On Writing

Guest Writer – An Interview with Ellie Csepregi

Who doesn’t love cake? Have you ever bitten into a piece of cake and as it melted in joyous explosions on your tongue, your mind rejoiced with stanzas of poetry? Well, for poet Ellie Csepregi, cake has taken the top tier of her poetry-driven mind and she has gifted readers with her first collection of poetry entitled Tiers. Published by Windsor’s Cranberry Tree Press, Tiers offers readers a tour of Csepregi’s delicious mind and shares with us a feast for our poetic souls.

I had the chance to read an early version of Tiers (at that time, it was a manuscript about ‘cake’!), and it was like going on an adventure with Ellie, house-to-house, country-to-country, cake-to-cake. I invited Ellie to answer some questions about her writing process, her life and her *first published collection*! Congratulations, Ellie!

VS: What inspired you to write poetry about cake? 

EC: My inspiration was based on the experiences I had working in the hospitality industry for 13 years and  organizing special events. I  saw how much work went into special cakes and then how they were usually discarded. It really made me think that best efforts and special occasions are not fully appreciated. The thought, the planning, the measuring, the chemistry, the presentation, and the cake is cut up, enjoyed or discarded. Sort of a metaphor for how we live. Every cake has a story.  Also the work of Raymond Carver inspired this idea in his short story, A Small, Good Thing where we learn the baker offers compassion to a grieving family through baked goods. It is a story about community and the passage of time. Baked goods are life markers and they bring people together in times of joy and sorrow.

VS: Is there a connection between culture and food? Why? 

EC: All cultures have traditional recipes and the sharing of food is necessary, joyful and welcoming. Traditional recipes are made from food that comes from the soil on which a people inhabit, it is in their blood and nourishes not just their bodies but also their souls. It is found in folk music and art. Food needs to be respected like an ancient member of the family. One thing I tried to do in Tiers was show how that has been lost in our post consumer society. We have forgotten from where our nourishment comes. Not so much in Essex County because we are so close to the agriculture sector. Now in the pandemic too, we certainly appreciate our farmers and harvesters so much more. So I feel that our cultural connection to food is always shifting on the surface with time and technology but in the roots, it has remained the same. We need to appreciate the beauty of that. Do you know in some cultures Estonia and Central Asia, people kiss the bread and never allow even one crumb to fall on the ground. That’s what we, as modern North Americans, need to rekindle or at least acknowledge. 

VS: You were traveling when the pandemic hit Europe – can you tell us where you were and what that experience was like?  

EC: I was staying in the South of France on my way to Northern Italy when Europe was hit. I could have stayed in France, but my French is weak and the Euro is high, so I went to Hungary where I speak the language and hold citizenship. It made sense and I had to deliver a Rotary flag. It was very strange travelling through France to get to the airport in Barcelona. No one knew what awaited them. I took this very seriously because I was communicating with my friends in China, who told me what they did in the crisis there. So I treated everything and everyone, including myself as if we were all infected and was following the pandemic rules of China to get safely through Europe. LOL…I remember trying to get as many cafe visits in before the lock down began in Budapest on March 15th that’s for sure. Sometimes I was the only one in the cafe enjoying Dobos Torte or Puncs Cake. Near the end of our ‘freedom’ the baker down the street loaded my bag full of pastry and bread because they had no idea when they would reopen and no one was buying their baked goods. Only super markets and drug stores were open. Watching everything shut down was so sad for the businesses. No one really knew what would happen and there was certainly a feeling of fear and dread in the air. Rules were pretty strict there at the time and I was worried about travelling back to Canada, so I stayed as long as I could in Budapest. You see I was living out of a suitcase for months before the pandemic hit, so technically I was a vagabond. I have property in Windsor but it was rented out. My friends couldn’t take me in so I stayed very nicely in the city of my birth and lived like any other Hungarian in that crisis.  The AirBNB businesses were hit hard and suddenly the prices of the rentals fell drastically, so I ended up living steps away from my childhood home and shopped at the Grand Market where my mother shopped before the 1956 Revolution. It was very special and sentimental. I felt spirits. 

