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This Bread You Eat, This Poem You Digest

Photo courtesy of Hobbs House Bakery

Blue Hour

by Cheryl Pearson

Up before the hens, my daughter.
Just her and the cows in the blue hour.

Them tugged of milkweight and loosed
to steam like warm loaves in the cold air.

Her in an apron, hair pulled into a bun.
I know how she works: the way she takes

the dough’s wet slack, punches it down
into flour. The pale curves her knuckles make,

like the hollows left by sleeping deer.
The future is yellow. The first finger of light

on the land, the smear of butter on the heel
of bread. But not for hours. First the farmers,

the bakers. The definite moon turning sheer.

A little more than a year ago, not long before the coronavirus pandemic began, a Bristol baker pulled a loaf out of his oven, turned it over and found this poem. It’s a beautiful image of a young woman mixing bread dough in the early morning, “the blue hour.”

It’s about work that is unseen by most in the world, in the early morning hours. The milking of cows before the milk is drunk, the kneading of dough before the bread is buttered. It all takes place in the moonlight and the deep blue night.

Bread poems

The poem, printed on edible rice paper, was “glued” to the bottom of the loaf and baked in the oven. Some 200 loaves that day had the same poem. They were cooled in the bakery, brought to the store shelves and sold to the good customers of Hobbs House Bakery, on Gloucester Rd., Bristol, England.

It was a special loaf, enhanced by the beautiful words. And such a great deal! No extra cost for the poetry encrusted loaves.

Purchasers were invited to read, share, contemplate, eat and digest the words and images of the poem. It was part of an art project called “Bread Poetry.” It was a collaboration between multi-disciplinary U.K. artist Luke Jerram and Hobbs House Bakery.

Bakery/art collaboration

Each Saturday for 10 weeks, a new poem appeared on the underside of the bakery’s “Wild White” sourdough loaf. The words were written by poets of all ages and experiences from around the U.K. Ten were selected out of 237 submissions. Some were humorous, some serious, some lyrical and beautiful, some probing, some sad.

What a great idea, this fusion of bread art and word art! What a moment of brightness and fun in the early days of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Here is a moment, rare in these days, where poetry commands the spotlight. Customers, drawn by the novelty, get to take home their own bread poem, read it at the table, perhaps even discuss it.

There is something delicious in the idea of people physically eating the words of poets and digesting them—the words being broken down internally, nourishing the minds and hearts of the eaters.

Baked into the bread

I’d love to have taken part in this celebration, but not sure if I’d swallow the poem printed on rice paper. Yes, it may be edible, but the idea of printed paper in my mouth doesn’t appeal.

In truth, I’d probably have tried to remove the paper before eating the bread.

Would it not be enough to know that the poem had been baked into the bread, even though the paper was removed? That the meaning and spirit of the words were still present, giving the loaf a new dimension altogether?

Still, I doff my baker’s cap to Luke Jerram, Hobbs House Bakery and the poets who donated their written words to this noble project.


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