Scribbling Meets Nibbling

One evening, over wine and hors d’oeuvres in the Bobcat Den, two themes prominent on campus enjoyed an intimate encounter.

With the Bates Contemplates Food initiative spotlighting what we eat, and the renewed curricular emphasis on the practice of writing, the time was right for a “Literary Café.” The Writing Workshop event in December gathered faculty and staff for food-related readings and chat, seasoned with jazz from physics professor-guitarist John Smedley and bassist Tim Clough.

Readings were personal or historical, humorous or solemn. Poems by Rob Farnsworth, visiting professor of English, pinpointed inner junctions between food and words. His “After Dinner” explored the stimulations of postprandial conversation, while “Douce Ame” resorted to food aromas as a palliative for writer’s block:

“…I take spice bottles down from the cabinet one at a time… / and fill my head with their fragrances, as I would with sad airs / for strings.…”

A splendid Dining Services buffet — featuring Swedish meatballs, phyllo filled with cheese and vegetables, pesto and sundried tomato pizza, and mini-whoopie pies — set a fitting context for poems read by Jane Costlow, professor of Russian.

She focused on other essential questions about food: What to do when there isn’t enough? And what, when there is enough?

First she read from “Hunger,” Velimir Khlebnikov’s long lament about a Russian famine in 1920–21: “‘The acorns are gone! The people have eaten my acorns!’ / The scampering squirrel chatters angrily.”

Next came Nikolay Zabolotsky’s “Dinner,” whose conclusion, as we sat there feeling satisfied with life, was worth remembering:

“[I]f only we could see in shining rays / the blissful childhood of the plants / surely we should descend upon our knees / before the bubbling pan of vegetables.”

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