Friday, March 25, 2011

Wine, Veggies and Poetry

by Zinta Aistars

A poet who gardens for both poetry and organic vegetableswhat could be finer? Sharing dinner and a glass of wine with a poet who gardens for both poetry and vegetables, finer still. Even better? Toss in an adrenalized discussion about the fast approaching authors' event, Putting on the Dog: The Smoking Poet Celebrates 5, on Thursday, April 28, at 7 p.m. at The Wine Loft.

Amy Newday from Friends of Poetry, Inc. (the event sponsor), is already waiting for me at the bar when I stroll into The Wine Loft, downtown Kalamazoo, Michigan. I almost miss her; the place is hopping. I expected calm and quiet on a Thursday evening, but the chatter all around is lively, waitresses are weaving through the crowd with platters of aromatic nibblings and glasses of wine, and the bartenders are working the long bar.

I do like this place ... I think that each and every time I walk in. If the online literary magazine I manage, The Smoking Poet, were an actual cigar lounge, this is very nearly what it would look like. I founded TSP five years ago, and it was the print version of the imaginary lounge in my mind: dimly lit, elegant interior, long wooden bar, soft chocolate-colored couches and chairs gathered around low tables, sheer curtains threaded with gold hanging from the ceiling to separate spaces for intimate conversation. An extensive wine menu doesn't leave out aged scotch or craft brews, and jazzy music is playing softly in the background. All that's missing are the cigars ... this is a smoke-free place ... but Winston's cigar lounge is just across the street for those who can't resist a bit of fire.

Amy and I move to the velvety brown couches and lean in to toss around our marketing ideas and plans for the upcoming event. Things are coming along nicely. The Wine Loft has designed a very kewl poster that will be distributed to businesses around town, to Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo College.

There he is, our charming mascot, the cigar-chomping pup wearing a red bow tie and cap. A great date any night. A reporter from the Kalamazoo Gazette will be writing our story, a radio show is on schedule at WKZO's Lori Moore Show for April, which is National Poetry Month. Dean Hauck, owner of Michigan News Agency, has us on her schedule to put out a book table and sell participating authors' books.

In fact, Amy and I admit to each other with a flush of anticipationwe're a tad worried about space. Not enough of it. With a lineup of 14 great writers, some traveling cross-state to be among us, and concluding with an open mic, gee, we could be moving the walls out a few feet wider and longer. Good problem to have.

Which one of us will do introductions? In what order shall we read? Where should we stand the musicians? How about someone to record a video of the whole evening?

We bubble and simmer with ideas. Not so much so that we don't have time to eat. The Wine Loft has broadened their menu to include a selection of dinners, and Amy tries the Filet Mignon salad, and I, the Margarita Pizza, with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, basil, olive oil and garlic on flat bread. For dessert, we share a plate of chocolate-dipped strawberries.

Conversation irresistibly turns to food. Spring is here, at least on the calendar if not quite yet reflected in warmer temperatures. Amy talks about her new business: an organic garden in Shelbyville, named Harvest of Joy Farm, which is just this summer beginning to sell just a few first CSAs, or community supported agriculture shares. She and friend Diane Glenn drew up their business plan last summer and are now ready to dig and seed and grow and share. Amy has for some time now been my source of organic wisdom, and it suddenly hits me ... I had considered getting a CSA this season, put it off due to a house sitting stint out of town, now canceled, so here I was, once again on the market for a CSA.

"Hey! I just realized I could still do a CSA this summer ... any shares left?"

Amy smiled like sunshine, and I didn't let her smile fade before I had my checkbook out and was writing a check for my share. While I despise general shopping, avoid malls like the plague, I can't resist book stores and farmers' markets. I have an addiction for both, and it can cost. Good thing Amy's poetry book was still in manuscript, or I would have bought a wheelbarrow full of copies.

Amy in her garden
I'm giddy with anticipation as I listen to Amy talk about the seeds that are going into the earth, to become a large part of my meals this spring, summer and fall. I'm planning on my own small garden, too, a raised bed in the backyard, so my visits to the grocery store could be few and far between, for dairy and breads and grains, but drives to Patch 'n Pasture, another small organic farm, supplying my poultry needs.

Combined passions. Amy and I talk long about hers, poetry and gardening, and mine, creative writing and painting, with my recent change in creative direction, writing and painting broadsides. It's good to be two-timers. Seemingly different pursuits, but somehow it all comes together, comes full circle. We are nourishing body and spirit, tapping both sides of the brain. How to make a business out of our bliss, how to market what we do best, how to share it with others of similar interests, how to steer our lives ever along the lines of Joseph Campbell's advice: "Follow your bliss."

As we plan Putting on the Dog: TSP Celebrates 5, it feels more and more like a bigger celebration than just five years of a literary journal. It is a celebration of a more poetic slant to life. It is a celebration of authenticity in our work. It is the exploration of finding creative freedom, expression that is uniquely our own. It is a bringing together of the healthy whole: feeding body, mind, spirit.

Definitely something delicious to chew on.

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