We're delighted to welcome Kate Hosford to the LaunchPad to celebrate the release of her new book Feeding the Flying Fanellis and Other Poems from a Circus Chef! Kate graduated from VCFA in January 2011 and is a member of the Bat Poets. You can find her online at her website www.khosford.com and on Facebook and Twitter.
What do you feed a trapeze family to keep them up in the air? A fire eater with a penchant for hot sauce? Or a lion with a gourmet palate? How do you satisfy a sweet-toothed human cannonball who has outgrown his cannon? Find out what keeps these performers juggling, balancing and entertaining—meals prepared by their tireless chef! Enjoy a front row seat for this whimsical look at circus life that just might make you hungry.
What was the spark that ignited this book?
I’m not sure it was so much a spark as a slow burn. As a former gymnast and dancer, I have always been interested in the circus. My family has also been connected with the Vermont-based Circus Smirkus, almost since its inception. This award-winning youth circus attracts top performers from all of the country and internationally. In 1989, my father helped organize a circus exchange between Circus Smirkus and a circus troupe from Tbilisi, Georgia, which at that time was part of the Soviet Union. I was able to see the Georgian and American kids perform in Vermont, which was an unforgettable experience. Since then, I have seen Circus Smirkus perform many times over the years, and have attended other circuses as well, such as the Big Apple Circus, and Cirque de Soleil.
On the other hand, my interest in chefs probably resulted from the fact that I developed food intolerances in my thirties and was forced to live on a restricted diet. Food suddenly became a complicated part of my life, and I fantasized about a chef who would cook everything I needed, leaving me free to think about other things. Around the time the food intolerances developed, I wrote my first picture book story called The Little Chef, and then a second called Rooftop Circus. Neither of those projects ever went anywhere, and it wasn’t until years later at VCFA that it occurred to me to combine the two topics.
During my first semester at VCFA, I decided to turn my little chef into a circus chef. I began reading articles about actual circus chefs, including this one about the Ringling Brothers circus chef Michael Vaughn: http://articles.philly.com/2010-02-25/news/25219637_1_pie-car-circus-crew-special-occasions
These lines got me thinking:
"He's fielded some odd requests in his time, from Russian crew members who put mayonnaise on every dish, to Trinidadian stilt-walkers who live off ketchup. Under these conditions, a cook has to be able to handle anything, even if that means seeing a finely cooked filet mignon drowned in store-bought condiments.”
I loved the idea of a chef catering to the unusual requirement circus performers might make, both in terms of their cultural backgrounds and their job requirements. I did the picture book program first semester with Uma Krishnaswami, where I attempted to write a fictional picture book about a circus chef, and even briefly considered writing a non-fiction picture book about circus chefs. However, I still couldn’t come up with anything that worked. I then put the project aside and kind of forgot about it.
Third semester, I was writing my critical thesis and frantically trying to come up with a workshop submission. I decided to go back to the circus chef idea, but this time try it as a series of poems from the chef’s point of view. Once I chose this format, the project came together fairly quickly. I had a fantastic time thinking about circus personalities and the strange problems that the chef might have to overcome in order to feed them. Margaret Bechard and the other classmates who critiqued the piece in workshop were really encouraging. I continued to worked on these poems with Julie Larios fourth semester, which was a blast. I didn’t ever want the semester to end! I sold the poems to Carolrhoda Books two years later.
One of the best parts about promoting this book has been collaborating with Circus Smirkus. I reached out to them to see if their performers could tell me about the favorite dishes their circus chef cooks for them. The result was this video which has become my book trailer: https://www.facebook.com/CircusSmirkus/videos/10153153238723215/
I ended up making these poems part of my creative thesis and graduate reading. I will never forget all of the supportive smiling faces in the audience that night.
This was not an easy project to sell, and it was really the support of the VCFA community that give me the courage to not give up on these poems. I’m also very grateful to the NECI chefs who cooked special meals for me through five residencies. Without them, I couldn’t have completed the program.
What was the most difficult element to cut /change during the revision process?
I think the unicyclist who can’t stop long enough to eat was cut. Rob Mermin, the founder of Circus Smirkus, also convinced me to change my circus clown from a buffoon to a more refined character. That poem is now about a genteel clown who is conflicted about throwing pies.
But for the most part, my revision challenges were more about form than content.
Fourth semester with Julie, I played around with using different poetic forms, but always came back to using the rhymed couplets, which we both felt worked well. After I sold the collection to Carolrhoda, they asked me to play around some more with other poetic forms, and I wrote lots of pantoums, double dactyls, and triolets. In the final collection, about two thirds of the poems are still rhymed couplets. I do have some poems with varied rhyme schemes, but I left out the other forms mentioned above, since they didn’t seem quite right for this collection. The artwork also went through several rounds of revisions, and I think that Cosei Kawa’s dreamy and surrealistic illustrations provide a nice contrast to the practical concerns of the chef.
Do you write in silence?
I write in complete silence. Even classical music is too distracting to me. My mind flits around a lot, which is sometimes good for thinking up new ideas, but not good for actual writing. I also try to read everything out loud as often as I can, so music doesn’t work for that either. I’m completely baffled when I see people writing in cafes where music is playing. How do they do it? The few times I’ve had to do that, I find myself typing snippets from the songs I hear into my stories! When I worked as an illustrator, I was able to listen to NPR a lot and was much better informed about world events as a result.
How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?
I can’t really imagine what my writing community would be like without VCFA since about ninety percent of my network is comprised from grads and faculty members. I am constantly inspired by all of you, both as writers and as smart, complex and quirky people. As one of my VCFA friends says, “Normal is overrated.”
What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?
Come with an open heart, and a willingness to be changed both by classmates, faculty members, and perhaps even by Vermont itself. There cannot be a more beautiful setting for a writing program. Tamara Ellis Smith changed my life when I met her at a picnic and she told me about VCFA. Thank you, Tam. I hope I can do the same for other people who are considering the school.
It's so exciting to see a great new poetry book for kids on the shelves-- especially one as fun as Feeding the Flying Fanellis! Thanks for telling us all about it, Kate.
Feeding the Flying Fanellis and Other Poems from a Circus Chef! was published by Carolrhoda Books. You can learn more about this book-- and Kate's other great work on her website www.khosford.com