Book Reviews

Humble Fare (review)

Stephen Kennedy tells me about his newly published collection of poems at breakfast Friday morning of the Write! Canada conference (Guelph, Ontario, mid-June). He looks pleased as he talks about the hand-pressed covers and individually assembled and tied books.

As soon as I get home, I order one. I love chapbooks—especially when I know the poet. In due time it arrives in the mail.

A slim five- by seven-inch volume slips out of the mailer. Its sand-colored card cover with simple but elegant graphics pleases the eye. The letters are pressed into the paper (from the copyright page: “Printed letterpress from hand-set type on a proof press in Peterborough, Ontario – Published by Jackson Creek Press“).

The cover (which extends and folds into bookmark flaps front and back) opens to an inner cover which is a black-and-white photo. It’s a street scene and just visible on the left is the steeple tower of a church. When I flip to the back cover, I see the rest of the church—a continuous photo with the front. On the flip side of the first photo is another church photo. It too continues on the inside of the back cover.

Humble Fare by Stephen Kennedy - front cover
Humble Fare by Stephen Kennedy – front cover
Humble Fare inner photo cover
Humble Fare inner photo cover
Humble Fare center spread
Humble Fare – center page. These books were assembled and tied by hand

Humble Fare contains only eight poems, though the light card stock on which it is printed gives it a nice heft. I read through it way too fast and then read it again.

The first poem, “At the intersection of Romaine and Aylmer,” introduces me to the churches in the photograph. In the poem Kennedy (a former pastor and editor of Testimony magazine) talks in a rueful tone about church divisions. It ends:

Do you still long to
gather in these chicks, and whisk
them underneath your wounded wings,
absorb the ignominy
of this sibling rivalry
into your sacred heart?

Next comes the poem from which the book’s title is drawn. In an email Kennedy tells me this about its inspiration:

“The back story to the poem “a winter afternoon at the bakery” is my daughter’s field trip with her art group (marginalized adults living in poverty) to an art exhibit in Cobourg, ON. On their way home they stopped in at the Millstone Bakery where Jill, the owner, had everything ready for them to roast marshmallows over the coals in the bread oven. When she told me the story I couldn’t get the image out of my head.”

Here’s the poem:
a winter afternoon at the bakery

a lambent bed of hardwood coals
the smell of bread still on its breath
welcomes our gathering of souls
and draws us back to simpler times
with wooden sticks and marshmallows
a mingling of sweat and sweet
the salt of hospitality
levels the earth under our feet
and feeds us with the humble fare
of our shared humanity.

© 2013 by Stephen Kennedy (used with permission)

Another wide-angle shot of the two churches is the book’s center page. The repetition of those church images gives the book a sense of continuity—and tension.

The collection also contains two poems of tribute to Kennedy’s parents, now deceased (how well those of my generation can relate to such!). A suite of three bus stop poems carry on the tone of humble, simple things. The last poem is of the fleeting image of a deer, making its graceful way through winter.

In these days of almost-instant e-books, I am glad that the tradition of  handsome hand-made chapbooks carries on. I treasure my #55/100 copy of Humble Fare. If you want your own, Kennedy says he has about twenty remaining. Contact him by email HERE.

Here’s a little bit more about Stephen Kennedy via a November 2012 interview with the Cobourg Poetry Workshop.

Poetry Friday LogoThis post is linked to Poetry Friday, hosted today by Margaret on Reflections on the Teche.

13 thoughts on “Humble Fare (review)”

  1. Hmm…it sounds far more fun to hand-make a limited edition chapbook of my poems than a glowing-from-the-screen e-book…


    1. I think I saw a mention of his book in one of his editorials a while ago, I think, but it never really registered until he told me about it. He is so modest and shy to promote it too. Still he’s almost exhausted his supply of 100 books. He’ll have to make some more; it’s a lovely, thoughtfully put together little volume.


    1. Thank you, Greenlightlady! I agree. But lots of work too. I took a look, yesterday, at a book I have with instructions on how to hand-make books. Oh my! It is an art that requires a lot of skill and precision. I like Stephen’s idea of using the help of experts in this.


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