I will fully admit that not only do I judge books by their covers, but I often judge a book by its title as well. Something with an intriguing, poetic or punchy title will always get my attention, but whether or not it can hold it is the real test. Everything about Madness, Rack, and Honey, by the poet Mary Ruefle, drew me in immediately. The title that conjures up vivid images and textures, the bold font, the way madness runs off of the front cover. And the interior? It was not a let down in the slightest. It is the kind of book where you underline details to no end and upon finishing the last page, you close the back flap with a bittersweet sigh. It spoke to me deeply as an artist, writer and human who likes to get under the surface of things. Maria Popova of Brainpickings wrote about Ruefle’s book, saying, “Although she is writing about the art of poetry, her central point radiates outwardly into the broadest art of living.”
It seems that there is a connecting theme in many of the books I am naturally drawn to, this theme being connection itself and the artistic process. I have said before that part of why I write, create and have made this blog space is in order to find connecting points between various interests and intriguing things. Mary Ruefle speaks directly to this idea, in terms of poetry and metaphor:
“A poem must rival a physical experience and metaphor is, simply, an exchange of energy between two things. If you believe that metaphor is an event, and not just a literary term denoting comparison, then you must conclude that a certain philosophy arises: the philosophy that everything in the world is connected.”
Ruefle takes this idea of a poetic metaphor- the exchange between two smaller things- and brings out of it a luminous and large life philosophy. This is something she seems to do throughout the whole book and it made me reflect on it as what I have done and continue to do in my own work and life. To find big, great ideas, sometimes we must put our focus in the small and trivial. Details radiate outwards, becoming metaphorical events.
I have found this to be especially present within my own artistic process as a choreographer. There is no way I can start a dance piece by walking into the studio and saying to myself “I am now going to choreograph a piece about the complexity of gender dynamics” or “I am going to make a piece about spirituality.” I would probably freeze on the spot, sit on the floor scratching my head, and feel incredibly overwhelmed for an hour or two. Believe me- I know this because it has happened. It is almost impossible to start with “the big idea.”
Instead, within these large, awe-inspiring and complex subjects, we have to pick out the minute details that illuminate qualities of what we would like to express. Afterwards, we can connect the small things to the big things through metaphor. Only then we can start creating a multi-layered piece of work, building it all upwards towards the big idea, the broad philosophy.
“That is the honey of poetry: the miracle of transformation, which is that of creation.”
For example, in a previous solo I choreographed and performed, I wanted to speak about ritual and tradition, so my co-director and I started by playing with classical Hindu hand gestures and the physical motions of baking a holiday cake. None of these details would be directly visible to the audience in the final piece, but they were like the first drops of honey on a blank slate, ready to attract the bees.
These small steps add depth to the process, so that when you see the final product- a poem, a dance, a book, a photograph, anything- the viewer feels something working and churning underneath the surface and can find a larger personal connection somewhere in the complexity and madness. This is exactly the sensation one is left with after reading Madness, Rack, and Honey; a self-reflective, inspired state and a desire to begin to dig into the details of your own creative life.
“It is what poetry does to the world, what poets do with words, and what words will do to a poet.
And that’s the rack of it.”
The act of baking is almost like a tangible version of this whole creative process. Small details, ingredients carefully chosen, coming together to create a big beautiful picture- something delicious to sink your teeth into.
Cold cubes of butter, bright and fresh pops of raspberries, a zingy hint of lemon and a sticky-sweet honey bath are the beautiful details that make up these scones. They are bright and fresh, full of deep flavor and butter-y, flakey goodness with each bite. You’ll want two of these honey-soaked treats with your morning coffee or tea and another one or two for an afternoon snack.
Go grab a book + make some breakfast.
Honey-Glazed Raspberry Lemon Scones
Makes 12 scones, scone base adapted from The Soup & Bread Cookbook by Beatrice Ojakangas
Preheat your oven to 400ºF (205ºC) and line a baking tray with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, use a pastry cutter or two knives to combine the flour + cold butter until you have pea-sized crumbs. Alternatively, you can pulse the flour + butter in a food processor just a couple times to reach the same consistency, then transfer it to the bowl. Add in the baking powder, sugar, salt, fresh raspberries and toss together. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, honey, yogurt + lemon zest until smooth. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and carefully stir with a wooden spoon or your hands just until a shaggy dough comes together. It's okay if the raspberries get a little smashed. On a clean, floured surface, roll or pat out the dough into a large disc, about 1-1.5 inches (3-4cm) thick. Using a round cookie cutter or the top of a glass (roughly 2.5 inches/6cm in diameter), cut out your scones and place them on the prepared baking tray. Gather up the scraps, roll them out and continue until all of the dough is used up. Bake for about 12-15 minutes or until lightly golden brown.
While the scones cool, make the glaze by whisking all of the ingredients together in a medium bowl. Start with 4 tbsp of milk and add an extra if it is still too thick. It should be creamy and not too runny. Dip the top of each scone carefully into the glaze, let some excess drip off, and the place back on the parchment paper to let the glaze set. If you want them extra honey-ed, you can double dip once the first layer has dried. Serve the scones warm with coffee or tea.
- 3 cups (420g) all purpose flour
- 1 cup (225g) butter, cold + cubed
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 3 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup fresh raspberries, chopped
- 3 large eggs
- 2 tbsp honey
- 1/2 cup plain, unsweetened yogurt
- 1 tbsp lemon zest
- 1 1/2 cups (185g) powdered sugar
- 2 tbsp honey
- 4-5 tbsp milk