Two new pavilions at the third National Book Festival—Poetry and Home & Family—featured poets from across the nation and attracted cooking and home decorating enthusiasts throughout the day.
Thirteen poets of different ethnic backgrounds came from all over the United States to share their unique voices as the Poetry Pavilion made its debut at the book festival.
Three poets described leaves blowing in the wind, three mentioned personal hardship as adults, and two remarked on children's boredom as fodder for their poems. Together, the poets offered a cornucopia of experiences, emotions and images, many in rhyme, some in open verse.
"Poetry is a language, and [as with] any language, you can articulate anything in the human experience," said Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, which sponsored the pavilion with funding from the Kinder Foundation.
E. Ethelbert Miller, of Washington, D.C., opened the readings with a sonnet by Pablo Neruda and then read from his own work, including "Honey and Watermelons." The poem is about a bomb maker "who weaves his fingers into metal and wires, who has a book on the table he doesn't understand, who walks down the street until he is next to a man who looks like me."
Rhina Espaillat called poetry the universal language. "There is something in poetry that transcends the dictionary meaning, and that is the music," said Espaillat, who was born in the Dominican Republic. "Memory is a filament, weaving, weaving what I am. Butter, coffee, musty beans, caramel and guava jam," she read from her poem "Bodega."
X.J. Kennedy also spoke of the power of poetry, saying that it goes back to Greek times when it was sung, though we have lost the tunes. He drew an appreciative response when he sang "In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus One Day," about a lady named Rose who exaggerates her past.
Marilyn Nelson, the daughter of a Tuskegee Airman, read a cycle of seven sonnets about her grandmother's Hickman, Ky., church, founded by a former slave who had preached to mules. "The Lord himself was a tested, broken mule, but y'all can try the patience of a saint." Later he tells his human flock, "Be a witness. Pull the plow and sow God's word. On harvest day your heart will rise up."
Kay Ryan, who grew up on the Mojave Desert, called patience "the sport of truly chastened things." Tami Haaland, who lives in Montana, talked about finding tepee rings, or rocks Native Americans placed around their tepees. Larissa Szporluk from Ohio read, "The cypress never thinks twice about carrier doves or whether it was fathered."
B.H. Fairchild, who grew up in southwest Kansas, read a poem about rolling a car for kicks. "Boredom grows as thick as maize in Kansas," he explained. Fred Chappell, from the North Carolina mountains, concluded the readings with these words from his poem "Literature": "each reader still entranced by the courtly chronicler of his native land."
The poets' appearances were arranged by Gioia. He and David Lehman, series editor of "The Best American Poetry," introduced the poets and at noon held a kind of teach-in by reading poems that both popular and under-recognized American poets have written over the years.
Home & Family Pavilion
Celebrity chefs, gardeners and home decorators attracted big crowds to the book festival's new Home & Family Pavilion. The stories they told demonstrated that facts can be funnier than fiction.
The Chefs: Authors Jacques Pépin, one of America's best known French chefs, and Patrick O'Connell, award-winning chef and owner of the Inn at Little Washington, both discussed how culinary traditions have changed.
"Seemingly overnight, American chefs and restaurants are on a par with any in the world," said O'Connell. "A new confidence has replaced previous insecurities about dining."
He recalled a different time, growing up in Washington, D.C., and Maryland, when hostesses were more interested in cleaning house than cooking for a party.
Cooking from scratch is very different today than it used to be, Pépin said. When he was learning the business in his native France during the 1950s, cooks started by killing the chicken, plucking it, eviscerating it and basting it, being very careful that the meat did not stick to a pot set on an erratic wood-burning stove. Today, he said, the cook starts with a chicken already boned and skinned and a no-stick pan placed over electric or gas heat.
Both chefs recalled their learning experiences on opposite sides of the Atlantic. After dropping out of college to work in a restaurant and observing the artistry of great chefs in France, O'Connell moved onto a Virginia farm. He bathed in a river, borrowed cookbooks from the local library, and cooked constantly, also on a wood-burning stove, to keep warm. "I was cooking everything I could get my hands on; my friends said even the pets weren't safe," he recalled.
He recruited his friend Reinhardt Lynch from Boston, and the two began catering for parties of 300 or more—an enterprise that required, in winter, slithering across an icy bridge to the farmhouse with grocery bags in hand and slithering back with mountains of canapés and hors d'oeuvres precariously balanced. Riding in a van en route to one party, a small waitress wearing the black dress and white frilly apron of a French maid bounced head-first into a bowl of marinating mushrooms.
