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A Line or Two: The Poets, Saint Agnes, and the Bread Club

I got an unusual Facebook notification the other day: In Saint Paul on Saturday, March 10, there's going to be a poetry reading in a bakery. Not in a little retail bakery-cum-coffee-shop that sells designer cupcakes, but in an industrial-size, mainly wholesale bakery that turns out hamburger buns as well as fancy breads: St. Agnes Baking Company on Olive Street. And not one of those quiet, precious little poetry readings either, but a performance event that could get rowdy.

Veteran local poet Kevin O'Rourke, whose work is gritty and streetwise, will be given the Kerouac Award by The Kitchen Poets, a boisterous gaggle of writers and performers who meet at the bakery. According to The KPs' Facebook info, the event will be "a combination of storytelling, music, mud poetry, music, and a bona fide free lunch." The free lunch is actually free dough, sauce, cheese, and cooking: attendees are invited to bring their own toppings and St. Agnes will fire up the pizza in its massive ovens.

This St. Agnes is obviously not to be confused with the handsome, highly traditional St. Agnes Catholic church in Frogtown, where a weekly Mass is still said in Latin. It's a big baking operation near the eastern end of University Avenue, and thanks to CEO and master baker Dan "Klecko" McGleno (who tends to go by his perky nickname), it keeps up strong and unconventional  connections with the community. Besides cofounding The Kitchen Poets, Klecko created the Saint Paul Bread Club, a group of local foodies who are deeply into all things yeasty and doughy.

A Passion for Bread--and Ovens

Klecko founded the club in 2003 as a community giveback rather than a marketing ploy; no purchase of St. Agnes goods was, or is, required, and membership is free to anyone with a passion for bread. In 2006, the Minnesota Historical Society Press brought out a book by journalist and Bread Club mainstay Kim Ode based on interviews with club members--Baking with the Saint Paul Bread Club.

Today the club is a lively entity, claiming 342 members in 110 cities, including Crested Butte and Santa Barbara--so it wears its Saint Paul identity somewhat lightly. There are regular meetings, bakeoffs, and classes. And there's a particular, if logical, obsession with ovens, driven mainly by club member David S. Cargo. He offers oven-building classes (in April and May this year), maintains the Quest for Ovens blog, and tirelessly promotes the idea of community ovens--a sensible next step after community gardens, I think.

(Many thanks to Don Craighead for getting in touch and pointing out that White Bear Lake Methodist Church maintains an excellent community oven.)

As for the upcoming poetry event, it's co-sponsored by the Bread Club and Slow Food Minnesota, and performers will include Klecko, Ode, hyperproductive author/videographer Mike Finley, honoree O'Rourke, and others.

All are invited, and if you are disinclined to join in the poetry-pizza-bakemania mashup, according to Finley, "It's evidence something is seriously wrong with you."

Photo: Klecko McGleno and Bread Club member Vanessa Hyenne
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