December 15, 2015
It’s the time of year when everyone wants to borrow your punch bowl – heck, everyone wants to borrow my punch bowl, too, so I completely get where you’re coming from when you don’t want to let said punch bowl out of your sight. But, it’s also the season when we think most kindly, perhaps, of our friends and family. And those are the exact groups that want to borrow punch bowls! So, you probably have to lend it out. I’ll understand if you can’t exactly smile with the lending. But, I do have two ideas to help alleviate the potential pain. First, read the classic Oliver Wendell Holmes poem, “On Lending a Punch Bowl,” so you can know that others through history have gone the same route. Second, pick up the tipsy poetry collection In Their Cups, which features this very poem (and many other great ones). Actually, pick up two, and give one out when you loan the punch bowl. It seems the borrower should be reading it as well.
This ancient silver bowl of mine, it tells of good old times
Of joyous days, and jolly nights, and merry Christmas chimes
They were a free and jovial race, but honest, brave, and true
That dipped their ladle in the punch when this old bowl was new.
– Oliver Wendell Holmes, On Lending a Punch-Bowl
April 2, 2012
It’s now just about a year since the beginning of wife Nat and I’s last month of Italian pre-tirement (if that makes sense–we came back May of last year). Which is, if not tragic, at least personally sad. Luckily, there’s wine here–even if it does come packing a lot of markup. But it’s here, and brings some of Italy along with it. And luckily there’s Francesco Redi. Who was a physician (to some of those Medici dukes), scientist, and poet. Those days you could be more of everything (and by those days, I mean the 1600s). He was also from Arezzo (where I spent a few fun days when living there) and wrote the poem “The Mamelukes May Love,” all about wine (said poem translated in In Their Cups). The bottom is just the poem’s finale—hey, you can buy the book for the whole thing and help me get back to Italy.
for a moment, do not drink,
but run your fingers like garlands
through my hair. I won’t crave your
sugary egg punch, or golden
sorbets, a thousand fragranced waters,
because these indolent drinks are only
for your sweet lips. Wine, wine
is for those desire euphoria,
to forget their fears. But be not shy about it–
I tip my glasses crazily, happily,
at least six times a year.
— Francesco Redi, The Mamelukes May Love
March 26, 2012
Once in a while, even I can step back and let other do the talking. As long as what they’re going to say is quick, cause really, I can’t give up the stage for long. No, no, what I meant to say is as long as what they say has serious weight and meaning. Or is really jolly. Or both, as with the below short poem called Five Reasons from 1600’s theologian-philosopher (theolopher?) Henry Aldritch. It’s featured in that book that everyone should have (at least everyone who like a drink and can read), In Their Cups. It’s good enough that someone should have it as a tattoo. Maybe you?
If all be true that I do think,
There are five reasons we should drink:
Good wine, a friend, or being dry,
Or lest we should be by and by,
Or any other reason why.
— Henry Aldritch, Five Reasons
January 8, 2012
In an earlier Cocktail Talk post, I had a quote from Qiu Xiaolong’s book Death of a Red Heroine (which I highly recommended then and still do now), and talked a bit about the author and his main character in the series, Shanghai poet and Chief Inspector Chen (though Chen’s second-in-command Detective Yu gets a lot of deserved face time on the page, too, with chapters often switching off with the two as alternating protagonists). So, for more background, go read that post. Cause here I just want to get straight into this quote, which is from a book in the series called A Case of Two Cities, which takes place not only in late 20th century Shanghai but also Los Angeles and St. Louis. This quote is actually Chen remembering “a short poem by Wang Han, an eighth-century Tang dynasty poet,” and would have made a dandy addition to In Their Cups: An Anthology of Poems About Drinking Places, Drinkers, and Drinks had I known of it.
Oh the mellow wine shimmering
in the luminous stone cup!
I am going to drink
on the horse
when the army Pipa starts
urging me to charge out.
Oh, do not laugh
if I fall dead
drink in the battlefield.
How many soldiers
have really come back home
since time immemorial?
–Wang Han, quoted in Qiu Xiaolong’s A Case of Two Cities
January 3, 2011
Hello hello, and sorry for the extended holiday break from blog posts. But at least I left you with the first two episodes of the new season of the Cocktail to Cocktail Hour (still four more new episodes left—can you believe it!). And, I’m back to help you start your New Year right, with a link to a blog post on the PBS blog The Daily Need, a post which features videos from four (that’s right, four) of the poets who have poems in In Their Cups: An Anthology of Poems about Drinking Places, Drinks, and Drinkers. Each poet is reading one of the poems they have in the book while sipping on a favorite drink. I can’t think of any way to kick start a cocktail-a-rific and poetic year than by watching the videos (repeatedly, to ensure the year is really all that and then some). The post includes videos featuring amazing writers (and charming drinking companions) Ed Skoog, Amy Fleury, Emily Bedard, and also a video with me (wearing a boss coat, I have to admit). So what are you waiting for? Get your year started right by heading to the Daily Need now.
