Dough Rolled Perfect – poems by Ben Hart

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Some time ago, I stumbled on a short mockumentary about doughnuts by filmmaker Jaxon Defa. One of the interviewees was Canadian poet, Ben Hart (pictured above, visiting San Francisco), who waxes rhapsodic that if he had his way, the doughnut would be representative of modern Canadian poetry in sonnet form. I was intrigued and I started hunting around. Well, Ben got his poems published by a small hand-crafted publishing house, Frog Hollow Press in an edition entitled Dough Rolled Perfect. I went for the less expensive model, An edition of 60 numbered books, Smyth-sewn with a cover of mould-made Saint-Armand; flyleaf; approximately 30 copies are offered for sale. Although expensive ($30) for a thin paperback, it has been more than worth it for the joy it has brought.

The introduction poem, which sets the stage is entitled Finer Things:

At my most foolish, I believe confit
can teach me about being duck. I slip
Dvorak into the CD player
and pretend my ear is an instrument
built to hear the full sweep of crescendo.
I look deep into the bull’s eyes
in Guernica — see the world there,blown
to smithereens. Sure, there are lessons
gleaned from poetry and innuendo,
but what cultivation of taste explains love
of cream filling, chocolate sprinkles,
sugar glaze, a dough ring? One bite tells me
all I need to know about sweet. Truth is —
there is no finer things, only these:

I started with this and had to know more about this guy. Ben and I have been corresponding a bit as I continue to investigate Canada’s obsession with doughnuts. For example, Canada has more doughnut shops per capita than any other country on earth. Hamilton, Ontario, home of the first Tim Hortons, has approximately one doughnut shop per 300 residents. The mind boggles!

I asked Ben about his inspiration and learned, “I started working on them as part of a writing exercise in grad school. We were to produce a series of poems in a variety of poetic forms. For some reason, I got hung up on the sonnet. I read a bunch to try to get a better handle on the form. They were, for the most part, flighty and abstract. All kinds of love and despair. “Slouching towards Bethlehem” and “From fairest creatures we desire increase.” That kind of thing. Where I grew up — a small town in central Canada — we didn’t slouch towards Bethlehem. We didn’t desire fair creatures. We slouched towards Tim Horton’s (a ubiquitous Canadian donut chain). We desired a Cruller. I guess I thought pairing a stately poetic form with a common edible was a fine joke, a dig at high culture akin to drinking a cola while downing canapes festooned with foie gras. It turns out even sonnets about donuts are full of love and despair, slouching and desiring.”

This whole image is hilarious; the idea of slouching towards a doughnut shop… But is it any more hilarious than what I have been doing? For starters, I read a poem a day (now called our Daily Doughnut) to my network administrator. She lives in San Diego while I am in San Francisco and it is a daily joy she and I have been sharing together, savoring one page a day and reveling in them. So even as I write this, I have not read all of Ben’s poems. Instead of consuming an entire pink box of delicacies in one sitting, I have the advantage of consuming them fresh each day, and relishing each and every one.

Then there is my sister. I am in my mid-40s and she is approaching 60 and is a school administrator. When I recited Fritter over the phone, she immediately lamented that she no longer has access to teaching kids as this is exactly how she would like to introduce them to poetry. No less than four times now she has called me and said, “I have you on speaker phone with some friends – you have to read Fritter!” It is erotic and enticing and an ode to my personal favorite…

Not a donut at all. You’re something else,
Fritter, sneaking into the box like that.
Party crasher in sassy sugar dress.
I try to exercise restraint, to save
my favourite for last, but I come
quickly and, when I do, you’re the sweetness
my tooth begs to bite into. Apple-filled,
you’re low-hanging fruit. A temptress
and I’m easy, more than willing to
be taken in, to indulge until the bulge
under my shirt flashes guilty skin.
You frit together all that judges me,
how I wear my ills — unheld love handles,
an empty stomach I can’t seem to fill.

Reading Ben’s poems has been teaching me about doughnuts. Today’s Daily Doughnut was Dutchie and that is a flavor I am unfamiliar with so it beget a bunch of googling around and investigation. And I’ve been learning about Timmies as well, the slang for Tim Horton’s. It has been teaching me that great poetry need not be about love or death (although that certainly exists within my doughnut world).

A last note on the physical book. I love hand-crafted things — books, art, food — it doesn’t matter. And the Colophon to the volume makes me love it that much more:

TEXT PAPER:     Mohawk 80 LB. Superfine Text (archival and acid-free)
TYPEFACE:         Garamond Premier Pro for text: SnowWrite for display
CLOTH COVER: Japanese bookcloth – 100% cotton
PAPER COVER:  St. Armand cotton & jute; covers were printed by Frog Hollow Press on an EPSON 3800 with archival inks.

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