VS: When did you write the cake poems?  

EC: Honestly…I call myself the world’s laziest poet. I started them in 2006. Put them away until 2014. Put those away until 2016. Mary Ann Mulhurn encouraged me to complete them. There are many different styles of poetry in the book and that’s because of all the phases it went through. Also I like variety — like a pastry table at a wedding. There is something for everyone. There’s little nibbles of poems along with large slabs of narrative. Finally, before I left Canada in October 2019, I contacted Stuart Ross and said, “here they are – I need to finish and compile these works.” The poems in the book are not recent. In fact I tried adding more recent poems, but they just did not fit the tone. They are ready to be served up, so to speak.

VS: Tell us about the cover design. 

EC: The cover is a painting by the fabulous Judy Chappus, Eat Your Cake, that was a collaboration for Scattered Ecstasies in 2014. The poem on which the painting is based is called Pàomò which means Bubbles and that’s the cute name the Chinese have for people who are less than thin! It’s a poem about hierarchy based on table manners. However, it is not included in the book because, again, it doesn’t suit the tone. I purchased the painting and hoped it would inspire me to finish the works sooner, but life continued to happen so it was put on hold again. I love the cover. It’s pretty wild, but it suits the times. Cake, flames, little devils dancing. Yup. And notice the small oil rig on top of the cake. It’s edgy.

VS: This is your first published book – how are you feeling about it? 

EC: It is my first published book, and I’m happy it’s being published thanks to the wonderful team at Cranberry Tree Press. 

VS: Do you have plans for a launch? Will it be virtual? How do you feel about the shift is ‘celebrating’ since the pandemic is here? 

EC: Since this book has an artistic collaboration with the cover, I imagine a small launch in an outdoor setting. We will be Covid safe and will have — maybe specially made cakes of soap and — cupcakes served in Covid safe containers. All the businesses I approached are owned by women and since the sentiment of the book is based on community and celebration, we are all local. I’d also like to try a virtual launch, so we’ll see what is possible in this new world.

VS: Are you working on a new collection? 

EC: I’ve been working on a series of poems about my life in China in 2016, 2017 and also I am going to explore the refugee experience in my work. I have many ideas and notes.

VS: Have you engaged in any virtual creative writing classes/events? If so, which ones and what was it like to participate?

EC: I have visited some virtual launches, Dorothy Mahoney’s heartfelt book, Ceaseless Rain , the Scary Stories launch, Bookfest Windsor, and I also took Laurie Smith’s outdoor workshop this summer.  I’m keeping my eyes peeled for new workshops online. I also have been doing work with Spittoon Chengdu.  It’s a graphic photo essay online.  

VS: What do you think the role of the poet is in the historical days we’re living through?

EC: We need to document, bear witness, reflect on our inner landscape and the world around us. Depends too on our age because each generation has their own challenges during this era. As an elder, I feel my voice would be one of reflection, and wisdom – the study of patterns throughout our lives. We have overcome many problems, rites of passage, challenges and tend to be calmer than the energetic questioning and determination of the younger voices. Their challenges are more immediate and they are starting out in this new world. We need to listen and support them. It is so amazing too that we have the technology to communicate, share ideas and views globally. Certainly we have the opportunity for much more understanding and appreciation. Let’s hope we become a better society that cares for the environment. Use thoughtful consumption. I’m optimistic that if we can collectively work our way out of the pandemic, we can change our habits and save the planet for our future generations. Then we can share cake. In small slices. 

To stay connected with Ellie as she travels, writes, and eats cake, please follow her wordpress blog at https://swirl-yonders.ca/2020/07/30/the-long-shell/ .  Ellie is also on Instagram at @nomadtiers2020. Congratulations and thank you for sharing with us, Ellie!

If you’re feeling poetic, please consider joining us at Gertrude’s Writing Room for a three-week poetry class where we feature flowers. (Guess what? Ellie is taking the class!) To find out more and register, please click on the button below. Classes begin on Thursday, December 3 from 12pm – 2pm (and follow on the 10th and 17th).

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