June 2022
Dee Cohen on Poetry
by
Dee Cohen

Katie King

During quarantine a Flagstaff business called A Dog’s Walk Bakery sustained customers by selling baked bread from a filing cabinet. For poet Katie King, the trips to the bakery were a “needed sanity walk with a destination … something to help balance our freshly unbalanced lives.” The menu changed constantly; there was no predicting what breads would appear or whether they were destined to be “one-time wonders.” The experience inspired Katie to write poems using bread as a metaphor for the challenges and unexpected comforts of this difficult time. Ultimately she published Bread Poems, which she describes as “21 strangely vulnerable pieces about my early quarantine, in bread.”

While she is also a songwriter, actor and photographer, poetry was the natural creative choice for Bread Poems. “I wanted to write simply about something simple, during really complicated times that were also very simple, in a sense. Poetry was the obvious answer. The bakery’s menu itself sounded poetic to me.”

Katie believes art is an avenue for communicating inner emotions, even painful ones. “I write what hurts so that I can understand the weather of things like love, loss, and confusion. It feels like being a nerve-historian the more I do it, like mapping out the sense of things.” She gives credit to her mother for inspiring her poetic honesty. “The ghost of my literature-loving mother haunts me. I was always encouraged to feel anything at all, and I never chose to numb out.” When a poem works, she knows it: “For a moment I feel like I’m at the right temperature in the gut.” It’s important to her to convey that truthfulness to readers. “I want people to feel like someone is being honest with them.”

Even though she tackles painful topics, her ironic sense of humor also shines through the work. “I love writing about men and bread, two things I love but do not understand, and two things that aren’t exactly good for me.”

Katie has written for as long as she can remember. “I guess you could say my first word was a poem. Juice. I was thirsty, and I’ve been extremely dehydrated ever since. All my writings ask for water in one way or another. They are prayers to quench me.” Still, she resists a poem’s pull till she has no choice. “A poem is like a bored child who just needs to be held. With the bread poems, I felt like I was making a recipe book in reverse. As if, in reading just the poems, the bread could be replicated by any baker, without a traditional recipe.”

Katie has lived in Flagstaff since 1996 and is currently a grad student. After ten years unattached, she and her son moved in with her boyfriend and his two children right before the pandemic began. “We crash-created an instant family during an historic time when so many were alone. I wanted to capture that strangeness and the celebration of something nice within such sad times. I hoped the bread would tell the story.”

Katie is grateful to A Dog’s Walk Bakery for providing comfort to her blended family during the pandemic, and for its generosity in the community: 18% of profits go to the Flagstaff Family Food Bank. She also believes that publishing these poems has allowed her to be a voice in her hometown. “The culinary and literary communities can be somewhat intimidating. I wanted to challenge those realities by making something very accessible. I like non-stuffy vibes. Poetry is for everyone — everyone to read, and everyone to write.”

Katie beautifully captures both humor and tenderness in the following poems, expanding on the simple metaphor to share her thoughts on love, loss, motherhood, and finding solace and community even during isolation from her neighbors.

Chocolate, Peanut Butter, and Banana Scone

It’s a light love

Not like the way you love a dog because you can’t

hear their judgments of you as a person

Not a one-sided love

But a love that says, Hey, I’m here if you need me

A shoulder stroke

You look nice in that dress

I brought you tea

I was expecting a tough chewy scone

One you had to work for

Not sure if I’ll ever be one for light love

I like to rip you apart

Be ripped apart

Leave the guts of you in my teeth

Still taste you tomorrow

Remember how hard it was to get rid of you

Fight through the different textures

You’ll remember my bite

But this was a good scone after a fight

When you just need some air.

White Corn Green Chile3 (Stomping Grounds)

Because my mother served food to me for 28 years.

We made bread together with a bread machine

in the ‘90s. You and bread Katie, she would say. Look

Robert, she would say in a shrill but sweet voice —

she dug her hand inside again and only ate the

dough. Inside I sense a scant sense of some of my

own identity. The girl raised by the woman with the

father from South Carolina. The daughter of one

who moved to the west for Montessori jobs and

rocky mountain men. The one who loved bread till

childbirth changed what I could and couldn’t eat.

I breathe it in like the night my mother died and

I slept in her sheets and smelled everything she had

ever sacrificed for me — but sweetly so.

Sometimes I wonder

Is the white corn green chile a bread or a blanket

laying over me on the noticing of a calm-weathered

day.

Katie will be featured at Peregrine Book Company this month: https://www.peregrinebookcompany.com/event

Bread Poems is available at Bright Side and Bookmans in Flagstaff, and Peregrine Book Company in Prescott.

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen@cox.net.