June 17, 2022

What I’m Drinking: Underberg

underbergSometimes, it’s what you need most. As in this Ode to Underberg, a poem about my pal Jeremy Holt’s favorite thing (and one of mine, too – hopefully one of yours as well). It’s pretty good, I gotta say (the Underberg poem, and of course the Underberg itself).


Ode to Underberg


Walking along on a dusky springtime eve

I heard a noise of a bear starting to grieve–

What was this? I didn’t believe

But it was my own stomach, to which nothing did cleve.

I noticed a candle in a local watering hole,

And headed in to save my soul

(as well as my innards, which seemed a hole

that was collapsing inwards as if chewed by a mole).

I ordered a feast of courses untold,

First bread and cheese filled with blue and mold

Accompanied by flagons of gin made bold

by lime juice, maraschino, violette—served cold.

Next up were plates that would make Hercules strain,

Pastas, ensalatas, empanadas, like rain

Were served alongside even more delicious mains.

I ate more food than any ten men,

The waitress came back and I started eating again

Following greens with green beans and then

Moving on to the sweets, the creams, the puddin’s.

And then, the foods hit my center like a roiling brick.

I groaned, I cursed, my over-eating anything but comic

As I contemplated erupting like a fresh oil derrick.

Was there anything that could undo my stuffed predic-



And then like an angle dressed purely in serge

The waitress appeared or seemed to emerge

From my over-full haze and said through my dirge:

Sir, what you need, is a quick Underberg.

She handled me a bottle, small and in brown paper,

Made a motion of drinking as if in quick prayer,

And I, trusting her angelic look and manner,

Unscrew’d the green cap and turned into a gulper.

The moment the elixir of ‘berg hit my tongue

I felt that perhap’ my indulgence might be undone.

The flavor was of herbs and of spices far-flung,

Backed by a muscular fu tied to a tougher kung

And when the liquid miraculous hit my tum-tum

It cut through the food hitting me like a drum.

It bounced through the sweets all the way to the bottom,

And left me feeling as if I’d barely eaten a crumb.

Oh, Underberg, the god’s must have made you

For people like me, those was are known to

Eat enough at one sitting to turn them near blue.

Oh, Underberg, you’ve made my evening less askew,

And for this I will never forget your wond’rous brew,

Your lovely taste, your dark and magic hue,

Your little bottles, your quick rescue

Of my evening–I’d call it voodoo

Underberg, if I didn’t believe it a higher urge.

And so I left that night without out having to purge,

swearing that, whether in Miami or Pittsburgh,

I would never again be without my savior, my Underberg.

May 18, 2010

Be the First on Your Block to Get Drunk and Read Poems

Maybe, just maybe, you live on a block of drinking poetry readers. If so, you’re lucky (and maybe sleepy, too, as poetry and drinking combined lead some to stay up all night). If not, or even (and maybe moreso) if so, then I want to let you know about the book that will change your life, and have you drinking and reading poems for days. The trick is (and this is how you can be a trendsetter, instead of a trend follower) that the book isn’t even out yet, but is pre-orderable, so you can be the first person you know to get it. It’s called In Their Cups: An Anthology of Poems About Drinking Places, Drinks, and Drinkers. I’d tell you about it in detail, but A: I edited it, so am bias’d, and B: I want to save some of my gushing for when it comes out proper, and C: the wonderful poet Richard Jackson already said this about it:

“Souls of poets dead and gone,” goes the line from Keats, but AJ Rathbun’s wonderful In Their Cups brings them back, at least for a few more drinks, and we too are invited in. And what company we enjoy: we can imagine classic poets as diverse as Catullus and Du Fu speaking to polar opposite modernists like Cesare Pavese and Appollinaire, perhaps interrupted here and there by diverse contemporary voices such as Mark Halliday and William Olsen. Rathbun has created a unique imaginary world here, adding a couple of his own fine poems to the conversation, where we can hear, with Richard Hugo, the “dusty jukebox crackling” on every page. This is a book you’ll want to raise a glass to.


Now, don’t be scared if you don’t cozy up with poets on an every day basis—you’re going to love it. I promise. Read it with drink in hand, and you’ll probably never put it down, until you fall down. Which is saying something.


PS: Want to see an actual poem that’s in the book to get you going? Check out here, and here.

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May 11, 2010

An Alsatian Prayer, with Beer Accents

Was sent the accompanying photo (which I’m hoping was from outside a bar–I mean, it has to be, right?) from pal Pat Jalbert-Levine, who is the wonderful person that ensures that my books from Harvard Common Press get done up right and make it to the printers on time (as well as about a million other things). It happened to be a long day at the salt mines when I got it, so it made my day hugely better (she’s both a geting-books-done superstar and a makes-the-day-better person. That’s a sweet combo). Here’s what she said about it (she sent it to me and boy PR genius Howard Stelzer, who loves himself some beer):


“I don’t know why this made me think of you. Oh wait, yes I do! I’m working on In Their Cups right now, and I know someone who’s a beer fanatic…! My mother forwards “joke emails” she gets from her family in France, and a recent one contained this picture. You’d have to know how the Lord’s Prayer goes in French to really get the cleverness, but anyway, here’s my attempt at a translation which would do it justice in English:”


Our beer who art in vats

Hallowed be thy foam

Let thy glass come

Let thy distribution be done

On the table as it is in the bar

Give us this day

Our daily hops

And forgive us our hangovers

As we forgive those

Who drink coca-cola

Lead us not into temptation

But deliver us from thirst

For thine are the bubbles, and aroma, and freshness

Now and forever



Isn’t that swell? I think so, and if you do, too, be sure to raise a toast to Pat next time you’re quaffing a cold one (and for that matter, raise a toast to Howie, as well, and to all the folks worldwide who are also, at the moment, drinking a beer. Now isn’t that nice to think about?).