September 24, 2010
For the last poem in In Their Cups week 2010 (celebrating the release and release party this Sunday for In Their Cups and the drinking poems contained therein, as if you didn’t know), I wanted to highlight one of the two poems in book by Ed Skoog (I should mention though, that he also has translations in the book from three languages–you’ll have to look to find out which languages). Without Ed, In Their Cups would have been called “Cups with Holes” and been awfully leaky, cause he not only let me put poems and translations of his own in the book, but helped me track down more poems that made the cut and are in the book, gave advice on ordering of poems and sections, drank a lot with me during the putting together of the book, and was generally helpful in every way you can think of plus a few more you’d forgotten.
If you don’t know already, Ed is one of the best poets anywhere alive today–buy his book Mister Skylight and you will be changed–but is also a drink maker of some renown, a drink consumer of much renown, and a sweet banjo player to boot who can sing the high lonesome like few others (even after a few–let’s say 5-to-10–shots). If you ever are going into a bar for the long haul (which I’m guessing you will be, probably soon), bring him along. Or at least bring this poem of his about New Orleans’ Saturn Bar, a truly divine dive, along with you as an Ed sub.
The Last Saturn Bar Poem
Around the art barn, Mike Frolich’s bar-tab
bartered paintings hang the hell that rose with him
from the Gulf of Mexico floor too fast, torturing
blood with air: maniac fish, demon in a diving bell,
and then from cadmium sunset through marsh comes
the boat bearing forward in grand roving the name
O’Neal, our bartender. Theirs are the dreams we enter,
entering the Saturn Bar’s owly heat re-tooled for unlovely
loss, the rattled corner leaning away from Chartreuse, neat,
and when I’m able to dream jukebox damaged warbling,
a Saturn-like-thing opens within me, but this is the last
Saturn Bar poem–I’ll try, I’ll try–to stop singing
shadows of St. Claude and Clouet on security camera
pavement grays we keep talking about with increasing
reluctance, ready to move on to fresh bewilderments,
spiraling neon, neon that lights up my nameless shot.
—The Last Saturn Bar Poem, Ed Skoog
September 23, 2010
Continuing on with our week of poems from In Their Cups (in honor of the upcoming release reading which you already know lots about, and have told your friends about, and that hottie you see at the bus station) comes the poem with maybe my favorite title in the book: “Oh, For a Bowl of Fat Canary.” It’s by John Lyly, a writer in the late 1500s who had a way with words and drinks, and seems like someone you (and me) would want to spend a rowdy evening with, drinking and becoming jolly. “Canary” does not mean he was boozy enough to eat birds though. “Canary” was actually a type of sack from the Canary islands (with sack being an old term for a fortified white wine). Now, that makes it all a bit less unfriendly to our feathered friends.
Oh, For a Bowl of Fat Canary
Oh, for a bowl of fat Canary,
Rich Palermo, sparkling Sherry,
Some nectar else, from Juno’s dairy;
Oh, these draughts would make us merry!
Oh, for a wench (I deal in faces,
And in other daintier things);
Tickled am I with her embraces,
Fine dancing in such fairy rings.
Oh, for a plump fat leg of mutton,
Veal, lamb, capon, pig, and coney;
None is happy but a glutton,
None an ass but who want money.
Wines indeed and girls are good,
But brave victuals feast the blood;
For wenches, wine, and lusty cheer,
Jove would leap down to surfeit here.
—Oh, For a Bowl of Fat Canary, John Lyly
September 21, 2010
In Their Cups week continues here at Spiked Punch, with another poem from the raddest collection of drinking and drinkers poems I’ve ever been associated with up to date (if you missed it, it’s a week celebrating In Their Cups because of a certain reading this Sunday). For today’s pick, I’m going with a poem celebrating one of my favorite drinks, and the drink to have the first Saturday in May–the Mint Julep of course. This poem about the legendary birth of the Mint Julep is by Charles Fenno Hoffmann, who was a New York writer, editor, and critic in the 1800s. If you’ve ever had a truly well-made Mint Julep (on May 1st or any other day), you’ll understand why he’d write such a ringing and singing and immortalizing number about the drink (and if you haven’t had a Mint Julep that matches the below, maybe we need to get you a better recipe or point you to a different watering hole).
The Mint Julep
‘Tis said that the gods on Olympus of old
(And who the bright legend profanes with a doubt?)
One night, ’mid their revels, by Bacchus were told
That his last butt of nectar had somehow run out!
But determined to send round the goblet once more,
They sued to the fairer immortals for aid
In composing a draught which, till drinking were o’er,
Should cast every wine ever drank in the shade.
Grave Ceres herself blithely yielded her corn,
And the spirit that lives in each amber-hued grain,
And which first had its birth from the dew of the morn,
Was taught to steal out in bright dewdrops again.
Pomona, whose choicest of fruits on the board
Were scattered profusely in every one’s reach,
When called on a tribute to cull from the hoard,
Expressed the mild juice of the delicate peach.
The liquids were mingled while Venus looked on
With glances so fraught with sweet magical power,
That the honey of Hybla, e’en when they were gone,
Has never been missed in the draught from that hour
Flora, then, from her bosom of fragrancy, shook,
And with roseate fingers pressed down in the bowl,
All dripping and fresh as it came from the brook,
The herb whose aroma should flavor the whole.
The draught was delicious, and loud the acclaim,
Though something seemed wanting for all to bewail,
But Juleps the drink of immortals became,
When Jove himself added a handful of hail.
— The Mint Julep, Charles Fenno Hoffmann