Their lives changed when they decided to have the customers come to them. They borrowed $5,000 and opened a kitchen in a 1978 blizzard with a $4.95 entrée, chicken with tarragon. A Washington food critic gave their restaurant a rave review, and the world now beats a path to the Inn at Little Washington. It was named "America's best" dining room in 2003 by "Zagat."
In hilarious detail, Pépin described his apprenticeship at the Grand Hotel de l'Europe in Paris. One morning, his chef ordered him to retrieve a loaned broiler needed for luncheon preparations. With panic increasing as noon approached, he raced madly on foot from restaurant to restaurant, learning at each stop that the broiler had been loaned to another kitchen. Finally, he was handed a bag so heavy he had to rest several times before he could lug it back to the kitchen at the Grand Hotel. Red-faced and panting, he handed the bag to his chef, who opened it and revealed not the expected broiler but two cement blocks! All the cooks who were looking on applauded Pépin's successful initiation as a promising young apprentice chef.
Eventually, he cooked for three French presidents (1956-59), moved to New York City, worked at Le Pavillon and other restaurants, wrote books about culinary techniques and artistry, and became the award-winning television host of "Jacques Pépin's Kitchen: Cooking with Claudine" and other shows.
For the cooks and noncooks in the audience, Pépin had a number of helpful aphorisms:
"Food has absolutely no value unless you enjoy it."
"You have to be happy when you cook and happy when you eat; otherwise your gastric juices don't work."
And one writer's personal favorite: "If you can buy it better than you can make it, buy it!"
The Gardeners: Earlier in the day, literary gardeners Barbara Damrosch and P. Allen Smith, each with books and columns to their credits, discussed market gardening and landscaping.
Married to a Maine farmer, Damrosch advocated a return to the earth—even a 10-by-10-foot square of urban ground—as the source of fresh vegetables that are the most pleasing to the palate, full of vitamins and minerals, cheap and fun to grow and convenient to the kitchen door.
"People have a connection with the soil, with America's agricultural way of life," she said, recalling fond memories "in paradise"—her grandparents' flower and vegetable gardens.
"There's something meditative about weeding," she said of the activity that requires kneeling in the dirt and digging. "And plants really do want to grow."
"I'm seeing a growing interest in raising food. I think people want the information now; they seem ready to receive it," said Damrosch, author of the beginning gardener's bible, "The Garden Primer," and other books as well as a new Washington Post column, "The Cook's Garden."
The Home Decorators: Fans of the hit cable television program "Trading Spaces" had the opportunity to hear behind-the-scenes anecdotes, production details and juicy gossip from the show's host, Paige Davis, and one of its most popular and gregarious interior designers, Frank Bielec, in the Home & Family Pavilion.
The program, an American version of the BBC program "Changing Rooms," gives two sets of neighbors the opportunity to redecorate a room in each other's home. Each team is given the services of an interior designer and carpenter, two days, and a $1,000 budget. The result, a top-rated program on The Learning Channel, "has set the bar for a whole new genre of television," according to Davis. This genre includes home, garden and personal makeover programming from "What Not to Wear" to "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy."
Davis has written a diary of her work on the program ("Paige by Paige"), while Bielec's design work is featured in two new Trading Spaces books ("Color" and "Make It Yours"). A standing-room-only crowd of appreciative fans seemed delighted to hear that one of the more imposing designers, Doug Wilson, is actually "a very nice guy." Some were not entirely thrilled, however, to learn that heartthrob carpenter Ty Pennington "is indeed single—but has a girlfriend."
The CIA Wives Who "Dare to Repair": In the same pavilion, Julie Sussman and Stephanie Glakas-Tenet discussed the story behind their best-selling home repair book for women, "Dare to Repair." Spouses of Central Intelligence Agency employees (Glakas-Tenet is the wife of CIA Director George Tenet), the two women learned their way around the toolbox because their busy husbands were rarely at home.
It occurred to them that the current how-to book market didn't have anything tailored specifically to women, who, according to Sussman, "have broken through the glass ceilings, but they've just never learned how to fix them."
She used the analogy of killing a bug. "If you get a bug in the house, and your husband is around, you call for him and he kills the bug," she said. "If he's not around, you don't think twice about killing the bug yourself."
The idea of a book for women by women doing their own home repairs (or "killing the bug") went from just a good idea to a mission. The two described various repair tasks and apologized for not demonstrating a repair onstage, a usual part of their speaking engagements. "The book festival was such a dignified affair, we decided to leave the broken dishwasher at home," Glakas-Tenet said.
Yvonne French, who wrote about the Poetry Pavilion, is a senior editor in the Office of the Librarian. Helen Dalrymple, John Sayers and Gail Fineberg, Public Affairs Office, contributed the pieces on cooking, gardening and home decorating.