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April 16, 2010

To Gin (Yes, You Get to Read a Poem)

This was originally published in the Spring 2010 Issue of the Khaos Apocrypher (a magazine you can sign up to receive, if you’re interested. Just email Dr. Gonzo, who I’m hoping doesn’t care that I’m putting this poem up here. But if he does, I’ll just buy him some gin. And, speaking of, I suggest sipping a gin cocktail while reading this. So, go shake or stir one up. Okay, you back? Let’s continue).


To Gin


It’s 10 am, and the word gin spills

out accompanied by a gentle twitch, Junipers communis

and I’m stuck in office chairs and prickly socks

distilled to only a toast: here’s to brisk bottles


and hosts, a soldiery row at ease waiting

for another vested soul  to pull them down,

to start gin’s accented engine. Where to begin,

in my dream of gin? I’ll open with noon’s


luncheon sin, a Martini made on dry’s couth

side, winnowed twist, skip the olive, its briny mistake

like the sobering taste in your mouth

from a long-forgotten  first date,


then I say amble into another kick in short pants,

a opaque smile designed for those desiring  lack,

gin’s pocket compass, the Gimlet camped

in cocktail glass freshly limed, please, or take


it back and listen to me swear, thirsty.

And then there’s the way I lisp, like a trout,

after three Bronx in row, orange blessing

and fraternal vermouths, gin within and without


while I’ve lost another hour, now, absent gin’s zoo,

gin’s mill, gin’s soak, boots, piano, truth,

gin burn and gin singe, tingle and curaçao

blossoming into caraway and angelica root.


Give me the Rickey’s twentieth century sass,

bubble my black suspenders with Vespers nightly

losing sleep with Lillet before breakfast,

get me a big tray made from lime’s core, a White Lady


up on the chaise, Cointreau cornered

by gin and it’s 2 pm, somewhere eyeballs eye

 Italians, gin’s Florentine mourner

wreathed in orange oil, bitter and red. But I


almost left the Campari out of the stanza

during my reverie of Negronis. I like mine up

but won’t turn gin away, even if tepid

I’ll take any highball, rocked and passed abruptly


across the room, a dimly lit gin sashay,

where the Last Word slips beneath sheets,

gin cuddling Marschino, Chartreuse, and lime swaying

into another ménage, making  gray sky incomplete


unless someone, me, you, drinks them penitent 

for what we will now receive: pass the gin, please,

echoes over cubes or neat, penitentiary

pleats or double strained, petticoated , and greased


with Angostura. The preference of ladies, Pink.

The gin, after three straight rounds, speaks:

Old Tom, London Dry, Hollands, Genever, Plymouth.

Thinking Englishly, I’ll be round in an hour, work


winks at shaker boys, undress cocktail waitresses

of cocktail napkins, blame gin, naturally,

and gin will soak it all in, knows it takes us places

we long to live within, from the Cornwall’s


coast to the furnace room under my Pierre St.

pied-à-terre where I tipped a bottle with soda

and a sliver of scotch (gin’s not afraid to meet

another as it turns the dark to stars), a comma


to New Orleans, Henry C. Ramos, and gin’s comfortable

motion, full conjunction between juices lime and lemon,

sugar, cream, egg, divine orange flower water,

an afternoon’s worth in one glass and time,


time, time, there’s never enough gin

or enough balance on my credit card, it’s not even

the end of the day, but I won’t delay gin’s hard choices

longer, a sip here and there like a bartender’s grin,


I’ve finally reached the bar and the words I’ve lingered

until five to hear–what’ll it be friend

come without stopping. I breathe, unbend,

and say, finally, for me, make it gin.

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December 15, 2009

Cocktail Talk: Catullus, Poem 27, Translation by Ed Skoog

It is the middle of the holiday cocktail party season. There are, let’s see, daytime work holiday parties, and nighttime work holiday parties, afternoon drinking parties with friends, and evening drinking parties with friends, holiday booze-teas with families, and holiday booze-luncheons with families, and holiday booze evenings with families, and then a host of parties thrown by those that might be friends, but not good friends, but parties you feel you should go to anyway, in the spirit of the season. With all this holiday partying, it’s possible (if not probable) that one or two of the parties may be more chore than cheer. With that, I’d like to present the following poem by Catullus, ancient partier. The poem is about these later parties a bit, and may well be worth reciting loudly when you’re at any holiday party. The translation (because, well, I can’t read ancient Latin) is by modern partier and poet Ed Skoog (did you get Mister Skylight yet? Cause if not, I’m sending a zombie Catullus to haunt you) and is, well, delicious.


Poem 27


Are you tending the bar, kid? Pour me the strong stuff,

the Falernian wine, and one for yourself. We’re going to need it,

the way this party is going. Our host, Postumia, is drunker than

these grapes. No water, please. It kills what wine is.

Save water for the fool who prefers his own sorrow.

This wine is more than wine. It’s the blood of the god

whose mother was destroyed by his father’s splendor,

the god of madness and ecstasy, who shares it with us.


— Poem 27, Catullus, translated by Ed Skoog


PS: Enjoy this drunken poetry and lit’rature stuff? Then you must, I say must, visit the blog Drunk Literature. It’s a literary boozehound’s dream blog.

Rathbun on Film