), and Neil led a two-hour study of food-related poems by well-known poets, analyzing the various elements of poetic craft that helped to shape the food-related content. At the afternoon workshop, participants responded to exercises and prompts, and then produced initial drafts of their own food-related poems. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Kate was working with our Lebanese chef, Tanya, preparing lunch and dinner meals. Throughout the day, participants were invited to help and learn about the preparation of Lebanese food. At lunch, Kate taught us about a variety of culturally appropriate food rituals, and Tanya discussed her cooking and cultural background. Dinner was a 10-course feast (see attached photos). Tamra Higgins joined us for dinner as well as for a post-prandial poetry reading, at which she, Neil, and the participants all read food-related poems.

On Sunday, the morning workshop offered a formal critique of food-related poems the participants had sent to Neil ahead of time. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Kate was working with Vermont-based chef, Cynthia West, cooking up memory-foods that each participant had requested ahead of time – foods that had played a significant role in their past (local foods and local memories). The range of these foods – from beet salad, chicken soup and challah, for lunch, to mid-afternoon snacks of lavender blueberry panna cotta pancakes, to evening fare of crab and artichoke dip, Chicken Marbella, and a plate of Jasper Hill cheeses – and the chef’s ability to expertly prepare each dish – was truly extraordinary (see attached photos). Sunday evening ended with participants reading food-related poems they had produced during the retreat.

On Monday, two of the participants arose at 6:00 a.m. and hiked to the top of Camel’s Hump, while the rest of us cleaned up The Barn and packed up the yummy leftovers! Thanks to Mary Jane for assisting us on Friday evening, and thanks to Tamra for helping out on multiple days. And big thanks to Bert and Sarah for making Fielder Farm available to us!

Check out photos below from Nicole Cloutier. We look forward to our second annual retreat next September! To be the first to know when the 2019 workshop is announced, or to hold your spot, contact sundogpoetry@gmail.com