RECIPES OF UNNECESSARY ESSENTIALS –FOR A DAY OF LOVE, A WAY OF LOVE, IN POETRY’S PANTRY, or, how to have your cake and eat it too and give it away with poetry—including steaming fragrant poems by Poet Maker Bakers Pablo Neruda, Walt Whitman, Sandra Gilbert, Raymond Carver, Frank O’Hara, Gary Soto, Philip Larkin, Shakespeare, Gerard Stern, Barbara Mossberg, notes of Sir Peter Shaffer, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Oscar Wilde, W. S. Merwin, Maurice Sendak, Kenneth Grahame, mentions of Mary Poppins and Pippi Longstocking and Pat-a-cake, recipes of Emily Dickinson (black cake), Dr. B (orange lemon olive oil cake) and more . . . passionate, slowlicious, delicious takes on cake.

You take the cake! Taking time in your day for poetry, slowing down for a moment in the day to savor how we say, how we think about things that matter . . .  Today we’re going to bring it down to batter, to recipes for love and giving in time for Valentine’s Day . . .  We’ve stirred the dust our previous shows (Feburary 5, January 29, January 22, see, now we’re going to stir the batter, for a stirring show that takes the cake and runs with it. What does cake mean to us, how serious is it, in this our world, this our life, is this what the doctor ordered?

O Reason not the need, says King Lear, and we agree with this dear old man, all right, he became dear, didn’t he, we’ll hear all about it, at this time of year, what it is we humans need, our spirits and souls and hearts and minds, a little sweetness, morsel, crumbs, and cake may not seem to seem necessary, but Lear reasons right, what the heart needs, beyond logic, beyond nutritional necessity or perhaps sound sense. Marie A got into trouble saying let them eat cake, all the more outrageous because its taunt of something beyond necessity, the one thing we do not need—or do we? Of course Sir Peter Shaffer’s Lettice of his play Lettice and Lovage passionately disputes the interpretation of Marie’s heartless remark, and scholars say she did not say or perhaps mean it like it sounded, or was misquoted by an anti-monarchist press, she was given a bum rap, let them eat cake, she was said to say, when told the peasants were starving and did not have bread: invoking cake instead, she lost her head, and we’ll explore recipes for cake that will get you headlong into romantic trouble, or out of it! Now King Lear articulates the needing heart, what is really wanted, and so besides getting recipes for cake up, we’ll take up the poetry of necessity, what’s really needed in these days, and how we can express love, is it with gifts that are not essential? Flowers, chocolate, lingerie, well who’s saying what IS essential? Well, poets are . . . So let’s get started with cake—you know sometimes it’s a good way to begin the day, with cake, and think of all the bakers in the night kitchens, baking til dawn, for us, and I know I have promised you this our Poetry Slow Down for a long time. Cake may seem the least important thing at life’s table, but it’s at the center on a raised platter. It seems that cake has been on the human mind for a long time.

And speaking of long time and alleged longevity of fruitcakes (will you please send me those Christmas fruitcakes you were given but will not eat? I’m sure they are still good!), let’s take out our wooden spoons and bowls and eggs and whisks and oils and flour and sugar and spices love cakes, you and me, do you have your apron on?

Part One

A quick review of cakes in drama, poetry, and prose, beginning with The Bard’s Twelfth Night, cakes and ale, and snarky Brit malarkey, fav British icons.

Part Two

Dr. B’s own Lemon Orange Olive Oil Cake, the ingredients illuminated by poets, Neruda on lemons and salt, Soto on oranges, Whitman on grain, O’Hara on eggs, Bible and Mossberg* on olive oil and salt, Shakespeare on sweet.

Part Three

Emily Dickinson’s recipe for black cake, and Sandra Gilbert’s poem on Emily Dickinson’s recipe for black cake (long life, Uncle Sandra!), and sweet recipes for happiness and love while there’s still time, says

Here is Emily’s really simple recipe, but bring your milk pail! (by the way, serves 60).

Emily Dickinson’s Black Cake

2 pounds Flour—

2 Sugar—

2 Butter—

19 Eggs—

5 pounds Raisins—

1 ½ Currants

1 ½ Citron

½ pint Brandy

½ — Molasses—

2 Nutmegs—

5 teaspoons


2 teaspoons Soda—

Beat Butter and Sugar together—

Add Eggs without beating—and beat the mixture again—

Bake 2½ or three hours, in Cake pans, or 5 to 6 hours in Milk pan, if full—

That seems pretty clear to me! Except why 19 eggs, why not 21 or 20?

There IS still time, Our Poetry Slow Down, if we take our time, if we slow down, because we move too fast, and consider poetry’s nutritious essential message to us, the cake that is poetry, that we can live without but not LIVE without, and if we bring to each other a message of kindness, from taking our time, a message that poetry brings: And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

from “Late Fragment” by Raymond Carver

Lovecakes! Beating eggs, beating hearts, eating cake, feeding cake, feel yourself beloved on the earth, in rhythm with its swirls and pulse, making something like earth itself, coming together the minerals and elements, from grass and eggs and seeds and trees and bees, what flies and crows and nests, sweet and sour, wet and dry, mixing, heating, cooling, cracking, like earth’s crust itself, you are recreating a making. Go on, make that cake. YOU take the cake. Let them eat it. It’s poetry. The poet: Greek: The Maker. Making and baking. It’s a piece of cake. Here! Hear! Hear! Thank you for joining me today, and if you have any leftover fruitcake, you know that’s my favorite, and if you go onto, Producer Sara is posting our show. You DO take the cake, you know: slow down now, and eat it, and if it’s in poetry, you can always have it too!

Next week: Mature love, post Valentine’s, from poets “fifty years and better” (and young generations, take note and notes and heed: this is an optimistic vision of a possible future!).

c Barbara Mossberg 2012


* “Napa Napkin” available

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